Austin-based vocal ensemble Conspirare is coming to Boston. The Grammy-winning group, led by conductor Craig Hella Johnson, will perform “Considering Matthew Shepard” at Symphony Hall on Feb. 5.
Composed by Johnson himself, “Considering Matthew Shepard” is a three-part oratorio inspired by the death of Matthew Shepard, who was brutally beaten, tortured and left for dead in a Wyoming field in 1998.
Shepard’s sexual orientation was speculated to have been a motivating factor in his murder, and the incident became one of the most well-known hate crimes in recent history, prompting mass media coverage, new hate crime legislation and myriad artistic interpretations.
We spoke with Johnson, and asked him what his piece adds to the conversation.
“It’s all in the title,” Johnson says. “I think of the piece as a singing meditation. It’s certainly about Matt Shepard, but it’s also very much about the listener, inviting them to contemplate — how do we respond to these dark, confounding realities in life?”
If past performances are any indication, Boston audiences will find light in the darkness. This is not a piece that sacrifices redemptive power for tragic content.
“What’s been interesting,” Johnson continues, “is that every time we perform I get a response from audience members of fullness and healing — some have even said hope and joy — so it doesn’t just leave Matt at the fence.”
That is something Johnson has harped on a lot over the last year. The symbolism of “Matt at the fence” — Shepard was tied to a fence, in Christ-like fashion, by his tormentors — is powerful, but it’s not an end in itself. Rather, it’s a means, a catalyst for renewal.
Shepard’s story resonated deeply and personally with Johnson. His composition process included interviews with Shepard’s parents, as well as access to Shepard’s personal journal — quotes from which appear verbatim in the production.
The end result — where musical-talent-meets-deep-personal-commitment-meets-noble-cause — is, fittingly, the Grammy nomination for “Best Surround Sound Album” in 2017. For Johnson, though, it’s about the process, and the people.
“It’s sacred ground to walk on,” Johnson says. “Really any association with Matt, and with all these people who have come forth is a great privilege, and an honor.”
If you go:
Feb. 5 at 3 p.m.
Boston Symphony Hall
301 Massachusetts Ave.
Tickets start at $20, bso.org