The Crossing’s Zealot Canticles by Lansing McLoskey
Wins 2019 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance
Second Consecutive Award for The Crossing, after
2018 Win for Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century (ECM)
Zealot Canticles: An Oratorio for Tolerance on the
Writings of Nigerian Author and Activist Wole Soyinka
Released September 28, 2018 on Innova Recordings
“[A] gift for lending social activism to poetic form…
exploiting the full, astonishing range of vocal techniques.”
– The New York Times, September 2018
The Crossing and Donald Nally have won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for their recording of Lansing McLoskey’s Zealot Canticles. The award was presented yesterday, February 10, 2019, at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. This marks the Philadelphia new-music choir’s second consecutive Grammy in the category, previously winning the 2018 Grammy for Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century with PRISM Saxophone Quartet on ECM. The Crossing’s recording of Thomas Lloyd’s Bonhoeffer (Albany 2016) was nominated for the 2017 Grammy in the same category.
Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, says: “Having our work heard by an ever-increasing audience is part of the reason we make art, and we are grateful to the Recording Academy and its members for recognizing our work. It is truly humbling to have so many artists and friends invest everything into a project that means so much and has a strong message, and then see that it is being heard by many people beyond our local, and amazing family. This award belongs to our singers, instrumentalists, and the composer.”
Based on Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s Twelve Canticles for the Zealot – a strangely beautiful and terrifying look into the minds of fanatics – Lansing McLoskey’s Zealot Canticles is a concert-length choral ‘oratorio’ for clarinet, string quartet, and 24-voice choir. The work makes virtuosic demands on all the artists, particularly on the clarinetist, here, Philadelphia’s Doris Hall-Galuti. The string quartet on the album is comprised of violinists Rebecca Harris and Mandy Wolman, violist Lorenzo Raval, and cellist Arlen Hlusko.
Soyinka’s texts and Lansing’s responses are universal pleas for peace and tolerance, yet they force us to look into the mirror and recognize the thin line between devotion and intolerance, zealotry and radicalism – themes that dominate our public discourse every day. Zealot Canticles was premiered on March 19, 2017 at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, The Crossing’s home venue, and was commissioned by Donald Nally and The Crossing, with generous support from The Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University, and the University of Miami.
Wole Soyinka (b. 1934) is a Nigerian poet, playwright, novelist, and recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African American recipient of the award. In 1967, Soyinka was arrested and imprisoned for civil defiance after denouncing the suppression of human rights and free speech by the military dictatorship of General Yakubu Gowon, intervening in an attempt to avoid the Nigerian/Biafran civil war, and condemning the genocide of the Igbo people. In the decades following his release, Soyinka has remained an outspoken advocate for human rights. In 2002, Soyinka published a set of poems titled ”Twelve Canticles for the Zealot,” a strangely beautiful and terrifying look into the mind of fanatics, containing a subtle catalogue of the horrific results, past and present. Throughout the set of canticles, Soyinka makes universal pleas for peace from multiple languages and religious cultures. Seven of these poems form the core of the libretto of Zealot Canticles. Interwoven with these poems are excerpts from Soyinka’s book The Man Died, his play Madmen and Specialists, and interviews, lectures, and speeches reflecting on his upbringing in an environment of tolerance, and condemning the current climate of intolerance, bigotry, and violence.
Of the work, McLoskey says, “From the opening poem I couldn’t help but reflect upon the parallels between the delirium of the religious fanatic and the delirium of Soyinka himself during hunger fasts. Self-deprivation and hallucinations are not the sole prerogatives of the unjustly imprisoned, after all, but also common among zealots of another sort. Soyinka’s own renunciations of self, ‘I need nothing…I feel nothing… I desire nothing,’ are renunciations and exhortations echoed in ultra-devotees from Buddhist monks and Hindu ascetics to Christian hermits and the Taliban. Is there then not a thin line between extreme devotion – zealotry – and radicalism? And that line is both personal and public. The words of Wole Soyinka are not just generalizations or universal in nature, but specifically about us. Right here, right now.”