portland sinfonietta

Portland Symphonic Choir preview: Problem Child

Still relevant today, Michael Tippett’s 20th century classic, ‘A Child of Our Time,’ deserves attention.

By BRUCE BROWNE 

Sir Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time doesn’t seem to have lived up to its title. Despite earning acclaim at its 1944 premiere, only a handful of recordings exist, three by Tippett’s champion Sir Colin Davis. It is performed roughly yearly in the US and more often in Britain, most recently on December 17, 2015 in a BBC performance broadcast from the Barbican. When the newly hired Matthew Halls and the Oregon Bach Festival brought A Child of Our Time to Portland’s Trinity Cathedral in 2012, the audience was disappointingly small.

Haven’t ever heard it, let alone heard of it before now?  You’re not alone; it is sparsely performed, an expensive work to mount and an extraordinary challenge to conduct.

Steven Zopfi conducts Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett's oratorio, 'A Child of Our Time.'

Steven Zopfi conducts Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett’s oratorio, ‘A Child of Our Time.’

“For the choir it’s a ‘big sing,’ unrelentingly vocal,” explains Portland Symphonic Choir music director Stephen Zopfi. “The choir is challenged throughout. Also, the piece is full of mixed meter, especially in the third movement. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever conducted.”

Given all the challenges, why, then, are Zopfi, PSC and the Portland Sinfonietta bringing Tippett’s choral/vocal/orchestral problem ‘Child’ to the Arlene Schnitzer Hall on Wednesday, May 11? And why should you go hear it?

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