Mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson

Mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson

Here’s a pretty big-deal concert that, unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to attend: This weekend the Eugene Concert Choir presents the world premiere of a newly commissioned choral work by Oregon composer Joan Szymko about Alzheimer’s disease.

ECC’s select performance group Eugene Vocal Arts will perform, along with a some pretty amazing soloists who have been gathered up by Szymko and ECC director Diane Retallack: soprano Sarah Joanne Davis; mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson; and tenor Brendan Tuohy (you may have seen him last fall in Eugene Opera’s Turn of the Screw).

Shadow & Light will be performed twice – at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday – at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. (I’ll miss both because I’ll be over at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through the weekend for my first visit there since the occupation. More on that, later.)

Oregon composer Joan Szymko

Oregon composer Joan Szymko

Retallack is no stranger to the tragedy of Alzheimer’s dementia; both her mother and grandmother suffered from the condition. “Individuals with memory loss are among us, in increasing numbers, and we need to incorporate them into the fabric of our society,” she said.

The project was made possible by a $125,000 grant from the Fred W. Fields Fund of Oregon Community Foundation Creative Heights initiative.

Szymko based her libretto on various texts, including this passage from Emily Dickenson:

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind —
As if my Brain had split —
I tried to match it — Seam by Seam —
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before —
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound
Like Balls — upon a Floor.

As I said, I’d be there this weekend if I could be in two places at once – if only to see and hear Marietta Simpson perform. She’s done everything from Porgy and Bess with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Showboat with Houston Grand Opera to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Tickets at

Listen to Eric Alan’s interview with Joan Szymko on KLCC.