Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra Commission

I Think I Shall Praise It

The 2015-16 season marks the 50th Anniversary Season of the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra. To celebrate this landmark occasion, the Chorus commissioned Kurt Erickson to write a new work for chorus and orchestra. Using texts written by poets Robert Haas, Carolyn Kizer, and Frank O’Hara, the new choral set captures the spirit and essence of Berkeley’s rich history.

I Think I Shall Praise It  — Program Notes

This new choral reflects something of the essence of Berkeley and its rich history. In the first movement, I treat the Epilogue in UC Berkeley poet Robert Haas’ work Praise as a metaphor for the Chorus itself – a massive ensemble capable of creating sonic textures that are “terrifying, large, and unpredictable” yet still a thing to be praised, especially on this the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Season. Carolyn Kizer’s poem “TU FU to LI PO” is taken from her Pulitzer Prize winning collection Yin, a work written while she and her husband lived in Berkeley. In this imagined conversation between two poetic masters from Chinese history, Kizer’s protagonists display a Bohemian spirit that, separated by centuries, fits perfectly within the Berkeley counterculture ethos. A setting of Frank O’Hara’s poem “Oh, to be an angel” from his work Lunch Poems reflects a quality I associate with Berkeley – the poetic dreamer longing for a richer, more magical existence. It’s worth noting that UC Berkeley’s Lunch Poetry reading series, inspired by O’Hara’s collection, just celebrated its 50th Anniversary during the 2013-14 season.

Robert Haas, Kurt Erickson, and soprano Heidi Moss
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Robert Haas, Kurt Erickson, and soprano Heidi Moss

On a personal note, I’ve always felt a special kinship with Berkeley, a city that has played a looming role in both my personal and extended family history. Growing up in Central California farm country, my father would regale us with tales of his upbringing, the highlight of which always included stories of he and his Swedish immigrant family members driving or taking the train up to the Bay Area to watch Cal Football games and enjoy all that post-WWII life in the San Francisco Bay Area had to offer (mainly, big bands playing at the Mark Hopkins; late night drinks at Lefty O’Doul’s where everyone seemed to know my great uncle Oscar, the mayor of tiny Kingsburg; an aunt long since deceased who studied music at Cal during her undergraduate years, etc.). Years later during my own Bohemian post-college salad days, time spent living and working in the east bay imprinted the Berkeley mindset on my psyche in an indelible fashion (at one point I had visions of studying musicology in the hallowed halls of the Cal Music Department and becoming the next Charles Rosen – it didn’t stick).

Commissioned works such as this where the personal intersects the artistic in such a substantial manner are by far the most enjoyable and rewarding to create as a composer. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to create a new work for the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra, and wish the Chorus continued success well beyond its next 50 years!