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Emory composer premieres new canticle on world conflict, suffering

"Music provides another forum in which to reflect and to draw the distanced abstract more into the conscious," explains Richard Prior, whose new work “a canticle of shadows" seeks to counter desensitization to suffering around the world. Emory Photo/Video

Like anyone paying attention to mainstream news and social media, Emory’s Richard Prior has viewed devastating events through the photos and video emerging from the world’s most conflict-ridden areas.

As viewers are inundated with depictions of the horrible suffering in other countries, it becomes difficult to stave off a growing sense of numbness towards the images and, thus, disassociate.

Prior aims to fight against this detachment in his new work “a canticle of shadows,” which has its world premiere Friday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m. in the Emerson Concert Hall of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. His work invites audience members to contemplate, not glaze over, these “moments of realism frozen in time.”

“It is impossible to not be deeply moved by the endless stream of images emanating from the conflict zones of war-torn Syria and eastern Ukraine; the continued and seemingly escalating struggle in the Middle East; the migrant crisis in Europe,” says Prior, conductor of the Emory Symphony Orchestra and director of performance studies at Emory.

Running a simple Google image search on Aleppo, for example, yields hundreds of images from professional photojournalists, as well as people literally living in the middle of the situation, Prior says.

“The aura of devastation and hopelessness that radiates from these photographs permeates the tapestry of social and mainstream media,” reflects Prior. “They are moments of realism frozen in time; static, yet telling a visceral story when we pause to absorb them.

“I think as artists, we are bound to respond to creative imperatives that seek to communicate both the tangible and intangible,” he says. “In this instance, I felt that as with so many similar circumstances, there is a process of increasing desensitization. Music provides another forum in which to reflect and to draw the distanced abstract more into the conscious.”

New York City’s renowned Orpheus Chamber Orchestra premieres the commissioned work as part of their Candler Concert Series performance, a collaboration brought about by outgoing Schwartz Center founding director Bob McKay. The concert also includes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35, a perennial favorite due to its luscious melodies, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, featuring some of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching music of his career.

Tickets are available from the Arts at Emory Box Office (1700 N. Decatur Road) in person, by phone at 404-727-5050, or online at Full price tickets are $60, with tickets available for $48 for qualifying discount category members including Emory faculty and staff, and $10 for Emory students.

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