Moravec: More Important Than Ever

Sanctuary Road is more important than ever.” Mark Campbell, librettist

(l to r) Librettist Mark Campbell, conductor Kent Tritle, commissioner Jodie Spellun, and Paul Moravec

As the Oratorio Society of New York prepares for its May 7 world premiere of Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road, Campell introduces us the composer’s newest choral work. The 45-minute piece was commissioned by the ensemble and the premiere takes place at Carnegie Hall led by Kent Tritle. Sanctuary Road is based on 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.

Campbell continues. “Sanctuary Road is an oratorio based on the writings of William Still, who helped almost 800 slaves escape to freedom and who meticulously and passionately documented many of their lives in his 1872 memoir, The Underground Railroad Records. In the oratorio, we learn of Ellen Craft who disguises herself as a sickly old white man in search of medical help up north; of Henry Box Brown, who encloses himself in a crate and is mailed to the address of some abolitionists in Philadelphia; and of Harriet Eglan and Charlotte Giles, who pretend that they are attending the funeral for their fictitious Aunt Abigail. With these stories, and several more, Sanctuary Road honors the courage and humanity of individuals escaping to freedom, while celebrating the inspirational, collective power of the movement William Still recorded in his memoir…We can only move forward as a country by reminding ourselves where we’ve been.”

“The power of an oratorio to combine the personal and universal,” Moravec opines, “make it an ideal genre to lend resonance to the epic stories of William Still and those involved in The Underground Railroad. Mark’s compelling libretto faithfully projects the luminous spirit of Mr. Still’s own words describing and recording ‘the death struggles of slaves in their efforts of freedom.’ Throughout the creative process of imagining the music, I was guided by their ennobling courage and strength. The saga of The Underground Railroad is always timely and, perhaps especially so now, in this era of historical amnesia driven in part by persistent political and cultural forces.”

Tritle adds, “Ironically, when we embarked on the Sanctuary Road project, we knew it was important; but since our flame sparked, real life events have made this project ever more relevant and needed. This is a time when artists struggle for the words, music, and performance opportunities to bridge that realm where our training, our passion for art, and our real lives intersect. Without that real and visceral connection of life meeting art…musicians, dancers, actors, and visual artists in our community atrophy and wither. We must express the values we hold as humanists alongside those we hold as artists. There is no life for one without the other….”