Literary Arts: The Archive Project

The Archive Project - Portland Youth Philharmonic & In Mulieribus: Because I Will Not Despair

By Crystal Ligori (OPB) and Donald Orr (OPB)
June 5, 2023 10:07 p.m.
David Hattner (top left), Jessica Meyer (top right), Anna Song (bottom right), Alicia Jo Rabins (bottom left)

David Hattner (top left), Jessica Meyer (top right), Anna Song (bottom right), Alicia Jo Rabins (bottom left)

Courtesy of Dario Acosta/Mirifoto/Alicia J Rose / OPB


On this episode of “Literary Arts: The Archive Project,” we have a conversation recorded exclusively for our show. We are featuring Portland Youth Philharmonic, the nation’s oldest youth orchestra, and we’ve brought together a conductor, a composer, a poet, and a vocalist to discuss their cross-disciplinary collaboration on a poetry-inspired piece titled, “Because I Will Not Despair.”

The piece is based on the poetry of Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient and Oregon Book Award finalist Alicia Jo Rabins. Composer Jessica Meyer has adapted Rabins’s poetry to music, and vocalist Anna Song and the In Mulieribus vocal choir will join Portland Youth Philharmonic’s chamber orchestra, conducted by David Hattner to perform this new piece in Portland on May 5, 2023.

It’s especially interesting to hear these four collaborators–Alicia, Jessica, Anna, and David–discuss work that is ongoing, as the piece is still being shaped. We also hear how different it is for a composer or a conductor to put their work into the world, versus a poet. Rabins phrases it well, saying: “As artists, we are part of one massive human conversation, and we put as much as we can into the piece or the performance, and the people interacting with it are what make that a complete process, whether that’s the audience or the reader or another artist you’re collaborating with.”


Most music requires collaboration and interpretation, and hearing how inspiring it is for the musical artists on this piece to work with, in their words, a “living” poet and poetry and text makes this conversation a pleasurable listen.


David Hattner is the Musical Director of the highly acclaimed Portland Youth Philharmonic (Oregon), the nation’s oldest youth orchestra. The fifth music director in its distinguished 93-year history, he is the first to be born in the United States. Known for his encyclopedic knowledge of American repertoire, Hattner’s programming is relevant, thoughtful, and “especially attractive.” (The Chicago Tribune). Hattner received rave reviews following his debut with PYP in November 2008: “The Portland Youth Philharmonic roared like a Maserati on Saturday in its first concert under music director David Hattner. The route was challenging, the execution distinguished and the ride delightful,” wrote David Stabler for The Oregonian.

With playing that is “fierce and lyrical” and works that are “other-worldly” (The Strad) and “evocative” (New York Times), Jessica Meyer is an award-winning composer and violist whose passionate musicianship radiates accessibility and emotional clarity. Recent premieres include works for the St. Lawrence String Quartet as the composer in residence at Spoleto Festival USA, musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, Bangor Symphony as the winner of the 2nd Annual Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Composer’s Award, and the Argus Quartet as a winner of Chamber Music America’s Commissioning Program Award. Her first Symphonic Band piece recently had its NY premiere in Carnegie Hall by the President’s Own Marine Band, and her orchestral works have been performed by the Phoenix, North Carolina, Charlotte, and Vermont Symphonies, and all around the country as part of Carnegie Hall’s nationwide Link Up Program. This season brings the premiere of “GAEA”, a concerto for herself and orchestra, as well as works for the Dorian Wind Quintet and Hub New Music.

Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician, performer and feminist Jewish educator. She is the author of two books of poetry, “Divinity School” and “Fruit Geode,” and a recent collection of personal essays. Rabins is the creator and performer of “Girls in Trouble,” an indie-folk song cycle about women in Torah, as well as the independent feature film, “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff.” She lives in Portland and was a 2021 Literary Arts Fellow in poetry.

Anna Song is the Director of Choral Activities at Willamette University and directs Chamber Choir and Voce, in addition to teaching courses in musicianship and aural skills. She is the co-founding artistic director of In Mulieribus, a professional women’s vocal ensemble that specializes in works written before 1750 and new music for women’s voices. Under her direction, the ensemble has presented a highly acclaimed annual concert series in Portland since 2007, released recordings that have garnered praise from the American Record Guide and Early Music America, and is regularly broadcast on regionally and nationally syndicated Classical music radio programs.