Review of “Hands” premiere by Chicago Classical Review

The Grant Park Chorus, under the director of Christopher Bell, premiered my choral work “Hands” on July 18, 2019 at the Columbus Park Refectory in Chicago. The piece sets the poetry of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962). This particular poem was written in response to Jeffers’ visit to the ancient Esselen people’s “Cave of the Hands” near Tassajara, CA. To Jeffers, the multitude of hands painted inside the cave was a reminder that we are part of a continuing chain of humanity and that artistic expression is central to the human experience. 

Of the premiere, Chicago Classical Review wrote: 

The focal point of the program was the world premiere of Lori Laitman’s Hands, commissioned by Grant Park on the occasion of Carlos Kalmar’s 20th anniversary as festival artistic director and principal conductor. 

The text of Hands is taken from American Robinson Jeffers’s poem, which reflects on a visit to the “Cave of Hands” near Tassajara, California. There a smattering of handprints painted by the ancient Esselen people adorn the cave’s walls. The sight prompted the poet’s stanzas about humanity’s inherent drive toward artistic expression that transcends time.

Laitman’s setting does service to its source material, evoking the mysterious cave in the march-like opening and a smart “chromatic, melismatic melody, rising and falling, as if tracing a hand’s shape from the thumb outward,” as the composer describes in her program notes. Inventively, the piece’s musical material runs tangent to the text through a stylistic mélange of Gregorian chant, Baroque chorale, and 20th-century minimalism layered one atop the other–suggesting that perhaps all art, like the human experience itself, is instantaneously present in every moment.

The premiere was received warmly, garnering a standing ovation from the capacity audience. After the chorus delivered a briskly paced reading of Thea Musgrave’s quirky On the Underground, Set No 2., Bell invited Laitman and Lita Grier to join the chorus at the front of the stage to acknowledge the applause in a fitting cap to the evening.

The full review can be read here