Arts & Entertainment

Mid-Columbia Mastersingers plan groundbreaking performance inside Hanford’s B Reactor

Members of Mid-Columbia Mastersingers performed at Hanford’s B Reactor last fall, using their voices to help celebrate the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. On Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, the group plans to sing inside the reactor.
Members of Mid-Columbia Mastersingers performed at Hanford’s B Reactor last fall, using their voices to help celebrate the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. On Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, the group plans to sing inside the reactor. Courtesy Mid-Columbia Mastersingers

Members of Mid-Columbia Mastersingers performed at Hanford’s B Reactor last fall, using their voices to help celebrate the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

They sang the Star-Spangled Banner and Roll On, Columbia before a crowd of officials, school children and other invited guests.

It was a stunning performance — one that helped pave the way for a groundbreaking set of concerts planned in about a month.

Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will perform inside the B Reactor on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.

The shows are the first-ever full-scale concerts inside the historic reactor, and they’re thought to the first-ever choral concerts in such a space anywhere in the world.

The setting and the program — filled with music aimed at making audience members reflect, think, feel, hope — should make for an unforgettable experience, said Justin Raffa, Mastersingers artistic director.

Colleen French, program manager of the Hanford Unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, agreed.

“You can’t beat the talent of Mid-Columbia Mastersingers in general,” she said.

And the group has “tied the subject matter — the complexity of the Manhattan Project and the start of the atomic age — to pieces that are going to resonate with audiences of all different types,” she said.

She also noted that the concerts mark the first partnership events at the B Reactor since it’s become part of a national park, making them especially significant.

Tickets for the concerts are on sale now.

They’ll feature work by several American composers, including Reg Unterseher, Mastersingers associate conductor.

The program will open with Look Back on Time with Kindly Eyes by Joseph Gregorio, using the poem by Emily Dickinson.

Look back on time with kindly eyes/He doubtless did his best; How softly sinks his trembling sun/In human nature’s west!” the poem goes.

The piece acts as a frame for the show, Raffa said.

“We begin by saying, ‘before you in 2016 cast judgment on what went on here ... go back to 1943, 1944 and think about the urgency that was in front of people.’ We want to take people back to that time,” he said.

The concerts also will include Karen Thomas’ Over the City, about the Hiroshima bombing, and If You Can Read This and Hanford Songs, composed by Unterseher using poems by Kathleen Flenniken.

Flenniken was Washington’s poet laureate from 2012-14. A Richland native, she’s the daughter of a Hanford scientist and worked there herself as an engineer.

The poems are from her collection Plume, about Hanford.

Mastersingers also will perform Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine as an homage to the scientific and technological achievements made at Hanford.

And the program will close with Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, an arrangement of his Adagio for Strings.

That piece will be immediately familiar, Raffa said, noting its widely performed.

It’s haunting, powerful. And, Raffa said, hopeful.

“It’s a request of God or a greater power to help us find peace,” he said.

The B Reactor was the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor. It was built as part of the Manhattan Project and produced plutonium for the world’s first nuclear explosion, called the Trinity Test, and for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

It’s now part of a national park — the Manhattan Project National Historical Park — which was established last year and also includes sites in Los Alamos, N.M, and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The concerts coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Mastersingers and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

They help cap off a suite of local activities to celebrate the park service anniversary, including an open house on Aug. 28 at Washington State University Tri-Cities showcasing Hanford artifacts and a fundraiser Aug. 29 for the park service and the Hanford History Project at WSU Tri-Cities’ Wine Science Center.

REI and Bike Tri-Cities are co-sponsoring a 15-mile bike ride on Oct. 1, starting and ending at the B Reactor.

The Sept. 30 concert is at 5:30 p.m. and includes dinner. Cost is $125. Alcohol will be served, so the show is for people 21 and older.

The Oct. 2 show is at 1:30 p.m. Cost is $75.

Transportation to the B Reactor is included for both shows.

Tickets are available at midcolumbiamaster singers.org.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald

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