From the aching dissonances in the introduction to the plangent duet for tenor and baritone that leads into the Gloria, from the complex rhythmic patterns of the Gloria to the emotional pavane for soprano solo at “Domine Fili unigenite” and much more, this is a truly sterling addition to the sacred repertory and proof that music can join forces with what is best in humanity: its care for justice. The array of expressive sounds and gestures both in the orchestra and the vocal forces is stunning: when the Agnus Dei–beginning with hushed, widely-spaced sonorities that build to a massive climax, then fall back into softest pleading at the close–is over, we feel that we have been on a momentous spiritual journey.

Susan Youens
University of Notre Dame

 

Mass For The Oppressed was composed as a response to the release from prison of George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease–Native Alaskans, collectively known as The Fairbanks Four, who were wrongfully convicted of murder, and spent eighteen years in prison. Growing up in Fairbanks, I was seventeen years old when the Fairbanks Four went into prison. Eighteen years later, I find myself a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. Though not a Catholic myself, I have sung settings of the Mass all my life, and the text of the Mass presented a truly universal conduit through which to express the complex and varying emotions that rose within me. While the Fairbanks Four represent a local Alaskan issue, it speaks to a much wider and systematic problem in our nation's criminal justice system, where the poor and underprivileged are often victimized. This realization, along with the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, spurred me to compose the Mass for the Oppressed.

I programmed the Mass to be performed in November 2016 in Notre Dame and invited internationally acclaimed soloists Tess Altiveros, Toby Newman, Barry Banks and David Miller to lend their powerful voices to the Mass. The other two works on the program are also part of the message of hope over oppression: my arrangement of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and "De Profundis" a piece inspired by the "letter" Oscar Wilde wrote while he was in prison.