In 1998 Matthew Shepard, a first-year college student in Wyoming, was kidnapped, beaten and left to die. This brutal anti-gay hate crime inspired anguish and outrage. Nearly 20 years later it inspired composer Craig Hella Johnson to contemplate suffering, death and the flame of love and led him on a challenging creative journey. “In composing Considering Matthew Shepard,” he says, “I wanted to create, within a musical framework, a space for reflection, consideration and unity around his life and legacy.”
The result is a fusion-oratorio, stylistically eclectic music that moves between Lutheran hymnody, chant, blues, cowboy songs and Broadway as it captures the fullness of Matthew’s life and the legacy of his death. In the background are the Passion settings of JS Bach – offering musical comfort as their listeners reflect on a story of intense suffering. And Considering Matthew Shepard begins with Bach: the serene sounds of the first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier (the music that underpins Gounod’s Ave Maria).
Considering Matthew Shepard will be performed by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs' VOX choir – some of its members the same age as Matthew himself when he died – in a semi-staged presentation that reverberates with hope and serenity.