The Ordering of Moses


Cincinnati May Festival Releases Recording of The Ordering of Moses on Bridge Records

R. Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio recorded live at Carnegie Hall with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, May Festival Chorus and soloists under Music Director James Conlon

Photo:Steve Sherman

The Cincinnati May Festival is proud to announce the release of a new recording on Bridge Records. Under the leadership of Music Director James Conlon, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chorus (Robert Porco, director) recorded R. Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio, The Ordering of Moses, live at Carnegie Hall in May 2014 during the beloved invitational Spring for Music Festival.

This new recording, the first commercial recording of this work, captures the thrilling 2014 performance of Dett’s magnum opus, which received rave reviews from The New York Times, The New Yorker and more. Also featured on the recording are soloists Latonia Moore (soprano), Ronnita Nicole Miller (mezzo-soprano), Rodrick Dixon (tenor) and Donnie Ray Albert (baritone). The recording is now available to order from Bridge Records, Amazon, iTunes and other music sites, and streaming is available on Spotify.


Alex Ross of The New Yorker called the 2014 performance a Spring for Music highlight, writing, “Conlon and his Cincinnati forces…conveyed the moment with precision and fervor…The border between performers and audience fell away; Carnegie has seldom felt so alive.”

Anthony Tommasini wrote for The New York Times, “After an exhilarating account of John Adams’s 1980 choral symphony Harmonium, Mr. Conlon conducted a rare performance of The Ordering of Moses…The May Festival Chorus (Robert Porco, director) and the Cincinnati Orchestra under Mr. Conlon gave an inspired performance…”

The Ordering of Moses, was given its world premiere in the 1937 May Festival, when racial segregation strangled the nation. The oratorio depicts the longing for freedom from bondage. May Festival Music Director Eugene Goossens led this 50-minute work with soloists Frederick Jagel, Agatha Lewis, Alexander Kisselburgh and Elizabeth Wysor. It was reprised at the 1956 May Festival, as the Civil Rights movement began, under the direction of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Thor Johnson with soloists Leontyne Price, William Warfield, Carol Brice and Luther Saxon.

The championing of The Ordering of Moses was not without controversy. The world premiere performance was broadcast live nationwide via NBC radio directly from the Cincinnati May Festival, but only about three-quarters of the performance was heard over the network. Near the end of the original acetate disc, the announcer is heard to say, “We are sorry indeed, ladies and gentlemen, but due to previous commitments, we are unable to remain for the closing moments of this excellent performance.” In fact, a good deal more than the “closing moments” of the score went unheard.

It has been suggested that these “previous commitments” were in fact a concession to objections voiced by callers to the network. The May Festival’s performance of The Ordering of Moses was possibly the first network broadcast of a major work by an African-American composer. Indeed, WJZ in New York City had scheduled an hour for the broadcast, but only 40 minutes of the oratorio was heard, the rest of the allotted time was given over to organ music.

Given its history with the work, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chorus were proud to reintroduce The Ordering of Moses to May Festival audiences. Mr. Conlon stated, “My interest in Nathaniel Dett and the history of The Ordering of Moses was awakened several years ago. Its May Festival premiere and the subsequent advocacy of Leontyne Price and William Warfield caught my interest.”