Music department comes together for Spring Oratorio


Olivia Schmidt (‘22) | Chips

Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music Andrew Last (‘97) rehearses the Symphony Orchestra for the 2019 Spring Oratorio performance.

Olivia Schmidt, Staff Writer

The Luther music department will present their biannual Spring Oratorio Concert on Sunday, March 17 at 4 p.m in the Center for Faith and Life. Symphony Orchestra, Nordic Choir, Collegiate Chorale, and Cathedral Choir will participate in this performance. The program on campus will feature “Gloria” by Francis Poulenc, “Chichester Psalms” by Leonard Bernstein, and a selection from the greater work of “The Tender Land” by Aaron Copland.

Nordic Choir will also bring the repertoire to a performance with the Des Moines Symphony with world-renowned opera singer Simon Estes on April 27 and 28 at the Des Moines Civic Center.


The Repertoire:

This year, the Spring Oratorio participants will perform the entirety of Poulenc’s “Gloria,” Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” and “The Promise of Living,” from the opera “The Tender Land” by Copland. Nordic Choir and  Symphony Orchestra will perform all three songs, with Cathedral joining on the “Gloria” and Collegiate on the “Chichester Psalms” and “The Promise of Living.” The second movement of Poulenc was played at Christmas at Luther, and now the choirs and orchestra will complete the entire 25-minute work.

“Working on the Poulenc piece, I’ve just realized that it’s much more intellectual than most of the other stuff we have sung throughout the years, so it’s been interesting trying to adjust to that, as well as attempting to incorporate some of the more emotional concepts from other pieces to make the Poulenc more accessible for the audience,” Cathedral member Emerson Pagel (‘21) said.

The music faculty chose to perform the Bernstein psalm in honor of the composer’s centennial birthday. Assistant Professor of Music Deborah Gover and Minnesota Boy’s Choir Member Anthony Petruconis will perform the two soprano solos in this piece. “The Promise of Living” was selected to be a preview of this year’s spring opera, “The Tender Land.” 

Potvin is excited about Cathedral’s development over the semester.

“Once we add the orchestra in and feature — in particular — all the phenomenal brass that we have on campus right now, both the Poulenc and Bernstein are going to come alive,” Potvin said. “The enjoyable part will be watching the puzzle take shape this week. Where there was no form, there will be form. Where there was no understanding, there will be comprehension. I think seeing all of that falling into place, one little Tetris block at a time, is incredibly exciting.”


The Event History:

Historically speaking, the Spring Oratorio represents a fundamental shift in the school’s relationship with music. For nearly a century, Luther produced and performed Handel’s “Messiah,” an oratorio based on the life and death of Jesus, which acted as a precursor to the current annual Christmas at Luther event. This was accompanied by a different seminal work in the spring. Following the discontinuation of the Messiah tradition in the year 2002, the music department decided to devote every other spring to a major composition performance, making this the legacy of the Luther “Messiah” performances.

Some years the ensembles present a single oratorio, such as in 2017 when Nordic Choir and Symphony Orchestra performed J.S. Bach’s “Mass in B Minor,” or when an entire mass was written by Stephan Polis to mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of Luther. Other years, a compilation of smaller works are showcased, as is the case this year. Despite these variations, there is always a point of consistency between the oratorios. That is, there is always a performance on campus and one off campus.

Collegiate Chorale President Brendan Londergan (‘19) sees the Spring Oratorio as a unique performance opportunity.

“The Oratorio this year will feature multiple vocal and instrumental ensembles that have worked incredibly hard in preparation for this performance,” Londergan said. “Offering a wide variety of musical styles, there will surely be something for everyone to enjoy.”


Nathan Riley (‘18) | Photo Bureau
The Luther music department performed J.S. Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” as the 2017 Spring Oratorio.

The Preparation Process:

Preparations for the Spring Oratorio began in November for most ensembles, as several movements of the compositions were debuted at the 2018 Christmas at Luther performances, including the “Chichester Psalms” and “Gloria.” Nordic Choir has been practicing the full set five days per week in their scheduled rehearsals, and Collegiate Chorale and Cathedral Choir have been working in their rehearsals three times per week on the pieces that they will perform with Nordic Choir and Symphony Orchestra, which has also been rehearsing three times per week for this performance.

Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music Andrew Last (‘97) will conduct the performance with help from Assistant Professor of Music Jennaya Robinson (‘96) and Instructor of Music Mark Potvin (‘01) as the Chorus Masters, as well as from Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Diego Piedra, who has been rehearsing the Symphony Orchestra for the concert. The ensembles come together for combined rehearsals leading up to the event, and this week the ensembles have extra mass rehearsals scheduled in order to perfect the repertoire.

“With [Professor of Music Daniel] Baldwin’s absence on sabbatical, we have Dr. Piedra, whose style and interpretation of the music is different than what we played at CAL,” Symphony Orchestra principal second violinist Isabella Searcy (‘21) said. “So while we were already familiar with some of the pieces, we are approaching them from a whole different perspective, which is at times frustrating, but also really rewarding.”

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