Luther music celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
April 6, 2017
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Nordic Choir, Symphony Orchestra, and select alumni artists performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B-minor under the direction of Professor of Music Daniel Baldwin on April 1-2. The Saturday performance took place in the Center for Faith and Life and the Sunday performance took place in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN.
The Music Department made the decision two years ago to perform Bach’s “Mass in B-minor” in conjunction with the Reformation planning committee and events. The music department knew that 2017 would be an oratorio year and wanted to contribute to the 500th anniversary celebrations.
“We’ve been talking about this ‘Mass in B-Minor’ off and on for several years,” Associate Professor of Music and College Organist Gregory Peterson (‘83) said. “As the plans for the Reformation commemoration began to unfold it seemed clearer to us that if we were going to do the ‘Mass in B-minor’ this would be the year to do it.”
Bach composed his “Mass in B-minor” in four movements: “Missa” containing the Kyrie and Gloria; “Symbolum Nicenum” containing the Credo; “Sanctus;” and “Osana, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Dona Nobis.” Each of the movements then contained sections for soloists and the chorus.
“This work is rarely performed because it is the biggest composition,” Nordic Choir member Meredith Diebold (‘18) said. “Usually there are only a couple movements of each of the settings in the mass, but Bach has several settings of each of the movements of the ‘mass’ and they are each really long and intricate.”
The concert featured alum artists, whom Luther voice faculty selected based on their experience with Baroque music and their vocal flexibility. This was necessary because of the Baroque style’s fast, ornamental runs. The alum who performed were Kelly Holst (‘00), Laura Krumm (‘09), Associate Professor of Music Beth Ray Westlund (‘89), Grammy Award winner Aaron Sheehan (‘98), Matthew Stump (‘12), and Stacie Mickens (‘02). Luther College hired the trumpet soloist, Adam Gordon, from Fort Worth, TX, for this performance.
“I have sung the ‘mass’ two other times as a soloist, but it [was] more than 15 years ago,” Westlund said. “So I prepared [for the ‘mass’] by studying the score, discovering what vocal and musical challenges are in each piece, and coming up with strategies to accomplish vocal and musical goals, listening to recordings, and reviewing text in context of the whole Latin.”
To achieve the desired sound for the performance and accomodate for the difficulty of the music, fewer Symphony Orchestra members performed the piece with only Nordic Choir providing vocals.
“Baroque playing is a lot different than what we’ve been playing because the instruments were different,” Symphony Orchestra violist Natalie Delcorps (‘19) said. “As an orchestra, we’ve been trying to become lighter to tailor to the music and to the choir because the orchestra can [easily] play louder than the choir.”
Rehearsals for the oratorio began in the fall of 2016 in preparation for the 2016 Christmas at Luther Concert, where the Nordic Choir, Symphony Orchestra, Collegiate Chorale, and Cathedral Choir performed the first two movements of the “Gloria” section: “Gloria in Excelsis” and “Et in terra pax.”
Rehearsals for the rest of the piece began in January for Nordic Choir and February for Symphony Orchestra. From the beginning of the semester to the performance, choir members had 33 rehearsals to perfect the music. The last week before the concert, the performers had four rehearsals outside of their regular rehearsal time.
“It’s exciting in the sense that it is a culmination in performances and concerts, but it also culminates in a mass and a long-lasting spiritual tradition,” Nordic choir member Kevin Honz (‘18) said. “There’s an amazing history behind the words and amazing power to the spirituality of it.”