On September 9, 2016, Harmonia Mundi will release Considering Matthew Shepard, composed and conducted by Grammy®-winner Craig Hella Johnson, Founder and Artistic Director of Conspirare, Austin's acclaimed world-class professional choir. BUYCD
Matthew Shepard was a young, gay college student at the University of Wyoming who in 1998 was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in a lonely field under a blanket of stars. When Shepard passed away, five days later, an incensed world looked on.
After Matt's passing, his parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard established The Matthew Shepard Foundation with the mission of empowering human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs. Eleven years after his death, "The Matthew Shepard and James Bird Hate Crime Act" was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.
"You knew him as Matthew," observed Judy Shepard in an early interview with Johnson. "To us he was Matt."
Considering Matthew Shepard is Johnson's first concert-length work. Moved and deeply affected by Shepard's murder, it was only recently that Johnson acted on the sensation that the "strong life force" of Matthew Shepard's spirit was challenging him to interpret this story musically. Craig felt Matt's plea: "Don't leave me at the fence."
Inspired by Bach's St. Matthew Passion and told in Johnson's signature "collage" style, Considering Matthew Shepard has been called his "fusion" oratorio. Important contributions from works by writers Lesléa Newman and Michael Dennis Brown converge to create a "...panoply of musical sources and styles" and an "impressive variety of textual sources," reports The Boston Musical Intelligencer. Classical, contemporary and cowboy poetry — along with passages from Shepard's personal journal are movingly interwoven by Johnson throughout.
Considering Matthew Shepard received its World Premiere at the A.I.S.D. Performing Arts Center in Austin on February 20, 2016. Subsequent West Coast performances soon followed in Los Angeles prior to the Conspirare recording at Goshen College's Sauder Concert Hall in Goshen, Indiana. Winter 2017 performance are planned for January 29 and 30, 2017 at Texas A&M University's Rudder Theatre. PBS affiliate KLRU will film Considering Matthew Shepard at the Moody Theatre in Austin, Texas on January 31 and February 1, 2017.
About Craig Hella Johnson: Artistic Director, conductor, arranger and now composer, Craig Hella Johnson founded Conspirare in 1991. Craig is also music director of the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble and conductor emeritus of the Victoria Bach Festival. In addition to a 2015 Grammy for Best Choral Performance, Johnson has won many awards, including being named Texas State Musician for 2013 by the Texas State Legislature. Craig studied at St. Olaf College, the Julliard School, the University of Illinois, and earned his doctorate at Yale University.
About Conspirare: Celebrating its 23rd season, Austin's Conspirare is a Grammy award-winning vocal ensemble that creates exceptional concert experiences and recordings. With the world-class artistry of its extraordinary voices and the incomparable direction of conductor /composer/performer Craig Hella Johnson, Conspirare is one of the finest choirs performing today. Inspired by the power of music to transform lives, Conspirare performances are musical magic.