top of page

NEW YORK CITY (April 20, 2024) — A new cantata about the climate crisis, “Urgent Earth,”
began over a discussion of tofu. Dining together near Lincoln Center, the groundbreaking
feminist composer Stefania de Kenessey and visionary poet and performance artist Annie
Finch were lamenting a news article about how even this favored food of the health-conscious
is wreaking environmental destruction.

As Finch recalls it, “Stefania was depressed about climate change. I said to her, let’s turn this
pain into something useful.” At the restaurant table, they mapped out a cantata—a narrative
piece with a long choral tradition that spans sacred and secular concerns.

Their goal was to move listeners from grief about climate change through catharsis to
resolution. The music would be unaccompanied, for treble voices. Finch, who often
collaborates with composers due to her deeply considered use of poetic meter and rhythm,
suggested writing the work for Accord Treble Choir, an NYC-based chamber ensemble of ten
singers that had performed one of her previous collaborations (with composer Matthew
Harris), “Songs for the Wheel of the Year.”

“Urgent Earth: A Musical Ceremony of Mourning and Rebirth” is a 22-minute vocal cantata
that begins with a prologue that draws from Wiccan rituals intended to generate change by
shifting energy; audience members are invited to participate in an opening incantation on the
repeating lyrics, “Water and fire and air and earth.”

Subsequent movements employ rhythmic and melodic elements from a wide-ranging stylistic
and musical palette:

  • “Oil Spill” — A confrontation of the costs of oil, using syncopated rhythms that evoke ragtime and early 20th century American popular music

  • “Butterfly Lullaby” — A melodically beautiful meditation in a gentle, swinging compound meter

  • “Our Mother God” — A declamatory prayer for forgiveness that gives way to a dissonance that conveys urgency and precarity

  • “Extinction Litany” — A surreal soundscape speaking the names of vanished creatures; this eulogy for the extinct masterfully interweaves whole tone and chromatic scalar movement

  • “Epilogue” — Recapitulating the opening incantation, the epilogue offers a return to possibility.


Finch speaks of using specific choices of meter and rhythm to help listeners digest difficult
emotions. “When we have repressed emotions, it paralyzes us.” She envisioned the progression
of movements in Urgent Earth as a way to “process your anger, grief, and frustration so that
afterward you will be more free to claim your power and agency to act.”


De Kenessey adds: “I’ve always been of the opinion that art has to reflect the concerns of its
time. But it also has to say something other than the obvious. The obvious is that we are in
deep trouble when it comes to the climate. To say this is not particularly helpful to people. So,
without being saccharine or cloying or unrealistic, I wanted to offer some measure of hope and
perhaps to inspire people to do something.”


Liz Geisewite, Accord’s musical director, says of the collaboration: “As a leader in the NYC treble
choral music scene and a champion of new choral works, Accord is eager to bring De Kenessey
and Finch's Urgent Earth to life. Accord was formed as a collaborative ensemble to celebrate
treble voices and make music that inspires with its beauty and profound humanity. This project
is the perfect confluence of artistic creation and Accord's founding principles. Through
the years, we have been honored to premiere multiple new works for treble choirs written
specifically for Accord” [by composers Matthew Harris, John Hetland, Rex Isenberg, and
Michael Roberts]. “Urgent Earth is particularly special as it's the first multi-movement work
written for Accord by a woman composer, and we are thrilled to be working with the
incomparable poet Annie Finch again.” 

Accord Treble Choir will perform “Urgent Earth” in two concerts: on June 8, 2024 at Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn; and on June 14, 2024 at St. John’s in the Village. The concert includes several other choral works that illustrate how nature’s trials and gifts have captured the imagination of contemporary composers the world over. Pieces include: David Lang’s hypnotic, haunting “Evening Morning Day;” “Terre-Neuve,” a rhythmically stirring piece by the Montreal-based composer Marie-Claire Saindon; a song in Hungarian, “Sok Szerencsét,” meaning "good luck", by the influential composer Lajos Bárdos; as well as works by Dede Duson, Sarah Quartel, and Ann Reed. The concert touches themes of reverence, fear, shame, grief, and possibility. Its essence is encapsulated in a lyric from Bárdos’s piece (translated here from the Hungarian): “Our goal is far-off, but let’s join together and let new miracles sprout.”


Following each performance, audiences are invited to stay for a reception.

ABOUT ACCORD TREBLE CHOIR: ​​Accord Treble Choir is a ten-voice a cappella chamber choir
based in New York City. With a diverse repertoire ranging from medieval chant to classical
works, international folk songs, and contemporary commissions, Accord has performed music
in more than twenty languages. Accord is a longstanding ensemble in residence at St. Ignatius
of Antioch Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and has performed at noteworthy NYC
events including Nightfall at Greenwood Cemetery, NY Fashion Week, and the New York
Theatre Workshop’s acclaimed production of The Events. Accord was selected to perform at the
American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Eastern Division conferences in 2012 and 2020s.
Accord recorded its first professional album, Celestial & Terrestrial, in 2018. 

STEFANIA DE KENESSEY BIO: Stefania de Kenessey’s music has been heard at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and performed in more than 35 countries. Honored repeatedly with awards from ASCAP, it has also been applauded in The New York Times for its “bright, lively quality” and
“accessible melody, with touches of theater music and early rock drifting through it.” Fanfare
wrote that her compositions are “fully worthy to share a program or disc with masterpieces by
Mozart or Brahms” and “deserve a lasting place in the modern repertoire.” She collaborates
regularly with choreographer Ariel Grossman and Ariel Rivka Dance. De Kenessey serves on the
advisory board of The New Historia, an organization dedicated to recovering the unmarked
legacies of women throughout the world. She is also the founding president of the International Alliance for Women in Music.


ANNIE FINCH BIO: Annie Finch is an award-winning poet, literary and cultural critic, and
performance artist. Widely recognized for her mesmerizing poetry performances and mastery
of poetic craft, she is the author of seven volumes of poetry including Eve, Calendars, and Spells as well as books on poetics, feminism, and spirituality. Her poetry has appeared in The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Finch’s collaborations with music, theater, visual art, and dance include the libretto for American Opera Project’s “Marina,” directed by Anne Bogart. Musical settings of her poems by composers including Stefania de Kenessey, Stephanie Griffin, Matthew Harris, Lori Laitman, and Dale Trumbore have been performed at Deepak Chopra Homespace, Yale University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Carnegie Hall.


bottom of page