During the world premiere of The Ordering of Moses, from the 1937 Cincinnati May Festival, listeners of NBC’s live radio broadcast heard the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, as well as a featured 350-member chorus, pull out all the stops performing R. Nathaniel Dett’s spirituals-enriched oratorio.
Until, that is, NBC abruptly pulled out and stopped the broadcast mid-performance, replacing it with a yammering announcer, for reasons that remain unexplained to this day.
In 2014, the Ohio city’s longstanding annual festival and its celebrated orchestra revived the work and full-scale performance — and also apparently, the flubbed interruption too, utilizing archived tapes of the announcer.
Fortunately, that won’t happen when the In Series and the Heritage Signature Chorale team up to perform the 15-movement sacred cantata. But a lot more will happen in this production, a large-scale and one-of-a-kind musical theater experience, presented with local D.C. musicians, dancers, visual artists, and historians.
“For the first time ever,” reads the In Series description, “this landmark composition will be staged as an immersive embodied artistic and spiritual experience as part of a collaboration with three local faith communities — Asbury United Methodist Church, Foundry United Methodist Church, and Mount Vernon United Methodist Church — as well as with Heritage Signature Chorale, one of the nation’s leading interpreters of the classical spiritual, conducted by Stanley Thurston.”
Originally developed as Dett’s graduate thesis composition at Eastman School of Music, the work weaves together African-American spirituals that the Black Canadian-American composer grew up hearing. The IN Series production relates not only the titular story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, it also touches on the history of race and religion in D.C., specifically pertaining to the three participating Methodist congregations.
Complementing the performances are six large-scale canvases created by D.C. artist Richshaad Ryan. Meanwhile, an optional guided walking tour of Logan Circle and Mount Vernon Triangle sheds more light on the history of race, art, and faith in the two iconic D.C. neighborhoods.
The performance will be staged with a cast of national and local artists, accompanied by the 60-plus singers from the Chorale. Jarrod Lee will direct the production alongside the IN Series’ Timothy Nelson, with choreography by Shawna J. Williams.
Performances are Saturday, Feb. 4, at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 5, at 4:30 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 11, at 6:30 p.m. Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Tickets are $40 to $60, or $73 with the walking tour. $20 for walking tour only. Visit www.inseries.org or call 202-204-7763.
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