Princeton Pro Musica
Princeton Pro Musica
P.O. Box 1313
Princeton, NJ 08542
(609) 683-5122

About the Music

The 2007-2008 season launches a new matinee format, with all concerts scheduled on Sunday afternoons, and continues Princeton Pro Musica’s practice of partnering with other musical organizations. . Frances Fowler Slade, Founder and Music Director, will conduct the performances at Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton and the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

4:00 p.m.

Patriots Theater at Trenton War Memorial

War Requiem

Benjamin Britten

In collaboration with the Westfield Symphony

Watch a 12-minute introductory video


Tickets $38, $45
Free assistive listening devices available
Free parking available close by



Princeton Pro Musica brings Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem to Patriot’s Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton on Sunday, May 4th at 4 pm. Premiered for the re-opening of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, the work is an unflinching cry against war. The War Requiem is a monumental undertaking, and has not been performed in New Jersey for two decades. Tickets are $45 and $38.

Britten was commissioned to write the War Requiem for the consecration of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry, England. During the Battle of Britain in World War II, the cathedral and much of Coventry were destroyed in one terrible night of German air raids. A new cathedral was built alongside the ruins of the old. Britten’s War Requiem is angry and unsettling, but also has passages of great tenderness and lyricism. The large-scale work includes a huge array of percussion instruments and intersperses the poetry of Wilfred Owen (a soldier killed in World War I) with the traditional liturgy of the Latin Mass.

In order to present this huge work, Princeton Pro Musica and the Westfield Symphony Orchestra have joined forces in an unusual collaboration featuring the 100-voice Princeton Pro Musica chorus and the Westfield orchestra. A treble choir has an important role in the music. Britten specified that the treble choir should be “at a distance,” and so a 40-voice youth choir, directed by Sue Ellen Page, will sing from top balcony at the War Memorial.

Britten, a conscientious objector during World War II, combined the traditional words of the Requiem Mass with the shattering and bitter poetry of Wilfred Owen. Owen, a soldier who was killed one week before the Armistice of World War I, wrote, “My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn.” Britten inscribed these words under the title of his music.

Program Notes

Public awareness of Benjamin Britten’s person and works advanced dramatically – even explosively – twice during his lifetime. The first time was in 1945, when his opera Peter Grimes was produced for the postwar reopening of Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. The second time followed the premiere at Coventry and the subsequent series of performances all across Europe and North America of the War Requiem. The triumph of Peter Grimes marked not just the confirmation of a prodigious talent; it represented a moment of hope that, for the first time since the death of Henry Purcell in 1695, England had produced a composer of international stature. In addition, he had already shown impressive aptitude for the still rather new challenges of film music.

The impact the War Requiem made 17 years later was wider and deeper by far. Britten, approaching fifty, had become an artist whose every new utterance was awaited with the most lively interest and the highest expectations. The War Requiem, moreover, was tied to a pair of events that were heavily freighted with history and emotion: the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in an air raid during the night of November 14-15, 1940, and its reconsecration more than twenty-one years later. The War Requiem was a weighty and poignant statement on the subject of piercingly urgent concern to much of humankind.

Britten was a lifelong pacifist. As early as 1937 he had composed a Pacifist March for a Peace Pledge Union concert. It was a combination of his pacifism, his loyalty to left-wing causes, and his despair at Stanley Baldwin’s and later Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler that drive Britten to follow W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood to the United States in 1939. What sent Britten back to England in 1942 was the chance discovery, in a Los Angeles bookstore, of a volume of poetry by George Crabbe and of an article by E.M. Forster on Crabbe. “To think of Crabbe is to think of England,” Forster began. That sentence changed Britten’s life. It made inescapable the feeling that he must go home, and it was in Crabbe’s The Borough that he found the material for Peter Grimes.

The theme of Peter Grimes is the collision of innocence with wickedness and corruption, innocence outraged. It is the theme that dominates Britten’s life work. The composition of the War Requiem marks Britten’s readiness to treat the topic explicitly, rather than as a parable or in symbolic form. In a sense, the commission from Coventry was what he was waiting for, what he needed.

Britten conceived the bold plan of confronting the Missa pro defunctis – a timeless supranatural ritual in a dead language – with nine English-language poems by Wilfred Owen, written in 1917 and 1918 in the hospital and in the trenches. For half a century, it is Wilfred Owen who has been recognized as the most eloquent, as well as the most resourceful, of the so-called war poets. Owen was born at Plas Wilmot, Oswestry, Shropshire, in 1893. He enrolled at London University, and contemplated the ministry. In 1915 he joined the army, a company called the Artists’ Rifles. He wrote verse fluently as a boy, generally in emulation of Keats and Tennyson. Ironically, it was the war that freed his poetic gift, so that in 1917 he was able to write to his mother: “I go out of this year a poet, my dear mother, as which I did not enter it. I am held peer by the Georgians; I am a poet’s poet. I am started.” In October 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross, and on November 4 he was machine-gunned to death while trying to get his company across the Sambre Canal. The war ended just one week later.

