LSM Newswire

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Juno Award-Winning Canadian Composer John Burge

US Premiere of Juno Award-Nominated Composer John Burge’s Mass for Prisoners of Conscience at Lincoln Center, April 5, 2009

“In attempting to communicate the suffering of political prisoners, to pay tribute to Amnesty International’s role in ending it and to write a large piece, the young composer set himself a challenging task…John Burge’s Mass for Prisoners of Conscience is a triumph.”-- Kingston Whig Standard

A classical and a modern Mass

A recording of the music of John Burge, Flanders Fields Reflections, by the Sinfonia Toronto, conducted by Nurhan Arman, has been nominated for a 2008 Juno Award, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, in the category of Best Canadian Classical Music Composition. The US premiere of the Burge Mass for Prisoners of Conscience will be presented in a performance dedicated to human rights organization Amnesty International, at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Sunday, April 5, at 2:00 PM. Conductor Laureate Doreen Rao will conduct musicians and singers from the University of Toronto, where she is Director of Choral Programs, and Queen’s University in Ontario, where Dr. Burge is Director of the School of Music.

As a counterpoint to the Burge Mass, the evening will also feature the Mass No. 12 in B minor ("Theresienmesse") of Franz Josef Haydn, under the baton of Guest Conductor Eric Johnson. This work features the Distinguished Orchestra International and the Distinguished Singers International, which consists of vocalists from all corners of the United States and abroad. Guest soloists for this section of the program will be Orna Ariana, Soprano, Shannon McGee, Mezzo, John Tiranno, Tenor, and Samuel Smith, Baritone.

Previous recognition; First musical setting for world-famous poem

John Burge has written a large body of vocal, chamber, and orchestral compositions. His piece, Angels’ Voices, for choir and orchestra, received the 2006 Outstanding New Choral Composition Award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors and was performed in New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 2005. As a long-serving past-President of the Canadian League of Composers, Burge has been a passionate advocate for contemporary music and Canadian music in particular. His oeuvre contains many works that are inspired by Canadian poetry and landscape, such as One Sail, based upon a poem by Canadian poet Margaret Avison. Regarding the Juno-nominated Flanders Fields Reflections, based on the iconic poem by Canadian military officer John McCrae, conductor Nurhan Arman said, “Recording these works was a real labour of love for us, and we are delighted that now people…will be able to listen to these remarkable compositions…it’s a great privilege to help pieces as beautiful as these become better known.”

The Program

Mass for Prisoners of Conscience, commissioned in 1987 by Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral Choir, is scored for baritone, mezzo-soprano and child soloists, accompanied by choir and a small instrumental ensemble of four solo woodwind instruments, two pianos and percussion. The text material for the soloists consists entirely of settings of first-hand accounts of political prisoners and their families sung in English. These accounts or testimonials are drawn from material provided by Amnesty International. The choir sings sections from the liturgical Mass in Latin, and comments on the emotions and situations expressed in the solo movements. Musically, the work is highly dramatic in the way that it combines percussively angular passages with lyrical vocal writing. The work was premiered by the University of Toronto Symphony Chorus, Dr. Doreen Rao, conductor, on November 9th, 1990.

The Theresienmesse was composed following Haydn’s tenure in England, where he had secured his reputation as the greatest living composer of his day. He would write no more symphonies, but did accept a commission from Nicholas II, the fourth of the Esterházy princes whom he had served, to write a Mass each year celebrating the name day of Nicholas’s wife. The Theresa Mass is written for four vocal soloists, chorus, and a somewhat unusual orchestra consisting of two clarinets, bassoon, two trumpets, timpani and strings.


To obtain tickets or further information regarding this event, please visit the Distinguished Concerts web site, Tickets can also be purchased by calling the DCINY box office, 212.707.8566, x 307 or directly from the concert venue.

Premiere works

In just two short years, DCINY has joined the ranks of major classical music production companies in America, nearly doubling its roster of participating ensembles and attracting talent from all over the globe. Among the events DCINY is honored to present this season are: one world and two US premiere performances of major new works by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, which took place on January 19, and the world premiere of a new choral piece by American composer Eric Whitacre on June 28. Please visit for details regarding other highlights of DCINY’s 2009/2010 Season.

Interviews can be arranged by contacting Mindi Rayner Public Relations, at 718.377.4720, or For press tickets please contact Gene Wisniewski of Distinguished Concerts International, at 212.707.8566, ext. 306, or

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