Slideshow: Considering Matthew Shepard Rouses Symphony Hall

Bryan Parys
March 10, 2017
Conductor/Composer Craig Hella Johnson
Conspirare performs under a back drop of video slides that evoke Matthew Shepards home state of Wyoming.
Berklee president Roger H. Brown, composer Craig Hella Johnson, and Boston mayor Marty Walsh pose before showtime
Conspirare on stage performing Considering Matthew Shepard
A female vocal trio takes center stage
A guitarist performs with Conspirare
Conspirare performs a track from Considering Matthew Shepard, accompanied by dramatic visuals
Craig Hella Johnson takes a bow with the rest of Conspirare
"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."
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green

Kicking off the spring 2017 Signature Series, the Grammy-winning choral group Conspirare, led by composer and Berklee Online student Craig Hella Johnson, performed its stirring oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard, for a rapt crowd at Boston's Symphony Hall. Berklee President Roger H. Brown and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh delivered opening remarks that underpinned the performance's emphasis on awareness, tolerance, and unity, while a choir of Berklee College of Music, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, and Harvard students joined in on the closing number.

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