Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bach Choir to Tackle 'Alzheimer's Stories'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bach Choir to Tackle 'Alzheimer's Stories'

Article excerpt

Composer Robert S. Cohen has tackled plenty of difficult themes, including eternity, homeland security and the biblical story of creation.

Still, when an Eastern Pennsylvania arts group commissioned him to write a choral work about Alzheimer's patients, the task felt daunting, even though Mr. Cohen had watched his stepmother suffer with the illness.

"I called Herschel. He's a fantastic librettist and a fine composer," Mr. Cohen said in a telephone interview from his home in Upper Montclair, N.J.

Herschel Garfein, who often collaborates with Mr. Cohen, wrote the libretto for the opera "Elmer Gantry," which garnered a Grammy this year for best contemporary classical composition. Mr. Garfein suggested that members of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale post stories about Alzheimer's patients they knew on a blog that was part of the choir's website.

"I think in theatrical terms, which is why Herschel and I seem to work so well together. We think more in terms of character rather than abstract soloists," Mr. Cohen said.

Chorale members posted 80 funny and sad anecdotes. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Garfein used them while working on the piece for eight months, finishing in 2009.

This weekend, the 90-member Bach Choir of Pittsburgh presents "Time Remembered/Time Forgotten" and performs the Pittsburgh premiere of "Alzheimer's Stories," a melodic 30-minute oratorio that dramatizes how the illness affects families. Thomas W. Douglas, artistic director of the Bach Choir for the past eight years, will conduct the choir and a 14-member orchestra. Throughout this season, the musical group will perform six concerts that explore how the passage of time affects people.

The first section of "Alzheimer's Stories" details the numbers associated with the illness, including 1901, the year the first patient was diagnosed, in Frankfurt, Germany. Five years later, in 1911, the condition was named after the treating doctor, Alois Alzheimer.

The second part of the work recounts patients' stories. …

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