Long hailed as a leader in provocative programming and unparalleled artistry, Cantata Singers continues its mission-driven focus on “engaging and sharing with the community the power of music to enrich the human spirit” with its Slavery Documents commissioning stream. Since 1990 and the historic performance of Donald Sur’s Slavery Documents, this commissioning series has addressed extremely difficult subjects that remain intellectually, politically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging years after their actual occurrence.
While the defining music of our founders – the Bach cantatas – and other historical choral masterpieces ever serve to elevate, enrich, and oftentimes challenge humanity, the commissioning of important new works also represents the soul of Cantata Singers. The Slavery Documents Stream, which examines the human condition at moments of tragedy, challenge, and moral outrage, commissions works from living composers that explore themes such as slavery in America and the Holocaust.
Joining our music with others who seek to find meaning, solace and understanding out of these events and themes, Cantata Singers believes– through the intimacy, depth, and power of choral music – we are uniquely able to give voice to that which is beyond words.
Slavery Documents History
In 1990, Cantata Singers premiered Donald Sur’s Slavery Documents, an oratorio based on historical documents from the antebellum period of the American Civil War.
In 2002, the organization continued its Slavery Documents stream with the premiere of T.J. Anderson’s Slavery Documents 2 based upon the same body of historical material. Boston performances played to near-capacity, highly diverse Symphony Hall audiences numbering 5,000. For both performances, the group expanded its performing forces to include 80 singers, half of whom were African American; a 74-member orchestra; and five soloists, three of them African American.
The third commission of the Slavery Documents stream was Lior Navok’s “And the Trains Kept Coming…” (Slavery Documents 3) This work was commissioned by Cantata Singers for its 2007-2008 season, and was given its first performances in January 2008. The work is based on original documents surrounding the decision during World War II by the Allies not to bomb the tracks that led to the concentration camps. This highly anticipated performance moved audiences in a way rarely seen in live performance.
As a group, these three works form the core of a larger series of commissioned compositions from, among others, John Harbison, Peter Child, Andrew Imbrie and Stephen Hartke, challenging listeners and performers to examine unresolved, unaddressed, or ignored subjects.