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Tippett...Tippett Good

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Michael Tippett, A Child of Our Time (1939-41), Richard Hickox, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
English composer Sir Michael Tippett was born 100 years ago this year, and centenary celebrations (under the aegis of his publisher, Schott) are being held in the U.K. and around the world. (See Jessica Duchen's article, Tippett divides and conquers, for The Independent, on February 3.) He entered the Royal College of Music in London in 1923 and had graduated by 1928, just two years before some kid named Benjamin Britten showed up there. In the 1930s Tippett got involved in radical politics and became an outspoken pacifist—he was even briefly sent to prison for his antiwar views during World War II—and he met the poet T. S. Eliot.

In the early years of World War II, he composed what is probably his most famous work, the oratorio A Child of Our Time, with deeply personal and hopelessly, yet inspiringly, idealistic texts by the composer himself (at Eliot's suggestion) about the fight against tyranny in the world. The work was premiered at London's Adelphi Theatre on March 19, 1944. In an incredibly timely way, the eponymous child is based on the life of an actual person, Herschel Grynspan, a 17-year-old Jew from Poland who was living in Paris. In 1938, he shot and killed a Nazi officer in retaliation against the Nazi authorities, who had deported his parents to concentration camps, which in turn led to the deadly and destructive pogrom now known as Kristallnacht. Musically, Tippett adapts the oratorio format perfected by J. S. Bach, with African American spirituals instead of Lutheran chorales and a contrapuntal interest in the fugue as a compositional process.

If you are in Washington, D.C., this weekend, you will have a rare chance to hear this work performed. On Sunday at 3 pm, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Robert Shafer will lead the Washington Chorus, winner of a Grammy Award in 2000, through this remarkable work, with soloists soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop, tenor Don Frazure, and bass Gordon Hawkins. (Jens F. Laurson will be there for Ionarts.) Tickets are still available: $53 to $19. A free panel discussion, Reflections on Tippett, will be held before the concert, at 1:30 pm, in the Kennedy Center Atrium. For more information, see the preview by Tim Page, 'A Child of Our Time' Indeed (Washington Post, May 4).

See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, May 10).

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