‘Let My People Go’ brings story of Underground Railroad to Hill District
The venue for this production had to be more than just a building.
When Matthew Mehaffey, professor of music at the University of Minnesota and Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh’s Robert Page music director, was searching for the site to hold an upcoming performance he wanted to find the right location. He sought a place that embraced the subject matter.
He found just the location — the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Hill District. This iconic place of worship will host the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh’s premiere of American composer Donald McCullough’s “Let My People Go! A Spiritual Journey Along the Underground Railroad.” This concert of African-American spirituals will take place at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15.
This project, the first collaboration between the choir and church, seeks to be a compelling example of unity.The community is invited to experience the powerful story of the journey to freedom – a perfect fit for Black History Month.
The 143-year-old church, which holds 1,000, serves a diverse congregation near the actual location of an underground railroad stop. “We are humbled to have the opportunity to host the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and this important production,” says Ebenezer’s pastor Dr. Vincent Campbell. “Ebenezer is a ‘Life Changing Church’ where pastor and people work together to achieve our vision to reach the congregation, local community and beyond. The presentation of ‘Let My People Go!’ is in line with our vision, and we are proud to provide this venue so that many from all neighborhoods will be able to experience this highly acclaimed production.”
The church was a primary meeting place for local civil rights activists in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.
Telling the story
“The evening is about more than music,” Mehaffey says. “The performance tells a story. The actors are more like narrators and talk about the Underground Railroad. These are really powerful pieces. And I believe they will have an impact on the audience
It has parts that are spine chilling and horrifying and parts of immense joy and hopefulness. It is truly fantastic music and you can hear the real power of the voices.”
The Junior Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, an ensemble of high school students, will open the show with works by contemporary African-American composers that celebrate the power of the human spirit to persevere amidst adversity and to imagine a future full of hope.
About the soloists and actors
Internationally acclaimed operatic soprano Elisabeth Stevens is also a dedicated teacher of vocal technique and the business of singing.
Baritone Gregg Baker, a favorite of the Pittsburgh Symphony known for his commanding voice, has performed leading roles at opera houses around the world.
Born in Pittsburgh, tenor Donovan Elliot Smith currently studies at the Swiss Opera Studio of Bern University of the Arts. He has appeared in various opera productions and recitals in the U.S. and Europe.
Mezzo soprano Demareus Cooper was a Metropolitan Opera audition winner and has performed as a soloist with many American orchestras.
Actor Charles Timbers has been a performer for more than 30 years, appearing in more than 30 plays in Pittsburgh.
Actor Hope Anthony, also a singer, dancer and teaching artist, has appeared in numerous local productions.
In addition to this performance, there will also be shows at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Grove City College and 3:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at West Virginia University. These two will not include the junior choir.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .