World premiere of a major work by Craig Hella Johnson

Composer Craig Hella Johnson

Composer Craig Hella Johnson

Conspirare performs the world premiere of a passion by Craig Hella Johnson, a musical response to the tragic death of a young man who has become an American icon and a symbol for hope and empowerment. Johnson has set a rich variety of texts by Lesléa Newman, Hafiz, Hildegard von Bingen, Michael Dennis Browne, and others. Several Conspirare singers will be featured as soloists, and the group will be joined by a small instrumental ensemble. The choir will travel to Goshen, IN where they will record the work with Harmonia Mundi for a Fall 2016 CD release.

Press Release, Austin
Press Release, Los Angeles
Conspirare Newsletter

Media Coverage

“Matthew Shepard’s Lesson to All” by Mark DeVoto, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, 04.04.16
“Review: Conspirare’s ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’” by Luke Quinton, / Austin American-Statesman, 02.25.16
“New Tribute to Matthew Deemed ‘An American Classic’,” 03.02.16 blog post by Jason Marsden, Executive Director Matthew Shepard Foundation
Interviews by Dianne Donovan with Craig Hella Johnson and Jason Marsden (Matthew Shepard Foundation) at
“Light & Love: Conspirare Pays Tribute to Matthew Shepard”  by Chris Johnson, Arts + Culture, 02/01/16
“Considering Matthew Shepard: A Passion in Progress by Craig Hella Johnson” (pdf) by Cara Tasher from “Composers’ Corner,” International Choral Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1st Quarter 2015, pp. 50-53
• KUTX’s John Aielli interview with Craig Hella Johnson, live in studio for Eklektikos, 02/10/16


Click to view or download postcard pdf

02.20.16 (8pm), Saturday
02.21.16 (4pm), Sunday

• SATURDAY 2/20: Advance / online sales end 2pm. Door sales / Will Call opens 6:30pm.
• SUNDAY 2/21: Advance / online sales end 10am. Door sales / Will Call opens 2:30pm.

AISD Performing Arts Center
1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd., Austin, TX
Adjacent parking in garage. MORE at AISD PAC directions & parking page
TICKETS $20-$60 ($10 Students with ID)

Pre-concert talk by author Elizabeth Neeld one hour before both Austin performances (included in ticket)
After the Music: Post-Concert Conversation after both Austin performances. With Michael Dennis Browne (poet); Robert Kyr (composer); Jason Marsden (Exec. Dir., Matthew Shepard Foundation); Lesléa Newman (author) Saturday talk only; and Craig Hella Johnson. With Q&A. (included in ticket)

Sunday, 02.21.16 only! (3pm)
Special Pre-Concert Talk for Students with Jason Marsden
AISD PAC Black Box Theatre
Jason Marsden, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, will introduce students to Matthew Shepard and the Considering Matthew Shepard performance. Will include time for Q & A (admission included in ticket)

02.25.16 (8pm), Thursday

Featured ensemble at the Western American Choral Directors Association Conference
Open to WACDA Conference attendees only
First United Methodist Church
500 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA

02.27.16 (8pm), Saturday

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, Sanctuary
540 S. Commonwealth Ave., Los Angeles, CA
Pre-concert talk by author Elizabeth Neeld at 7pm in the Barnum Room (included in ticket)
Concert parking in Lot 2 across from the church (west side of S. Commonwealth Ave.) MAP

• Will Call online orders end Friday, 2/26, 4pm Pacific
• After 4pm Friday, Print-at-Home online orders only
• Door Sales / Will Call opens 6:30pm

Lunch & Learn with Robert Kyr

02.16.16 (12noon-1:30pm), Tuesday
Monkey Nest Coffee
5353 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX

FREE and open to the public

Composer Robert Kyr will discuss the upcoming performances of Considering Matthew Shepard and will walk attendees through portions of the libretto.  He’ll also discuss what a modern-day oratorio is and where this work fits in the continuum of great passion works throughout history.

Special Screening of Documentary “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine”

01.31.16 (7pm), Sunday

afs_logoMichele Josue
Director (in attendance)
2014, 89 min

Marchesa Theatre
6226 Middle Fiskville Rd., Austin, TX
Screening co-sponsored by Austin Film Society
TICKETS ($12). Advance online sales close Jan. 31, 10am.

Panel Discussion to follow screening. With director Michele Josue and Anna Weingart, Executive Director of SanghaLink. Moderator: cinematographer and filmmaker PJ Raval


On October 7, 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die because he was gay. Years later, Michele Josue, a close friend of Matt’s, revisits the shocking case with never-before-seen photos and rare video footage, as Matt’s all-too-brief life is remembered through the vivid testimonies of those whose lives he touched, from the friends and family who knew him best to the bartender who saw him on the night of the attack. New revelations emerge in one of the most notorious hate crimes in US history, leading to a searing, poignant, and multi-layered biographical and sociological portrait. In the end, the notion of forgiveness – embodied in the moving and courageous final act of Matt’s parents – takes on truly heroic proportions. Michele Josue, Director. (from

Pre-Concert Talks by Elizabeth Neeld
“The Making of Considering Matthew Shepard 

Admission to pre-concert talks included in concert tickets

02.20.16 (7pm), Saturday
02.21.16 (3pm), Sunday
AISD Performing Arts Center, Austin

02.27.16 (7pm), Saturday
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, Barnum Room

