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Exhibitions and Events

Chamber Choir and Percussion Ensemble perform world premiere of "Mass Observation"

By Marilou Carlin

University of Michigan Museum of Art, "Orion" sculpture by Mark Di Suvero in the foreground, Photo by Leisa Thompson

The University of Michigan Chamber Choir, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD), will perform the world premiere of a new work for choir and percussion by internationally acclaimed composer Tarik O’Regan. The concert, which also features the U-M Percussion Ensemble, takes place at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, February 15 at 8 pm, with free admission (no tickets required).

The concert will be led by Professor Jerry Blackstone, chair of the Department of Conducting, and director of choral activities at SMTD. and Professor Jonathan Ovalle (percussion) is director of the Percussion Ensemble that performs with the choir.

Composer Tarik O’Regan. Photo by Peter Greig

Titled Mass Observation, the 45-minute work was commissioned with support from the William K. and Delores S. Brehm Choral Commissioning Fund and the Barbara Abramoff Levy Fund.

The work takes its title from the British social research organization, Mass-Observation, founded in 1937 to record everyday life in the United Kingdom. In the era before cellular phones made it possible to record and document every moment of life, Mass-Observation controversially paid investigators to anonymously record people’s conversation and behavior at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings, sporting, and religious events.

O’Regan said he was also inspired to write the work after learning that there are more aerial surveillance drone technicians being trained today than there are airplane pilots. He describes Mass Observation as “a meditation on the histories of our varied ambivalent relationships with surveillance in its myriad guises.”

“The use of technologies that sate our desires to be watched and heard (safety, tracking, empowerment, and pride) has, in some sense, always been able to be weighed against our anxieties around invasions of privacy (physical and psychological harm, hacking, subjugation, and embarrassment),” wrote Tarik in the program note for Mass Observation.

The 45-minute composition is scored for chorus and percussion sextet and features 13 short movements. “There is a ritualistic nature to the overall pacing of the work, reminiscent of a liturgical mass setting,” according to Tarik.

Born in England but now residing in New York City, Tarik O’Regan has written music for a wide variety of ensembles and organizations including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House, London. He is currently working on a full-scale opera about the life of Lorenzo Da Ponte commissioned by Houston Grand Opera for 2019. His work has been recognized with two GRAMMY® nominations and two British Composer Awards.

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