Every fall, Robert Simpson, the founder and artistic director of the Houston Chamber Choir, sits down to plan the following year’s season. As part of the planning process, he always looks for historical events or anniversaries of composers as special dates to build concerts around. Last year, Simpson was in the midst of planning the 2013–2014 season when he remembered an especially important date this November. “My memory was jogged that this would be the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, and I knew that that would have special significance in Texas,” Simpson says. “I knew that there would be a special connection. So then the question became, what do you do with that?”
Requiem for a President
Nov 9 at 7:30
$40; seniors $36; students $10
Christ Church Cathedral
1117 Texas Avenue
The answer Simpson came up with was to program a concert of works that express mourning and commemoration. Included on the program are Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which Barber arranged for a choir in 1967, and Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. Providing commentary between pieces will be Gail Cameron Wescott, a reporter who covered Kennedy from his senatorial campaign through his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. On a lighter note, the Houston Chamber Choir will perform a pro-Kennedy jingle used during the 1960 presidential election. Simpson found the jingle on a record called The First Family, a 1962 comedy album featuring Vaughn Meader imitating the president.
The concert, which will be held tomorrow night at Christ Church Cathedral downtown, will begin with Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’s A Curse on Iron, a setting of part of the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala. The text refers to the misuse of iron, which was given to man to be useful, but which we use as a weapon. The application to Kennedy’s assassination by a high-powered rifle are clear. “It’s just a reminder of the great harm that can come of [technological] advances,” Simpson says. “I think it’s an appropriate moment to look at the more difficult aspects of the occasion.”