Donald McCullough is an American composer who demonstrates a highly imaginative flexibility, writing works that have been critically acclaimed throughout the United States, Canada and Europe in myriad musical styles.
Composed in memory of his dear friend Jean Montgomery Riddell who died at 100 years of age in 2010, Crossing the Bar is a moving setting of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poignant poem of the same title scored for mixed chorus and orchestra or keyboard. Just as Tennyson’s inspiration for the poem came to him “in a moment,” McCullough’s musical setting was composed in its entirety within the span of a few short days. Since its premiere, Crossing the Bar has become one of McCullough’s most popular titles.
When Christ Was Born celebrates the birth of the Christ child in a 21-minute choral setting of eight (8) Middle English carol texts scored for mixed chorus, soprano and baritone soloists and harp accompaniment. Commissioned by harpist Marian Hays, When Christ Was Born was premiered by the Washington Master Chorale in December 2013.
Another world premiere that occurred in 2013 was the Winchester Arts Chorale’s commission of When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d, a haunting setting of excerpts from Walt Whitman’s tender poem scored for chorus and organ in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Also premiering in 2013, Song of the Shulamite is a 27-minute work about the passionate courtship between a beautiful, young field worker, the Shulamite, and her true love. It is the love story of the Bible’s Song of Solomon told chronologically from the love’s initial longing to its fruition…the wedding. The work’s use of modes and Middle Eastern harmonies and idioms point geographically to the story’s setting, creating a sense of antiquity, while the loosely knit chronological re-telling of the story (something not done in the Bible’s Song of Solomon) as well as its use of repetitive patterns and exotic instrumentation in the form of harp, marimba and vibraphone produce a fresh, modern interest. Song of the Shulamite was commissioned by a consortium of 10 arts organizations and universities and will receive 10 regional premieres across the United States in 2012-14 before it is released to the general public for performance.
The Washington Master Chorale commissioned The Eye Begins to See in the fall of 2012, premiered the work in March 2013 and released the recording on their debut CD in 2013. It is an 11-minute setting of Theodore Roethke's "In a Dark Time," a poem in which Roethke uses dark, punishing, often unforgiving elements as metaphor for an anguished journey through the self that leads to inner peace. The two-movement work, scored for mixed chorus, piano and cello, is vivid in its text painting and imbued with drama, pathos, and ultimately, transcendent equanimity.
Let My People Go: A Spiritual Journey along the Underground Railroad is a dramatic work that weaves together spirituals, code songs and first and third-person narrative texts to create a rich tapestry depicting the struggle of ante-bellum slaves for freedom. Let My People Go! is a 75-minute work in 22 movements scored for mixed chorus, piano, acoustic bass, 2 percussionists, SATB soloists and 2 narrators. After its premiere at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the work was featured at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of the museum’s inaugural activities and has been performed throughout the United States by various arts organizations and universities.
With over 300 performances worldwide, McCullough’s Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps gives a human voice to victims of the Holocaust through a cycle of songs and spoken prose written by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. After its world premiere under McCullough’s baton at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Holocaust Cantata was featured in The New York Times and on CNN. At the invitation of German and Polish consular officials, McCullough conducted the Master Chorale of Washington in the European premiere of Holocaust Cantata in Krakow, Dresden, and Berlin as well as at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Memorial.
McCullough’s most recent work is The Essential Life, a 37-minute setting of six (6) American poems scored for mixed chorus, baritone soloist and orchestra that celebrates the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding and the founder of America’s first modern-planned community, Reston, VA. The work was commissioned by the Reston Chorale and will premiere in March 2014.