True Concord Voices & Orchestra — formerly Tucson Chamber Artists — is heading to New York City this week to help put Tucson on the classical music map.
The professional choir is set to perform its landmark Stephen Paulus 9/11 commission “Prayers and Remembrances” at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on Friday, Sept. 11 — the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.
It will be the first time the professional choir has performed the piece outside of Tucson, where the choir premiered it on Sept. 11, 2011, with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra at Centennial Hall.
“It’s going to be a powerful event,” said Eric Holtan, True Concord’s founder and music director. “The confluence of both these things — performing a piece that Stephen wrote and then performing it on 9/11 in New York City at the epicenter of these tragedies.”
The New York concert celebrates the release Friday of True Concord’s CD “Far In the Heavens,” which includes “Prayers and Remembrances” and five other Paulus pieces that had never been recorded. Paulus, died in October, 18 months after suffering a devastating stroke. He was 65.
About 50 Tucsonans including True Concord donors and subscribers will be in the audience, which could fill Alice Tully’s nearly 1,100 seats. Among them will be Paulus’ widow, Patty, and the couple’s two sons.
Patty Paulus said that performing the piece in New York “is a confluence of all sorts of wonderful, positive karma.” Holtan had told her his vision was to commission the piece from her husband, record it and “it needs to be performed in New York.”
“And here it is,” she said last week. “We are so thrilled to be there.”
True Concord commissioned Paulus, a Minnesota-based composer of national note and former TSO composer-in-residence, to write “Prayers and Remembrances” in 2010. That premiere concert included the Mozart Requiem.
Holtan said the program for the New York concert is the same: They will open with the Requiem and devote the second half to Paulus.
True Concord will fill the Alice Tully stage with 32 vocalists from Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta — all regulars with the choir. The orchestra, made up of TSO members, will number 34 and will include the rock-star harpsichordist Guy Whatley from Phoenix, who has become a regular on Tucson classical music stages.
Holtan said the trip is costing True Concord $225,000, money that it raised from a sizable gift from patron Dorothy Vanek — who sponsored the 2010 Paulus commission — and a $40,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant. The bulk of the money came from its rank and file donors.
“This is a huge validation from our community of the importance of a project like this, to take this music and share it in what is arguably the cultural capital of the world,” said Holtan, who noted for comparison that True Concord’s annual operating budget is $400,000.
Patty Paulus, an educator and artist in St. Paul, Minnesota, called “Far In the Heavens” a poignant album that brought her husband’s long composing career full circle.
“I don’t think he had ever had really that much input on his previous CDs. This one he was involved in directly,” she said. “The whole album is a culmination of a very mature composer.”
“Far In the Heavens” is being released by the national classical music imprint Reference Records and is being distributed by the classical music behemoth Naxos Records. Holtan said Naxos will release 300 new CDs on Sept. 11, but True Concord’s is on the top of the pile when it comes to marketing. Naxos has sent copies to music reviewers around the country and to public radio stations including in Phoenix and Minneapolis, which have agreed to play the CD. Stations in Chicago and Wisconsin already have expressed interest.
“There are stations that are interested in it not only because of the 9/11 connection. Naxos is really hot on this project because it was Stephen Paulus’s last work,” said Holtan. “He was here in Tucson recording and six weeks later suffered a stroke from which he never recovered.”
“Far In the Heavens” was Paulus’s last big project and re-scoring “Nun dimittis” was one of his final compositional acts.
Patty Paulus said she played the album for her husband while he was in the hospital. Although he was not able to communicate, she believes he heard it.
“I got this CD in the mail and I played it and I burst into tears,” she said. “It’s been very bittersweet. That’s why this will be a great celebration in New York.”