By Pat Brown
When 250 musicians take to the main stage at Virginia Tech’s Moss Center on Sunday, April 3, at 7 p.m. in the Moss Center for the Arts, they will follow the lead of composer/conductor Dwight Bigler as they bring to life the world premiere performance of his original composition “Mosaic for Earth.”
Bigler says he has composed throughout his life, “but never this large” a project. His message in the work is serious: “We are much more aware of the real and huge climate changes” that are upon us, he said, “but humans have got to start acting.”
Bigler said he asked himself how he could help.
“The power of music is so often used as a motivator,” he said. “It connects to the heart.” His goal was to create a work that reminds listeners of nature’s beauty and inspires them to take action to help preserve the planet.
“I specifically included parts for the children’s chorus,” he said, referring to the Blacksburg Children’s Choir, which will be part of the performance.
Bigler took inspiration from his own family’s frequent camping trips in Idaho, from fellow professors and from his own research. He credited Mary Denison Moore, a Virginia Tech English
professor and an alto in the Blacksburg Master Chorale, for guiding him toward texts culled from her knowledge of environmental literature.
He used the positive text from Psalm 104 and created contrast by telling of man’s impact on the environment.
Bigler took a sabbatical from his duties at Virginia Tech in the 2019-2020 school year to read, to travel to some of the world’s natural wonders, and to study with a host of artists at the Hambridge Center in North Georgia. He said his travels and studies “were essential to my creative process.”
In the book “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” he discovered the title he would use for his budding work: “Mosaic for Earth.”
During the concert, some of Bigler’s photographs will be part of the natural scenes that will fill screens surrounding the stage and the performers. Created by Virginia Tech’s David Franusich, the evening’s video effects will include sweeping drone shots.
In March of 2020, Bigler’s musical project suffered the same shutdown as the rest of the university and the nation.
He smiles when recalls that the Blacksburg Master Chorale and the Virginia Tech Student Ensemble had already begun to work on some of the music for a premiere date of, ironically, April 3, 2020.
The composer used the rehearsal pause to his advantage, reworking and refining some sections. “It was very useful,” he said. In-person rehearsals resumed in the fall of 2021, with singers socially distancing and wearing masks, some designed especially for singers.
Two Virginia Tech choirs and four featured soloists will join in the singing on Sunday under Bigler’s direction.
Danielle Talamentes, a Virginia Tech alumna, will sing the soprano solo. She is currently with the Metropolitan Opera. Jami Rhodes will sing mezzo soprano, Isaac Hurtado will sing tenor, and Christopher Holmes will sing baritone.
Recently, the Virginia Tech Philharmonic Orchestra has been rehearsing to accompany the combined choirs for this weekend’s performance.
Bigler thanked Dr. Annie Pearce, another alto in the chorale and VT faculty member. Pearce headed up four outreach events that are occurring separately but in conjunction with the world premiere.
Two outreach events are still ahead. On Monday, April 4, at 4 p.m. a reading from the book “Lost Mountain” will take place. The book documents humanity’s negative impact on nature.
On April 16, an online Webinar designed as a planning workshop on personal sustainability will be presented.
The world premiere of Bigler’s composition “will be much more than a concert,” promised the composer. The multimedia performance will be recorded and will eventually be available on CD and on major streaming platforms.
“In a way the concert is not the culmination, but the beginning,” said Bigler of his work’s premiere. “We have to get the piece out there so it can fulfill it’s mission” as inspiration for action.