Singers include Daniel Sumegi, Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn, Lawrence Brownlee, Patricia Racette and Matthew Polenzani.

While Donald Trump, it seems, is still struggling to put together a line up for his inauguration next Friday, a New York musical director appears to have had more success coming up with an ‘alternative’ concert. Not only that, a host of opera A-listers, including Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn, Lawrence Brownlee, Matthew Polenzani, Patricia Racette and Australian bass Daniel Sumegi have signed up to be a part of the event.

Glen Roven conducted Bill Clinton’s inauguration and had hoped to have repeated the honour for Clinton’s wife. Instead, he has come up with the idea for The Hillary Speeches – a setting of texts from two speeches by unsuccessful Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “I was honoured to conduct the concert in front of the Lincoln Monument for Bill Clinton’s inauguration” says Roven. “Up until recently, I thought I might conduct Hillary’s inauguration as well. Nevertheless, or perhaps because, I still felt I had to contribute. I’m not rich, nor am I inclined to shout in the streets. But I do write music.”

Glen Roven with Adrienne Danrich and Camille Zamora at recording sessions

The work sets extracts from two speeches by Hillary Clinton – the announcement that she was running as a candidate in 2007 and her concession speech to Donald Trump from last November — as an extended art song (or scena).

“I wanted to involve as many artists from the classical community as possible and split up all the lines,” says Roven, who reached out to colleagues across America. “The response was overwhelming. Setting Hillary’s words was a very emotional experience. Phrases that fly by in a speech are naturally elongated in a musical setting, and as I set each word, slowly and methodically I was in tears. When I mentioned this project to these singers, their immediate response was, ‘I’m in.'”

“At this time of disturbing political unrest, I am pleased to sing Hillary’s words,” Aussie-born, now New York-based Sumegi told Limelight. “I am rather apolitical most of the time, but I am sure I am like most artistic people in being shocked by the disunity in the world right now, and not just in the USA, where I live. I am amazed at all the great artists who have committed to the project, to remind people that there is always a reasonable, calm way, but also to keep shining the light on equality, reason, fairness and respect.”

In fact, so many singers said yes that Roven and director Camille Zamora decided to edit individual contributions for The Hillary Speeches into a film (directed by James Gray, Warren Elgort, and Larry Robbins) with each artist shot individually. This had the added advantage of allowing singers to ‘phone in’ their contributions from wherever they happened to be at the time. Patricia Racette sent in her footage from Santa Fe and Lawrence Brownlee from Munich. Sumegi sings a 24 bar section from the concession speech in which Hillary is thanking her volunteers. “It’s rather short, but has a very ‘Americana’ cadence,” he explains.

The premiere is planned to coincide exactly with the moment Donald Trump is inaugurated as President of the United States and National Sawdust (National Sawdust, a New York, artist-led, non-profit), has offered to both live-stream the performance and host it free for the public.

Annie Potts, the great American actress, also takes part. “At another gathering being held today in Washington D.C., someone is raising his hand and taking a most important oath of office,” Potts says in her introduction. “Many of us, gathered here, had expended great energy, time and faith, in the hope that the person raising her hand today, and swearing to uphold the Constitution, and lead our great nation into the future, would have been Hillary Clinton. The disappointment, especially from those in the artistic community, is deep and palpable…. Though she cannot raise her hand to take the Presidential Oath today, we can raise our voices to remind the world that sometimes, out of disappointment, can come something very special called art!”

Or as Roven says, “protest has many forms.”


The concert will be streamed from NationalSawdust.org, as well as other web outlets to be announced, on Friday, January 20 at 12:00PM.