This preview has been provided by the St. Olaf Choir.
For more than a century the world-renowned St. Olaf Choir has set a gold standard for choral singing. During its upcoming 14-city national tour, the ensemble will share its artistry and beauty of sound from Minnesota to Maryland and back, offering an eclectic program of sacred and secular choral masterpieces that range from Baroque classics by William Byrd and Johann Sebastian Bach to American folk songs and hymns including Shenandoah and Amazing Grace.
Conductor Anton Armstrong and the 75 singers of the St. Olaf Choir launch their annual winter tour in St. Paul, MN, on Saturday, Jan. 21, and will present concerts in nine states including The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, The Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences in Charleston, West Virginia, and Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.
The St. Olaf Choir’s 2017 National Winter Tour includes a concert at Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University (1336 Campus Drive) in Durham set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.
General admission tickets, priced at $30 for adults and $10 for students, are available at tickets.duke.edu or by calling 919-684-4444.
"Hearing the St. Olaf Choir is more than just a musical experience," says Anton Armstrong. "What makes this ensemble distinctive is the way our singers perform at the highest artistic level, and through body, mind, spirit, and voice, our audiences are transformed."
Founded 105 years ago by F. Melius Christiansen at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., the St. Olaf Choir is internationally recognized as a creative force behind America's a cappella choral tradition.
Now in his 27th year as conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, Anton Armstrong is only the fourth conductor in the ensemble's history, beginning his tenure in 1990. In addition to his role as a professor of music at St. Olaf College, he is in demand in the international choral scene as a guest conductor and lecturer.
Like his three predecessors, Armstrong strives to expand the St. Olaf Choir's repertoire, particularly by performing more music of our time. "I strive to present works that speak to the human spirit," Armstrong says, "including works like Ralph M. Johnson's This House of Peace, which uses text drawn from quotes by caregivers, patients, and their families, and Jeffery L. Ames' For the Sake of Our Children, which is a prayer for peace and human rights that addresses challenges in Africa, the Americas and Middle East."
For the singers of the St. Olaf Choir and their audiences, Armstrong says: "I want to instill a message around seeking justice, sharing kindness and walking with humble hearts. Our audiences are hearing concerts of great art, and I hope they leave transformed … not simply entertained, but renewed in spirit."
Joining the St. Olaf Choir and Armstrong on their tour is violinist and violist Charles Gray, professor of music at St. Olaf College. A former member of the Rochester Philharmonic in New York and the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan, Gray is currently a substitute member of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Armstrong opens this year's tour program with music from the 16th to 18th Century, a cappella works where the St. Olaf Choir is most pristine: John Amner's Come Let's Rejoice, William Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus, and Johann Sebastian Bach's "king or queen of the motets," Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied with chamber ensemble.
In addition to the pieces by Johnson and Ames, the second set of the program includes: Enosh from the Jewish worship rite for chorus and strings by Polish composer Louis Lewandowski, as well as a new work by Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen, His Light In Us, commissioned by the St. Olaf Choir and Armstrong for the 2016 St. Olaf Christmas Festival.
"The third set is all secular music, and it is a celebration of creation, which, actually, I view as sacred," Armstrong says. These works are Johannes Brahms' O Schöne Nacht, Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds' Stars, where singers also perform with pitch water glasses, and György Ligeti's Ejszaka (Night)/Reggel (Morning).
The final set showcases hymns and folk songs including James Erb's arrangement of Shenandoah, Keith McCutchen's arrangement of Amazing Grace written for the St. Olaf Choir 10 years ago, Robert Scholz's arrangement of William Walker's What Wondrous Love, and Moses G. Hogan, Jr.'s Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?
ST. OLAF: A TRANSFORMATIONAL CHOIR
"When they opened their mouths to sing, an even wall of sound emerged: words clear, notes true. But more than that, the notes were felt … (The St. Olaf Choir is) good because of its remarkable balance and mellow tone … It's good because of its dynamic shadings: its ability to sustain, then build from, nearly inaudible pianos, or to distinguish between a forte and a fortissimo … Dr. Anton Armstrong, the group's leader since 1990, is clearly a gifted choral director – and a teacher to the core." ~ The New York Times
After F. Melius Christiansen founded the St. Olaf Choir in 1912, he was credited with contributing to the transformation of American choral music. He and the St. Olaf Choir transcended America's limited early 20th century choral tradition with the introduction of a cappella singing of the highest level, creating a model for the widespread choral growth that followed.
"F. Melius opened a whole new paradigm that never existed before," Anton Armstrong says. "Prior to the St. Olaf Choir, glee clubs and oratorio societies were the choirs of the day. A cappella singing in America was new for its time. The St. Olaf Choir helped establish what we know today as the parish choirs that are now a regular part of many worship services across the nation."
