New works uplifting women’s voices through song will be performed in Portland in May.
First, we have award-winning composer Jessica Meyer’s new work, Because I Will Not Despair, set to poems by acclaimed Portland poet Alicia Jo Rabins. Then, experience Homer’s The Odyssey like never before through the West Coast premiere of Kareem Roustom’s Hurry to the Light – a musical setting of text from this well-known epic, recently translated by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Emily Wilson. You’re invited to explore the “rupture, resistance, healing, and resilience” (Rabins) of women through music and lyrics performed by professional women’s vocal ensemble In Mulieribus (IM) and Portland Youth Philharmonic’s (PYP’s) Camerata PYP, the organization’s chamber orchestra. These works will be performed in Portland on May 12 at St. Philip Neri Church, and May 13 at Lewis & Clark College’s Evans Auditorium. This event’s official media sponsor is All Classical Portland.
Because I Will Not Despair was co-commissioned by PYP and IM, and is named after one of the poems set in the piece. This cross-continental and intergenerational experience is a love letter to women everywhere; through orchestral and vocal excellence, Camerata PYP and IM will take you on a musical journey of breaking, resisting, and ultimately achieving healing.
The four poems that are infused into Because I Will Not Despair were written by Rabins between 2016 and 2020. With themes of pain and peace woven throughout, Rabins hopes audiences will feel “supported, held, and strengthened by our connections with one another.”
“It’s a deep honor to have these poems set to music by composer Jessica Meyer, and especially meaningful knowing that they will be performed by a vocal ensemble and youth orchestra right here in Portland, where these poems were born,” stated Alicia Jo Rabins. “These poems are about our shared vulnerability, and our shared power.”
“I really resonate with the perspective Alicia writes from: being a woman, a mother, a wife, a community builder, a spiritual being, and a creator,” Meyer reflected. “Her imagery is already visceral, so it made my job easy to set her words to music. Interestingly, I have been in the midst of my own active healing since last summer, so setting this particular text at this juncture was quite timely and indeed very cathartic…. In a time that women are still being questioned and devalued on a daily basis, I dedicate this work to anyone who needs to hear these words right now.”
Meyer and Rabins have been inspired by each other since a fateful meeting on a plane in 2013, shortly after Meyer realized she was always meant to be a composer.
Behind Kareem Roustom’s Hurry to the Light lies a similar intention to showcase not only the journey of women, but the power within them. Inspired by Emily Wilson’s translation and her subtleties in language to “clear the misogynistic dust left by previous English translations” (Roustom), Roustom chose to only give voice to the women of the story, rather than the hero, Odysseus.
“Emily Wilson’s recent translation of Homer’s The Odyssey breathes a new life into this ancient tale by making the language more contemporary to our ears, but by also bringing to light the role of women in that great tale,” said Roustom. “I am thrilled that [Camerata PYP and In Mulieribus] will present this
work to a new audience because performing it publicly continues the ancient tradition of storytelling that goes back to time immemorial. I hope that the audience will feel that they, too, are taking part in this ancient tradition and that they might be moved by the compelling narrative of Homer’s tale through the beauty of Wilson’s translation and my setting of it with music.”