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The Tower and the Garden


The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Pre-concert talk with Donald, Gregory, James, and Joel @ 7pm in the Burleigh Cruikshank Memorial Chapel

newly commissioned works by Gregory Spears and James Primosch

Are we called today to pacifism or activism?
What do we protect, the integrity of capitalism
or the health of the community?

These questions lie at the root of poems by Thomas Merton, Denise Levertov, and Keith Garebian. Set by Gregory Spears in a new 30-minute work for strings and choir, they also ask us to consider the relationship between technological innovation and its dangers that often lead to haunting sociological change. Philadelphia composer James Primosch sets an excerpt from Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, an exploration of the balancing effect of desire and longing on our lives. The program includes two additional works written for The Crossing, Toivo Tulev’s A child said, what is the grass? and Joel Puckett’s dizzying, entrancing I enter the earth.

Gregory Spears The Tower and the Garden (world premiere)
James Primosch Carthage (world premiere)
Joel Puckett I enter the earth
Toivo Tulev A child said, what is the grass?

The commissioning of Gregory Spears’ The Tower by Cantori New York, The Crossing, Notre Dame Vocale, and Volti was made possible by the support of the Ann Stookey Fund for New Music (


The Tower and the Garden is a setting of three poems for choir and strings. The texts juxtapose the dangers of unchecked technological advancement (the tower) and the need for a place of refuge (the garden) in a world threatened by war and ecological disaster. Each text is written by (or about) artists who used Catholic thought or Catholic imagery to challenge the status quo. 

The first text, by poet and Catholic activist Denise Levertov, is a meditation on the tower of Babel and the dangers of technological collapse. The second poem, written by Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton, is a meditation on the garden of Gethsemane and the search for truth amidst the uncertainties of the modern world. The poem, which was published in 1968, has an eschatological tone in keeping with the turmoil-filled era of the late-60s. The final poem, written by Keith Garebian, is an homage to queer filmmaker Derek Jarman and his small cottage garden at Dungeness, England. Situated precariously between a nuclear power plant and the sea, the cottage and garden was Jarman’s austere refuge during the final months of his struggle with AIDS. While an atheist and highly critical of the church, Derek Jarman was intrigued by the role religious and hagiographic narratives could play in his filmed critiques of the British establishment. This is is most notable in his film The Garden, which was shot in Dungeness. 


Earlier Event: September 29
the national anthems
Later Event: December 14
The Crossing @ Christmas