Alan Seeger, Instrument of Destiny

I have a rendezvous with Death... And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.

A century ago, the United States watched from afar as Europe entered World War One. The United States would eventually play a pivotal role in the conflict, but a few young American men did not wait for their homeland to officially enter the war in April 1917. Out of admiration for French culture and a deep-seated belief in the ideal of liberty, some fifty American men joined the fight in the first days of the war. Among them was the poet Alan Seeger.

Born on June 22, 1888, in New York City, Alan Seeger graduated from Harvard in 1910. After two years in the artistic milieu of New York's Greenwich Village, and two more years spent among the American expatriate bohemian circles in Paris, he volunteered in the French Army's Foreign Legion in August 1914. For the 26-year-old idealist, fighting for the cause of freedom and dying in war was the highest destiny a human being could achieve.

During his two years of service in Champagne, on the Aisne, and in Alsace, he wrote some of his most beautiful poems, as well as letters and a journal, both detailed and lucid on the atrocities of the war, and passionately exalted regarding the ideals it defended. Seeger was killed in action during the first days of the Battle of the Somme, on July 4, 1916, America’s Independence Day.



Seeger's destiny bridges the Old and the New World both politically and artistically. In this spirit, Alan Seeger: Instrument of Destiny brings together French and American artists for an evening-length oratorio blending the two worlds' most emblematic musical traditions: European opera and American jazz.
Conceived by French director Mirabelle Ordinaire, with music by American jazz/classical composer Patrick Zimmerli, the piece features a selection of Seeger’s war poems set to music, as well as excerpts from his letters and diary entries. For the French performances, American tenor Scott Emerson starred as Alan Seeger, and male voices from the French choir Mikrokosmos, conducted by Loïc Pierre, represented his fellow soldiers. The singers were accompanied by noted percussionist Jean-Baptiste Leclère and rising-star jazz pianist Thomas Enhco.

For the American premiere, the Cathedral Chorus of St. John the Divine will be led by renowned conductor Kent Tritle, with Paul Appelby in the Alan Seeger role.
The Oratorio is structured to follow the stages of Alan Seeger's experiences of World War I, and is divided into six sections:
1 Off to War
2 In the Trenches
3 Champagne
4 Friends and Foes
5 Reprieve
6 Rendezvous with Death
On July 4, 1916, Seeger made the "Rendezvous with Death," that he predicted with such foresight in his famous poem of the same name. Beginning In 2017, for the centennial of the United States' entry into the Great War, we are celebrating the life and reviving the work of this unjustly neglected artist, this most unregenerate moralist, who sacrificed his life for the freedom of future generations.