This past Saturday was our annual Spring Retreat, a chance for us to gather in fellowship and work intensively on our spring concert program. This year, we were honored to have composer Andrea Clearfield join us. We will be performing Dr. Clearfield’s cantata “The Long Bright” in mid-May. Dr. Clearfield was kind enough to make the treacherous journey through ice and snow to work with us for the day and share the vision behind the piece.
Dr. Clearfield, an award-winning composer and former Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, was originally commissioned to write “The Long Bright” by David Wolman in honor of his wife, Anni Baker. Anni passed away from breast cancer, and David had written a series of poems between her diagnosis and her death. Using those poems as the text, Dr. Clearfield wrote a cantata for a treble chorus, soprano solo, and orchestra. Anni had been a coloratura soprano whose singing career spanned from Broadway to opera and beyond, and Dr. Clearfield used these various aspects of her musical history to make the piece a celebration of Anni’s life. For example, there are snippets of musical theater themes in the “There Was a Time” movement, and a section from Anni’s own folk opera composition is included in the final movement. There is also a five-note theme that is repeated and varied throughout the cantata. That short, gentle melody is sung by the chorus to the words “Do not fear the view.”
Hearing the inspiration behind the movements helped us to better understand the cantata and how to perform it. At first glance, it appears that the piece is about crossing over, the title referring to the light at the end of the tunnel. But, as Dr. Clearfield pointed out, the “long bright” light can also refer to the undying hope for a breast cancer cure, and to the “bright fierceness of our lives.”
When commissioning the piece, David Wolman wanted to remember that beautiful brightness of his Anni, but he also wanted to raise awareness about breast cancer and funds for the cure. The cantata premiered in Philadelphia on April 26, 2004, as a fundraiser for breast cancer research. We are proud to be performing this piece in cooperation with UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center and the Duke Cancer Center. Women’s Voices Chorus is dedicated not only to performing pieces that are written by and for women, but also to celebrating the lives of women. With “The Long Bright,” we aim not only to highlight local cancer research, but also to rejoice in the bright cycle of life in which we all share.
We hope that you’ll join us on Friday, May 16 at Hill Hall Auditorium at UNC as we bring you “The Long Bright” complete with a 22-member orchestra and soprano soloist. Check the Concerts page for more info, and our Store to buy tickets. For now, we’d like to thank Dr. Clearfield for helping us to bring her profoundly moving composition to life!