Reg Unterseher has sung in venues around the world.
But, “I’ve never sung in any place remotely like this,” he said.
“This” is Hanford’s historic B Reactor. And on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, Unterseher — an acclaimed composer and performer — will take part in a pair of ground-breaking concerts at the site.
The shows by Mid-Columbia Mastersingers are the first-ever choral concerts to be in a decommissioned nuclear reactor anywhere in the world.
“It is such an amazing thing,” Unterseher said. “I think it’s our responsibly to tell our stories. That’s what this concert does.”
Tickets are on sale through Sept. 27.
Unterseher and his Mastersingers colleagues performed a couple songs at the B Reactor last fall to celebrate the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
That gave a taste of what the upcoming experience will be like, Unterseher said.
He’s preparing for powerful, emotion-filled performances.
It is such an amazing thing. I think it’s our responsibly to tell our stories. That’s what this concert does.
Reg Unterseher, composer
The acoustics are incredible — like a cathedral, he said. And the program is something special.
It’ll explore the history and legacy of the B Reactor and Hanford, touching on themes of war, of scientific achievement, of peace and of hope.
The program includes two pieces by Unterseher — Hanford Songs and If You Can Read This. They’re settings of poems by Kathleen Flenniken from her acclaimed collection Plume.
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.
Plume is about life in the Tri-Cities and Hanford.
The program also will include Karen Thomas’ Over the City, about the Hiroshima bombing. It was commissioned for the 50th anniversary.
Thomas, who’s based in the Seattle area, plans to attend the Sept. 30 concert.
Her piece — a collaboration with poet Molly McGee — is personal, bringing home the effects of the bombing. “Having it performed in the reactor, where materials (for atomic bombs) were developed is — I get teary-eyed thinking about it,” Thomas told the Herald. “It’s an emotional thing.”
The program opens with Look Back on Time with Kindly Eyes by Joseph Gregorio, using the poem by Emily Dickinson.
It serves as a frame for the show, imploring listeners to, “Look back on time with kindly eyes/He doubtless did his best; How softly sinks his trembling sun/In human nature’s west!”
The Mastersingers also will perform Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine as an homage to the scientific and technological advancements made at Hanford.
Having it performed in the reactor, where materials (for atomic bombs) were developed is — I get teary-eyed thinking about it. It’s an emotional thing.
Karen Thomas, writer
And the program will close with Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, an arrangement of his Adagio for Strings. It’s a request of God to help find peace.
With the program, “we’re telling a pretty holistic story of the B Reactor and the Hanford site through music,” said Justin Raffa, artistic director. “It’s without judgment. We’re just presenting the facts. This is what happened, and it is for us — for posterity — to decide how we proceed, how we move forward from this, what we learn.”
Audience members will be moved by the shows, Raffa said.
Along with the Mastersingers, the concerts will feature a string quintet and soprano soloist Molly Holleran. Flenniken, the former state poet laureate, also will take part.
The concerts are sponsored in part by the National Park Service and a grant from the Washington State Arts Commission, and they are helping celebrate the park service’s 100th anniversary.
Part of the ticket price will be donated to the national park at Hanford.
The Sept. 30 concert is $125 and includes two drink tickets for wine and beer, plus dinner catered by Ethos Trattoria. The concert is for people 21 and older because of the alcohol service. Buses will leave the federal building in Richland at 5:30 p.m. for the show.
The Oct. 2 concert is open to all ages and costs $75, including refreshments provided by Ethos. Buses leave the federal building at 1:30 p.m.