LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Timothy Michael Powell: Carnegie Hall, Part 2

Today I'm concluding my interview with accomplished conductor and composer Dr. Timothy Michael Powell, who conducted the world premiere of his Wedding Mass at Carnegie Hall last month.

LeAnne: How did this experience grow and challenge you?

Tim: Professionally, I approached the concert with Winston Churchill's mantra forever in my mind: "Never give up, never give up, never give up." I was more than prepared artistically for the concert, but had never recruited for an event this large and I found my personal resources stretched beyond what I thought I could accomplish. To put it into perspective, the budget for the trip was probably in the neighborhood of $270,000 and involved almost 180 people. There were many weeks, particularly through the late fall of 2007 and early spring of 2008 when we expected that the concert would be cancelled at any point due to low participation in the choir (they wanted a minimum of 150 singers and we were only able to recruit 130 for the performance). This would most likely have been devastating to my career and reputation. Concert organizers would have been unwilling to take a risk scheduling me or my music for future concerts in the event of a cancellation. I don't even want to imagine what the legal and financial toll would have been to the various participating ensembles.

The low point was in late February when I was told we needed 45 more singers by April. We recruited 36 new people in 6 weeks, which seems an almost impossible task in retrospect, particularly so close to the concert (each singer paid $1500 to participate). To maintain the level of excitement in the ensembles, working each day to perfect the music, without conveying my panic and desperation was a huge accomplishment. I lost count of the sleepless nights when my wife and I laid awake in the dark brainstorming over how to convince more people to participate, and the times I prayed myself to sleep. If there were ever an equivalent of taking a gamble and rolling the proverbial dice, the last two years of concert preparation have been that. The rewards, of course, have been worth the work.

LM: What's next for you? What are you working on now?

TP: I'm working on another Mass right now--a much smaller, more intimate setting with just choir and organ. It's quite a different piece and is in part a monument of remembrance, an Ebenezer, to my late father, the Rev. Danny Powell, who died a year ago of leukemia. In addition, I've been brainstorming about the possibility of a new opera or sacred oratorio, perhaps based on the book of Esther or the book of Ruth. It takes about a year and a half to write an hour-long major work, so chances are, I'll spend most of the next year writing smaller works (motets, spirituals, songs, etc), while I continue to develop ideas for the piece in hopes of developing a performance opportunity or commission for the opera. Further, I'm very excited about possible plans for more Wedding Mass performances by ensembles in South Carolina and in Connecticut, the latter as a result of contacts made at Carnegie Hall after the concert.

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