"The shared experience of presenting 'Considering Matthew Shepard' in Symphony Hall was, for me and my Conspirare colleagues, an extraordinary and truly memorable occasion," said composer Craig Hella Johnson. "We all truly felt a deep and powerful connection with the passionate and engaged listeners who filled the hall."
'Considering Matthew Shepard,' led by Johnson, is often called a "fusion oratorio," meaning it incorporates a range of musical styles and even visual components. Here, an image from a Wyoming field evokes the landscape that Matthew Shepard called home up until his tragic death.
Berklee President Roger H. Brown (left) and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (right) pose with Johnson (center) before the show. Brown and Walsh gave opening remarks that underlined the production's broader message of unity and finding light in the darkness.
During the song "Ordinary Boy," images of Shepard's personal diary were displayed above the singers. His own words, such as "I am sensitive. I am honest. I am sincere," helped inspire the libretto as a whole. Other written sources include lines from contemporary poets Lesléa Newman, Sue Wallis, and John Nesbitt, as well as historical mystic and poetic texts from Hafiz, Dante, William Blake, Hildegard von Bingen, and the Bible.
In addition to screen projections, the production made judicious use of subtle stage props, further rounding out the multisensory experience. Here, a vocal trio gathers around wooden beams evoking the fence where Shepard met his tragic end.
Conspirare guitarist Mitch Watkins performs. The production covered a number of styles, from being inspired by the Bach Passion settings, to referencing musical idioms such as symphonic choral music, jazz, and indie.
An image of a giant flame projects on the screen during "Fire of the Ancient Heart," which was inspired by the many candlelight vigils that emerged nationally in the wake of Shepard's passing. The flame, as the libretto states, moves us "to (silently) speak for life over death, love over hate, and light over darkness."
Punctuating an already powerful production, a choir of students from Berklee College of Music, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, and Harvard, stood up to join Conspirare in the final number. "We will never forget the moment when they all rose from the audience and created this never-to-be-forgotten happening," Johnson said. "May it inspire us all to continue to make art passionately in these challenging times."