Mark Shapiro, Artistic Director and Conductor
Guest artist: 2018 Young Concert Artist Hanzhi Wang, accordion

WWI 1918 Armistice commemorative concerts
Saturday, November 10th at 8:00pm
Sunday, November 11th at 3:00pm
Church of St. Luke in the Fields
487 Hudson Street, New York City

Thierry Escaich: Cris (US premiere)

Thierry Escaich: Improvisations for Organ

Philip Lasser: The Elements (world premiere)

At the height of the first World War, a restless soldier roves from village to village across the French countryside, haunted by the memory of compatriots killed beside him in the trenches. In each town, he leaves behind monuments molded from the mud -- statues in the shape of fallen compatriots, their mouths gaping in silent screams, memorials he believes will “transfix the world with all of their pain.”    

Celebrated French composer Thierry Escaich carries us along on the young soldier’s journey in his deeply affecting choral masterpiece Cris. Cantori New York, led by artistic director Mark Shapiro, is thrilled to present its U.S. premiere this November, in a special program honoring the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I. 

Escaich, who is lauded as one of the world’s most skilled musical improvisers, will perform a brief set of organ improvisations at each concert -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those lucky enough to be in the audience. Performances will also include a world premiere from American composer Philip Lasser, whose latest work offers a poignant reflection on the beauty of the world, despite all its suffering.   

First performed in 2016, Cris was originally written to honor the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, where more than a million soldiers were killed. The piece draws its text and storyline from best-selling French author Laurent Gaudé’s novel of the same name -- a moving tale of French soldiers serving in the first World War.  

Escaich brilliantly illustrates the harrowing backdrop of World War I with a multilayered scoring for chorus, speaker, accordion, percussion, and eight cellos. A spoken narration, woven throughout the piece, drives the storyline forward. Juilliard-trained actor Philip Stoddard will deliver the narration in Mark Shapiro’s English-language translation. The accordion part will be performed by Young Concert Artist Hanzhi Wang, who made her NYC debut on October 22.

As our narrator tells his tale, the rich tapestry of chorus and instruments swells and recedes around his story, its tone varying from the chaotic to the somber. Its beautiful, haunting conclusion drives the final message home with breathtaking clarity -- that we must never forget the horrors that define our history, or the suffering of those who have gone before us.  

The world premiere of Philip Lasser’s newest composition, The Elements, offers a complementary perspective on the incredible persistence of beauty and hope in a war-torn world. Drawing on poetry by Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and e.e. cummings, Lasser’s four-movement work closes the program with wisdom and sensitivity -- acknowledging the pain in our collective history, but closing on a note of healing.