In a letter to a personal friend, the scientist Albert Einstein once spoke about the creative process as “a bold leap… a speculative leap.” Mr. Einstein went on to say to his friend that there are two motivations that spur creativity: the motivation of wonder and the motivation for a passion for comprehension. In this pre-concert talk we will look at these two motivations – wonder and a passion for comprehension – as they played through the creative process engaged in by Conspirare Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson while he composed this work, Considering Matthew Shepard. We will identify various musical genres included in this full-length concert and explore how the choice of genre in specific instances relates to the subject matter and the placement in the whole of the composition.  — Elizabeth Neeld

Considering Matthew Shepard project page
Craig Hella Johnson Blogs

Visit our blog page for more on Considering Matthew Shepard

Artists Performing
Conspirare Singers

Considering Matthew Shepard Special Guests & Speakers


About Michael Dennis Browne, Poet/Librettist

Michael Dennis Browne’s latest collection of poems is The Voices, published in 2015 by Carnegie Mellon University Press. His poems have been published in many magazines and anthologies, and his awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bush Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation. Two of his collections have won the Minnesota Book Award for poetry. As a librettist, he has written many texts for music, working for almost four decades with composer Stephen Paulus. Their post-Holocaust oratorio, To Be Certain of the Dawn, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in music by the Minnesota Orchestra. Browne is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Minnesota, where he taught for thirty-nine years and was a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

About Robert Kyr, Composer

Robert Kyr has created twelve symphonies, three chamber symphonies, three violin concerti, chamber music, and a wide range of works for vocal ensembles of all types. He has received commissions from Chanticleer (San Francisco), Cantus (Minneapolis), San Francisco Symphony Chorus, New England Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony, Yale Symphony, Cleveland Chamber Symphony, New West Symphony (Los Angeles), Third Angle (Portland), California EAR Unit (Los Angeles), Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, Yale Camerata, Oregon Repertory Singers, Cappella Nova (Scotland), Revalia (Estonia), Putni (Latvia), Moscow State Chamber Choir (Russia), Ensemble Project Ars Nova, Back Bay Chorale (Boston), Harvard Glee Club, Radcliffe Choral Society, and San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra among others. Kyr’s music ia available through New Albion Records’ Violin Concerto Trilogy, Unseen Rain, and The Passion according to Four Evangelists with Robert Kyr (Conspirare) on harmonia mundi. His music has been featured on the compilation discs Faces of a Woman (MDG 344-1468), Celestial Light: Music by Hildegard von Bingen and Robert Kyr (Telarc CD 80456), The Fourth River: The Millennium Revealed (Telarc CD 80534), and Strange Attractors: New American Music for Piano (Albany Records CD TROY 231). Kyr holds degrees from Yale (B.A.), University of Pennsylvania (M.A.), and Harvard (Ph.D). He has held teaching positions in composition and theory at Yale, UCLA, Hartt School of Music, Aspen Music School, and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was the Director of Compositional Studies. Currently, he is Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Oregon School of Music. Kyr directs the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, the Music Today Festival, the Pacific Rim Gamelan, and the Vanguard Concert and Series.

About Jason Marsden, Executive Director Matthew Shepard Foundation

Jason Marsden has served as executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation since 2009. He was an environmental and political reporter for the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s statewide newspaper, at the time of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a personal friend. Jason came out publicly in the newspaper’s pages and spoke frequently to journalism conferences and schools nationwide about coverage of hate crimes in local communities. In 2001, he founded Wyoming Conservation Voters, a political and lobbying organization for wildlife and environmental conservation. He is a former member of the boards of directors of the Alliance for Historic Wyoming, the Wyoming Wilderness Association and the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, and continues to serve on the board of the Equality State Policy Center. Jason and his husband live in Denver, Colorado.

About Elizabeth Harper Neeld, PhD, Author

Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld’s work as a scholar has focused throughout her professional career on the creative process, the centrality of story in human existence, and the interdisciplinary study of making and creating. When Dr. Neeld designed a new PhD and Master’s program centering on the writing process in the English Department at Texas A&M University, studies from architecture, mathematics, music, art, and linguistics were among the disciplines integrated into that course of study. Dr. Neeld’s early publications were scholarly studies and university textbooks. Her books, since she left academia to become a full-time writer, have demonstrated her ability to tell a powerful story at the same time that she melds research from far-ranging fields into a meaningful whole. The Washington Post, calling her “a gifted writer,” says, “Elizabeth Harper Neeld meets Samuel Johnson’s first criterion for genius: the ability to find a relationship between apparently unrelated ideas, or things… Compelling substance….” Two public television one-hour documentaries have been filmed focusing on Dr. Neeld’s work. Dr. Neeld is the first woman to receive tenure and full professor in the English Department at Texas A&M and the first woman faculty member to serve as Assistant to the President at Texas A&M.

About Lesléa Newman, Author

october-mourning-cover-200x300Lesléa Newman is the author of seventy books for readers of all ages, including the children’s books Heather Has Two Mommies and Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed. Her newest poetry collection, I Carry My Mother explores a daughter’s journey through her mother’s cancer battle. Ms. Newman, a former poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. She teaches at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard received an American Library Association Stonewall Honor and the Florida Council Teachers of English Joan F. Kaywell Books Save Lives Award. Ms. Newman works closely with the Matthew Shepard Foundation as a member of their speakers bureau. She has visited schools all over the country giving her presentation “He Continues to Make a Difference: The Story of Matthew Shepard.” She lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

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arts-in-context-logo-webLook for next season’s Arts in Context documentary on Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shephard.



Matthew Shepard photo by Gina Van Hoof / Matthew Shepard Foundation

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