I am grateful to my good friend and Ives Award-winning composer, James Matheson, who contacted me to write the libretto for Peace Talks, a choral piece commissioned in honor of Swarthmore College’s sesquicentennial celebration. I had never written for chorus before and the task of representing the history and spirit of Swarthmore proved a daunting challenge. In the end, my approach to the libretto was to sift through 150 years of speeches made at the college’s commencement ceremonies (specifically, those held during period when the US was engaged in significant armed conflict) in order to find statements made about peace, hope, and struggle. These were woven together with Edward Hicks’ version of the “Peaceable Kingdom” passage from the Book of Isaiah, in reference to the Hicks paintings that are a significant part of Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library art collection.
The idea was to fashion something of a Quaker meeting out of all of these voices and to foreground the irresolvable tension and paradox that underlies the hope for peace. Jim’s music was powerful and moving and the Swarthmore orchestra and chorus did fantastic work with this challenging piece. There’s a brief excerpt of the performance here:
Please visit James Matheson’s site here: http://www.jamesmatheson.com