Paul Moravec: “Sanctuary Road” comes to Princeton

“Why are we doing Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road?”

And so, Ryan Brandau – Artistic Director of the Princeton Pro Musica (PPM) (pictured right) – invites us to find out more about the ensemble’s May 5 concert at Princeton University’s Richardson Hall. Sanctuary Road is scored for five soloists, chorus, and orchestra; and Moravec, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, wrote the oratorio with fellow Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell. Campbell’s libretto is directly based after the writings of historic figure William Still — the son of a former slave, a Philadelphia-based businessman, writer, philanthropist, historian, abolitionist and a conductor for The Underground Railroad. Still helped almost 800 slaves escape to freedom, and meticulously and passionately documented many of their lives in his 1872 memoir, The Underground Railroad Records. The 45-minute oratorio was commissioned by the Oratorio Society of New York (OSNY) and premiered in May 2018 at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Kent Tritle. OSNY’s subsequent Grammy-nominated recording of Sanctuary Road is featured on the Naxos label.

Brandau continues. “As an organization, Princeton Pro Musica has deep experience in the oratorio genre, both with 18th- and 19th-century greats like Handel’s Solomon and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, but also with more recent additions such as James Whitbourn’s Annelies: the Diary of Anne Frank. I had the great fortune to attend the premiere of Sanctuary Road with Angel Gardner, soprano in PPM and board member of the Oratorio Society of New York. In the first few seconds of the work, its humanity struck me. ‘Sarah Grace, Clarissa Davis, Wesley Harris:’ these were the names of real people. As the opening continued, the imperatives, in the voice of Dashon Burton (who portrayed Elijah with PPM) – ‘Write it down. Record. Recount. Chronicle’ – crystalized the purpose and potential of the oratorio genre.

Sanctuary Road marshals dozens of artists to tell and make immediate the histories of William Still and those he helped to freedom. Campbell’s presentation of Still’s chronicle, conveyed through Moravec’s sumptuous, intense music, make us feel, on the human level, the dimensions of the historical figures in the story as they shout, whisper, run, hide, fear, and hope. It is, on the one hand, a very specific history, woven into the history of PPM’s neighborhood and this corridor of the country; it’s [also] about an extraordinary man, William Still, and the many people he aided. There’s a power in lifting up that personhood and specificity to individuals from whom it was so brutally and purposefully stripped. On the other hand, it’s also a bigger story, about humankind’s capacity, in the face of its basest and most deplorable institution, for incredible bravery, staggering selflessness, and, above all, kindness.” Take a sneak peak of the concert with some “VIP’s” here.

For tickets and more information, visit the Princeton Pro Musica .