The St. Olaf Choir has a long history of innovation. It became one of the first to tour the nation regularly starting in 1920. The St. Olaf Choir also began recording in the 1920s and performed on air when radio was in its infancy. The annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival has aired on national and international radio and television for more than 40 years, and continues to serve as a prototype for these types of holiday broadcasts. On Dec. 23, 2013 PBS premiered Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir, which was filmed at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway in June 2013, and won two regional Emmy® Awards in 2014.
In 2007 the St. Olaf choral ensembles achieved another major milestone when Christmas at St. Olaf: Where Peace and Love and Hope Abide was simulcast to more than 180 movie theaters across the United States on Dec. 2, 2007. The PBS premiere of the one-hour highlights program produced by Twin Cities Public Television aired on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007, and reached 2.5 million people. Four years later the 100th St. Olaf Christmas Festival was simulcast to 372 movie theaters across America.
The singers commit to balancing full course loads with rehearsals five days a week; choir members perform concerts entirely from memory. Anton Armstrong has conducted the St. Olaf Choir since 1990. There have been only three conductors of the St. Olaf Choir before Armstrong: Kenneth Jennings, Olaf Christiansen and the founder and first conductor F. Melius Christiansen.
The St. Olaf Choir has also performed in a number of symphonic collaborations including performances of Maurice Duruflé's Requiem for Voices, Orchestra and Organ, Opus 9, with the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Osmo Vänskä in April 2010 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. The St. Olaf Choir has also performed with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner, Neemi Jarvi, Sir David Willcocks, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Andreas Delfs, Helmuth Rilling and Robert Shaw.
Touring, recording and broadcasts are all major components in the artistic life of the St. Olaf Choir. The St. Olaf Choir has performed for capacity audiences in major concert halls across the nation and overseas since 1920. Annual tours attract audiences totaling 25,000. Recent tours have included a 2013 tour to Norway, a 2009 tour to England, Wales and Ireland, a 2005 tour of Norway, a 2001 European tour including Paris, Prague, Vienna and Berlin, and a 1997 tour to Australia and New Zealand.
The St. Olaf Choir will travel to Asia in June 2017, presenting concerts at Minatomirai Hall in Tokyo and the Kyoto Concert Hall in Japan, followed by performances in South Korea at the Busan Cultural Center Grand Hall in Busan, Gyeongju Arts Center in Gyeongiu, and the Lotte Concert Hall in Seoul.
For more info visit: stolafchoir.com.
St. Olaf Choir 2017 National Tour Program
John Amner (1579-1641): Come Let's Rejoice
William Byrd (1543-1623): Ave Verum Corpus
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225)
John Ferguson (b. 1941): Who Is This?
Herbert Howells (1892-1983): A Spotless Rose
Kim André Arnesen (b. 1980): His Light In Us
Louis Lewandowski (1821-94): Enosh
Ralph M. Johnson (b. 1955): This House of Peace
Charles Forsberg (b. 1942): Prayer of St. Francis
Jeffery L. Ames (b. 1969): For the Sake of Our Children
Christoph E.F. Weyse (1774-1842)/arr. F. Melius Christiansen: O Day Full of Grace
Johannes Brahms (1833-97): O Schöne Nacht
Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977): Star
György Ligeti (1923-2006): Ejszaka (Night)/Reggel (Morning)
American Folk Song/arr. James Erb: Shenandoah
arr. Keith McCutchen: Amazing Grace
William Walker (1809-75)/arr. Robert Scholz : What Wondrous Love
Traditional African-American Spiritual/arr. Moses G. Hogan Jr: Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?
arr. F. Melius Christiansen: Beautiful Savior
St. Olaf Choir 2017 National Winter Tour Itinerary
Saturday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Sunday, Jan. 22, 3 p.m.
Lourdes Chapel Assisi Heights
Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Luther Memorial Church
Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, 3 p.m.
Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College
Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
St. Luke's United Methodist Church
Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Charleston, West Virginia
The Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences
Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Charlotte, North Carolina
First United Methodist Church
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Durham, North Carolina
Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University
Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
River Road Church, Baptist
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, 3 p.m.
North Bethesda, Maryland
The Music Center at Strathmore
Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
St. Joseph Cathedral
Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College Music Center
Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Fourth Presbyterian Church
Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, 7 p.m.
DeKalb High School Auditorium
Sunday, Feb. 12, 3:30 p.m.
Boe Memorial Chapel
St. Olaf College
(This concert will be live streamed.)
Tickets are now available for all tour concerts online at stolaf.edu/tickets.