After a two-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, composer Christopher Cerrone’s work for choir and orchestra, “The Last Message Received,” will see its world premiere at the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music on Saturday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.
Several years in the making, “The Last Message Received” was co-commissioned by the Bienen School of Music for the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, the Northwestern University Chorale, the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra and Director of Choral Organizations Donald Nally as well as the Yale Glee Club and Yale Symphony Orchestra. Nally previously conducted the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble in Cerrone’s “The Branch Will Not Break” in February 2020.
The idea for the work came from an unexpected place.
“In 2016, I stumbled upon a blog entitled ‘The Last Message Received,’” Cerrone explained. “I was intrigued by its unique title and even more unique premise: a Tumblr, in its author’s words, ‘run by a 15-year-old containing submissions of the last messages people received from ex-friends or ex-significant others, as well as from deceased friends, significant others and relatives.’ Reading through hundreds of these posts, I was deeply moved by so many people’s willingness to share their heart-rending losses. I began conceiving of a piece where this collection of texts became a fabric for a musical composition.”
“The idea went through many iterations,” Cerrone continued, “but finally found its current shape when Donald Nally asked me to compose a new work for choir and orchestra. I suggested ‘Last Message’ as the source material and he eagerly agreed. It made musical sense for me to adapt these words, which came from a multitude of voices, into a work sung by a multitude of voices. I was delighted when the blog’s founder, Emily Trunko, was amenable to the idea.”
Cerrone completed “The Last Message Received” in early March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting day-to-day life in the U.S., and its May 2020 premiere was postponed.
“It’s not lost on me that such a piece feels eerily prescient of what many people now, tragically, have had to go through,” Cerrone said. “But I hope that the work’s hopeful message both resonates with and heals people.”
The Bienen School’s April 30 concert pairs “The Last Message Received” with another work remembering the departed, Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Op. 9. Completed in 1947, the work was originally written for choir and organ, but in 1961 Duruflé finished a version for choir, soloists and orchestra. He based much of the Requiem’s material on Gregorian chant and the Gregorian Mass for the dead — music with which he was intimately familiar from his time as a boarding chorister at the school connected with Rouen Cathedral — and dedicated the work to the memory of his father.
A free pre-concert discussion between Christopher Cerrone and Donald Nally will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 30 in the McClintock Choral and Recital Room, located in the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts at 70 Arts Circle Drive.
Tickets for the April 30 concert are $12 for the general public and $6 for full-time students with valid ID. They may be purchased from the Bienen School Ticket Office by visiting concertsatbienen.org or calling 847-467-4000. The performance will also be presented as a live stream; visit https://www.music.northwestern.edu/live for details.
Christopher Cerrone has received international acclaim for music characterized by immersive textures, dramatic impact and attention to detail. The 2021-22 season sees the premieres of two of his other works. “In a Grove,” an opera composed with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, premiered at Pittsburgh Opera in February 2022, and in April 2022 the Phoenix Symphony will premiere his new orchestral suite “The Age of Wire and String.”
A 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his opera “Invisible Cities,” Cerrone is the winner of the 2015-2016 Samuel Barber Rome Prize in Music Composition and has received Grammy Award nominations for his 2019 recording of the song cycle “The Pieces that Fall to Earth” and his 2022 album “The Arching Path.” A graduate of the Yale School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, Cerrone is a member of the composition faculty at the Mannes School of Music.