Sarah Manguso (librettist)
Triple winds, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani plus 3 percussion, harp, piano
chorus of 100 voices
As RE-FORMATION begins, we hear fragments from Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony ring out amidst a more obscure sound world, like decaying structures in a ruined landscape. Written for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is a work for orchestra and chorus which looks back to the Reformation and forward to future of our planet. As it unfolds, it traces the process by which ideas are formulated, rethought, replaced, and recycled.
Mendelssohn’s symphony was written for the 300th anniversary of the Reformation and employs the tune from Martin Luther’s hymn "Ein Feste Burg," written in 1529. When Martin Luther wrote this hymn, he looked much further back in time to Psalm 46 from the Old Testament and adapted the text to his purposes.
In RE-FORMATION composer Sebastian Currier and writer Sarah Manguso continue this process of using material from the past and reconfiguring it to suit contemporary needs. In 1517 Luther’s predominate concerns were the corruption of the papacy and an individual’s relationship to God. In 2017 Currier and Manguso recast Luther’s concerns from the sacred to the secular: to the environment and the urgent need for humans to take responsibility for the safety of the planet. As the piece unfolds, this lineage becomes apparent. We first hear a fragment from Psalm 46 sung in the original Hebrew, then the same fragment in a Latin translation from Roman times. Following this is the first phrase of the Martin Luther in German, and then a translation of the Luther, from the time period, into English. This is followed by the Manguso text:
Black sky, forgive us.
Black sea, forgive us.
Black earth, forgive us.
Orb rushing dead through the silent night,
Deep in the ash of the grave of the world
Where nothing is,
We pray for the sound of new being to sound.
For one bright drop to swell—
For life to seethe, green-blue,
We will unfoul the waters,
the sky, the terrestrial marrow.
We will unpoison the heart of everything that is.
Light, decorate the heavens.
Benevolent system, awaken.
Have mercy. Have mercy.
RE-FORMATION is divided into five parts which flow into one another seamlessly: Mendelssohn Fragments, Broken Symphony, Fragments of Old Texts, A Hidden Voice, and The World. It is 30 minutes long.
“The work, in its shift from sacred to secular, from brimming confidence to the slimmest thread of hope, is harrowingly effective. If not the most celebratory concept imaginable, it is nevertheless salutary in pointing up the need for our time to summon the Lutherian grit and imagination to change, to re-form, the world yet again.” —New York Times
“Thought-provoking…a fascinating and ultimately moving work” —Pioneer Press