In the War Requiem, Britten drew on forces larger and more complex than in any previous work of his. The basic division of the performers is into two groups, reflecting the dual source of the words; the libretto stands in a relation of text (the Latin Missa pro defunctis) and commentary (the nine Owen poems). The Latin text is essentially the province of the large mixed chorus, but from this there is spillover in two opposite directions: the solo soprano represents a heightening of the choral singing at its most emotional, while the boys’ choir represents liturgy at its most distanced. The mixed chorus and solo soprano are accompanied by thefull orchestra; the boys’ choir, whose sound should be distant, is supported by an organ. All this constitutes one group. The other group consists of the tenor and baritone soloists, whose province is the series of Owen songs; they are accompanied by the chamber orchestra.

From notes by Michael Steinberg, program annotator of the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony


Previous Concerts

Sunday, October 21, 2007

4:00 p.m.

Princeton University's Richardson Auditorium

Te Deum in C
Symphony No. 1


Franz Joseph Haydn
Ludwig van Beethoven
Wolfgang Adameus Mozart

As of Wednesday, October 17th all ticket sales will be handled by University Ticketing (609) 258-5000. The Richardson Auditorium box office will open for walk-in ticket sales 2 hours prior to the performance.

Tickets $38, $45



Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, and Te Deum in C by Franz Joseph Haydn inaugurate Princeton Pro Musica’s 29th season on Sunday, February 17th, 2008, 4:00 pm.

The program will open with Haydn’s festive Te Deum, written for the Empress Marie Therese. The Empress was a highly influential patron of the arts, during the classic period—an unusual role for a woman at that time.

The Pro Musica orchestra will perform Beethoven’s First Symphony, an audience favorite known for its inventiveness and energy. According to Slade, “It has been said that Beethoven is Haydn gone mad. This symphony, which pushes the envelope and is filled with surprise after surprise, bears that out.”

The Requiem will be performed with the completion by Robert Levin, of Harvard University. Since Mozart died during the composition of the Requiem, there are gaps in the overall form. Levin filled the gaps, using Mozart’s sketches. Frances Slade says, “It is remarkably satisfying to experience the complete structure. Levin’s work is tremendously exciting – I prefer this to all previous versions.”

Soloists will include Rachel Watkins, soprano; Filomena Francesca Tritto, mezzo-soprano; Frederick Urrey, tenor; and Elem Eley, baritone.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

3:00 p.m.

Patriots Theater at Trenton War Memorial

The Messiah

G. F. Handel


Tickets $38, $45
Free assistive listening devices available
Free parking available close by



Princeton Pro Musica has made Handel's Messiah its annual holiday tradition (occasional deviations have been met with audience protest). The first Pro Musica performance of Messiah was in 1982, at the Trenton War Memorial.

This year’s performance will feature the acclaimed Handel soprano Julianne Baird, tenor Scott Murphree, and bass Kevin Deas.

"I cherish being part of the world-wide community of people who have loved and sung The Messiah since its debut in Dublin in 1742.  It's like having a singable, global family tree," says PPM soprano Sally Chrisman. "No matter how many times I sing it, I still feel passion, excitement, awe, gratitude, and wonder," Chrisman says.  “I hear new wisdom and solace in the text every time, make some new mistakes every time, get some really tricky parts perfect (finally!), and still get a burst of joy from having the audience stand for the Hallelujah Chorus."


Sunday, February 17, 2008

4:00 p.m.

Princeton High School Performing Arts Center

Concert for Peace and Reconciliation

Randall Thompson, Samuel Barber, Kirke Mechem, Moses Hogan, and others


Tickets $20
Free assistive listening devices available



For the Concert for Peace and Reconciliation, Pro Musica will be joined by the New Jersey Gay Men's Chorus, Stephen A. Russell, Music Director, February 17, 2008 at 4 p.m. at the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center. This concert includes songs by Randall Thompson, Samuel Barber, Gwyneth Walker, and other American composers writing about peace and justice.


About Princeton Pro Musica

Founded in 1979 by music director Frances Slade, Princeton Pro Musica includes a chorus of 100 voices, orchestra and chamber chorus. The chorus includes many music educators, and a core of professional singers. All chorus members audition annually, and the quality of the choral ensemble has been consistently acclaimed. The PPM Orchestra features outstanding professional musicians from New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. Besides teaming with the Westfield Symphony, the Chorus has performed in recent years with the Princeton Symphony and the Riverside Symphonia, American Repertory Ballet, Princeton GirlChoir, Reverence Dance Company, Sharim V’Sharot, and Bright Hope Baptist Church Celestial Choir of Philadelphia. Princeton Pro Musica has received three grants from CHORUS AMERICA, and is funded in part by a generous grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State.

Free assistive listening devices are available at the December 2, February 17th and May 4th concerts. All concert venues are barrier-free. Tickets are $38 and $45, with the exception of the February 17 concert for which tickets are $20 for general admission. Princeton Pro Musica offers a 20% discount for advance sales to groups of 10 or more. For more information, please call (609) 683-5122. Click here to read about the music in the 2006-2007 season.

top of page
©2005- Princeton Pro Musica. All rights reserved.
Designed and Hosted by Princeton Online
Photo by Paul Papier