The University of Southern Mississippi Orchestra and Department of Choral Activities partnered with local choral groups to perform Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Richard Burchard’s “Seven Last Words of Christ” March 27 and 29.
Hundreds of community members came to hear the performance at Parkway Heights United Methodist Church off of Hardy Street and give two standing ovations on both nights.
“It was a wonderful and moving performance of both pieces. I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to attend a school where such incredible music making takes place,” junior music education major Matthew Gioia said.
In the spring of 2015, composer Richard Burchard approached Gregory Fuller, Director of Choral Activities at Southern Miss, about taking on the commission of the “Seven Last Words.”
“I was toying around with a work for strings and choir, and I was searching for a text, and [“Seven Last Words”] came up a couple of times. Dr. Fuller and I were at the same conference in Salt Lake, and we began to talk about this and we decided to do it,” Burchard said.
Burchard’s sought to convey all the emotions that he understood Jesus to be feeling, from anguish and pain to peace and acceptance, during the crucifixion.
His use of dissonant polychordal devices on certain words created a tension that eventually unfolded into consonance, most notably in the third movement “Cum vidisset ergo Jesus matrem.” This movement, which focuses on John 19:26-27, portrays Jesus showing his concern for others, like his mother and disciple, over his own pain.
“This particular text needed another option that was accessible and yet beautiful. I think that there is potential for it to become a popular piece of the [choral] repertoire.” Fuller said.
The entire group will be joined by the rest of the department and the Gulf Coast Civic Chorale to give the Carnegie Hall premiere on April 9 in New York.
“Having the chance to sing this piece with the composer himself has been humbling. We’re all looking forward to bringing Burchard’s music to the stage of Carnegie Hall,” sophomore music performance major Emily Barnes said.
A recording of Burchard’s “Seven Last Words of Christ” performed by the USM Symphony Orchestra, Hattiesburg Choral Union and Southern Chorale can be found online on SoundCloud.