The Far West (2014) – 42'
for tenor soloist, chorus, and string orchestra
Lawrence Wiliford, tenor
The Luminous Voices Chamber Orchestra
Timothy Shantz, conductor
Tim Dlugos died of AIDS on December 3, 1990, at the age of 40. He had been diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1987 and spent his final three years of life studying to become a priest at the Yale Divinity School, volunteering as a hospital chaplain-in-training, and writing poetry. His final poems document a dark time: a time of weekly funerals for lost friends and a time of progressing personal illness. But, surprisingly, many of Dlugos’s late poems focus on hope; he once wrote, “Grace, in a very orthodox sense, is my major preoccupation.”
The Far West charts a trajectory from disease and darkness to reconciliation and light. A scene of sickness, fear, and helplessness is set in the first movements, from the tangled counterpoint of the opening chorus, October to the explosive music of Retrovir (named after the brand-name of the first AIDS drug, AZT). In the central movement, The Far West Dlugos begins to confront his own death through the image of the western edge of North America, where cliffs fall off into water, and where the sun disappears over the horizon. In G-9, written while he was a patient at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, Dlugos describes his hopes for death, images of light and gentleness that are further explored in the intimate Note to Michael.
I chose to end this piece with George Herbert’s poem, “Heaven.” Herbert, another poet-priest, and another man who died too young just shy of 40, explores the idea of life after death through a conversation between a voice and its echo. Here, I imagine the voice of Tim Dlugos speaking back to us from that place where he has found “Light, joy, and leisure.” The ending is not a happy one, but it’s a hopeful one.