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Newman Center concert revisits the last hours of the Titanic

The Newman Center remembers the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with a special concert April 15.

Some of the most wrenching stories about the last hours of the Titanic are accounts of the ship’s band playing as passengers scrambled for a limited number of lifeboats. The band was still playing even as the great ship sank into the Atlantic at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912.

This April 15 — 100 years after the sinking of the Titanic — DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts will present a concert, The Sinking of the Titanic, in collaboration with Historic Denver, Denver Friends of Chamber Music and Young Voices of Colorado.

The concert will feature British composer Gavin Bryars’ famous composition “The Sinking of the Titanic,” written in 1969 and based on a firsthand report that the Titanic’s band had been playing a hymn in the ship’s final moments.

Stephen Seifert, executive director of the Newman Center, says the idea for the concert to commemorate the sinking of the Titanic occurred to him about three years ago while listening to the England-based Smith Quartet play a short version of Bryars’ moving piece at a crowded contemporary music festival in New York City.

“For the 15 minutes that this played, you could hear a pin drop,” Seifert recalls. “People paid attention because it was mesmerizing, beautiful and evocative music.”

Seifert says he approached the historic organizations to collaborate on the concert because Denver was home to one of the most famous survivors of the shipwreck, Margaret “Molly’’ Brown.

“I love the way we’ve been able to join these organizations together and include the performance of a Colorado-based children’s choir,” he says.

With Historic Denver and Friends of Chamber Music, the Newman Center commissioned composer Payton MacDonald to write a new work for the concert in honor of Molly Brown. “Lifeboat No. 6” is named after the vessel Brown was on as the Titanic sank.

Seifert says the lifeboat piece is a “very upbeat, exciting piece because she was a pretty vivacious lady.”

Bryars’ composition — which Seifert describes as a more “slow-paced, thought-provoking piece” — is arranged for string quartet, clarinet, bass, piano, percussion and children’s choir. It will be accompanied by a recorded soundtrack that includes various artistically rendered industrial-like sounds “that you might imagine to be crushing bulkheads and other sounds of the disaster, as well as the recorded voices of some of the actual Titanic survivors,” Seifert says.

The core ensemble for the concert will be the New York-based JACK Quartet, a string quartet dedicated to contemporary music. Jeremy Reynolds, assistant professor at the Lamont School of Music, will play the bass clarinet and clarinet. Composer and arranger MacDonald will play percussion and piano. Littleton’s Young Voices of Colorado will provide the children’s chorus.

The concert will include an excerpt of a film commissioned by Historic Denver about Molly Brown. Brown’s great-granddaughter is planning to travel to Denver to welcome the audience and attend the concert, Seifert says.

Seifert says Bryars’ conceptual piece explores the role of music and art in life.

“Here are these dedicated musicians, so dedicated that they’re playing even as the ship is in fact sinking. What if they were to keep playing past the surface? Does music have the capacity to survive?” he says. “It becomes a metaphorical way to explore the importance of art and music in life itself because those musicians were so dedicated even in the last moments of their lives.”

The Sinking of the Titanic begins at 4 p.m. on April 15. Tickets are $30 general admission; $15 for students. Visit for tickets and more information.



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