Interview with Ted Sperling on MasterVoices’ THE ROAD OF PROMISE

Ted Sperling, MasterVoices Artistic Director

MasterVoices has been a major musical institution in New York City since their inception as the Collegiate Chorale 75 years ago, under the direction of renowned conductor Robert Shaw.

Their latest release, THE ROAD OF PROMISE, is a double-disc world premiere recording of the concert adaptation of Kurt Weill’s The Eternal Road.

In anticipation of its release, we caught up with MasterVoices’ artistic director Ted Sperling to discuss the new album and learn more about how it came to light.

What inspired MasterVoices to produce and perform THE ROAD OF PROMISE?

We’ve been big fans of Kurt Weill’s music for a long time. We already produced concerts of Knickerbocker Holiday and The Firebrand of Florence. So this is very much something we’d been aware of and interested in. When the critical edition was finished, it was time to take the plunge! In addition, this work is a great showpiece for our chorus and deals with subject matter that, unfortunately, is always timely.

This project has certainly been a long time in the making, from the premiere of Kurt Weill’s The Eternal Road in 1937 to the concert adaptation’s performance and recording in May 2015. How does the newer work interpret and expand upon the themes of Weill’s original epic?

The newer work is actually a distillation of the original into a more compact and performable version. The original production was close to five hours in running time and had a huge cast of principals. The Road of Promise concentrates on the relationship among the Rabbi, the Boy, and the Skeptic, with the Bible stories providing commentary.

What would you say is the biggest benefit to the album being recorded live, rather than in a studio?

A live recording is never perfect, which is sometimes hard for us to adjust to in this age of being able to manipulate nearly everything in a studio recording. But it captures a moment in time, with the sounds of an audience being engaged, so it has a special excitement. 

It is also, practically speaking, easier to pull off. You don’t have to reassemble the forces again in a recording studio, and as result, it’s also economically more feasible for a project that isn’t commercial in nature.

What message do you want your listeners to take away from this album?

I hope a greater understanding of Kurt Weill’s different voices as a composer… this is an interesting period for him, right between his European work and American work. The Road of Promise calls on both his classical roots and his showman’s talents.

What’s next for MasterVoices? What performances and recordings are you currently preparing?

We are currently preparing for two more performances at Carnegie Hall: Bach’s St. John Passion, in a newly commissioned English translation by our Evangelist, Michael Slattery, who sings the role of The Voice in THE ROAD OF PROMISE. Followed by the first major revival of Victor Herbert’s “Babes in Toyland” in over 75 years, with an all-star cast headed by Kelli O’Hara, Christopher Fitzgerald, Lauren Worsham and Bill Irwin.

THE ROAD OF PROMISE is available on Navona Records tomorrow — in the meantime, you can hear a preview of the album via the YouTube player below.

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