For the past two weeks or so, we’ve had in our presence the eminent American composer Jake Heggie, this while Indiana University Opera Theater completed preparation for its premiere production of his operatic version for the iconic Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
His counsel, I’ve been told, was of considerable help to all who combined to put this production together. A composer, of course, is the primary source for how his or her music should be handled, and Heggie has been diligent in offering assistance.
As of earlier this weekend, another composer of note came for a visit, he, too, to offer his wisdom about a composition being performed here. In his case, however, there was a second reason for coming. He came to actively participate in the performance itself. The also eminent contemporary composer Krzysztof Penderecki made his journey to conduct a major work of his, the “St. Luke Passion.”
Like Heggie here for his new opera, Penderecki here to conduct one of the most significant choral works of the 20th century, his own, is a major coup. As he steps to the podium on stage in the Musical Arts Center on Wednesday evening, he will have with him the IU Philharmonic Orchestra and Oratorio Chorus, an added children’s chorus, and four student soloists carefully chosen for the occasion. The chorus master is Jacobs School choral conductor Dominick DiOrio. The children have been prepared by IU’s Brent Gault.
Jacobs School Dean Gwyn Richards says, “There is great excitement about the Penderecki residency at IU, and the opportunity it is giving our students to learn from and make music with one of the greatest composers of our time.”
So, how did this happen?
The IU connection, explains Richards, began with Lee Feinstein, founding dean of the university’s School of Global and International Studies. Feinstein served four years, from 2009 to 2012, as US ambassador to Poland and, while there, came to know the Pendereckis, Krzysztof and wife Elzbieta.
“President McRobbie and Dean Feinstein visited Poland in May of last year, along with IU musicologist Halina Goldberg.” Richards recalls. “They met with the Pendereckis. The idea of having them come to campus was born soon thereafter.
“Protracted discussions ensued about what of the composer’s music we would want to perform,” Dean Richards continues. “Consensus eventually built around the ‘St. Luke Passion,’ after discussions with the choral and orchestral programs and the IU Children’s Choir. Dominick DiOrio’s thesis at Yale was ‘Embedded Tonality in Penderecki’s Stabat Mater & St. Luke Passion.’ We had Dominick for the chorus. Composer Penderecki agreed to come. And there we have it.”
Thomas Wieligman, the Jacobs School’s academic specialist for instrumental ensembles, adds that prior to Maestro Penderecki’s arrival, the composer’s assistant came to run rehearsals. But before that, says Wieligman, “With the mentorship and guidance of our own conductor David Neely, one of our own students, Nathan Blair, agreed to run orchestra rehearsals. Nathan is one of our very best students. He is the pupil of Arthur Fagen, Thomas Wilkins, and David Neely.”
It takes a village, as they say. It takes a village to prepare such a performance.
Chorus master Dominick DiOrio says his history with the “St. Luke Passion” is a long one, “as it was the work upon which my dissertation from Yale was based. So, I’ve been studying it for the better part of the last decade. I published subsequent articles and gave conference presentations on the composer’s organization of pitch systems within the work, and especially how he prepared the appearances of those two glorious major triads: the D major which ends the Stabat Mater and the E major which ends the work. So you might say I know the Passion more intimately than most.”
He adds: “This is absolutely a joyous assignment for me and my first time preparing the IU Oratorio Chorus for a performance on the MAC stage.”
DiOrio calls the score “fiendishly difficult and, unlike other oratorios, really a work for three mixed choruses of exceptional ability, rather than one large, massed chorus. Case in point: the chorus is often asked to sing in twelve distinct vocal lines, with each part on a different note of the chromatic scale, and often a cappella! This is not music for the faint of heart, and it requires the utmost discipline in musical preparation and performance from each of our 173 student singers.”
What might we, the listeners, expect?
“This music is deeply moving,” DiOrio insists, “and absolutely one of the composer’s most thrilling and effective works. It paints the Passion story with unusual ferocity and immediacy, with the stylized turba crowd choruses of Bach sounding here as actual mobs would sound out on the street. Penderecki’s music is visceral, gripping, and always moving. You come away from the story changed.”
He calls performing and/or hearing it “a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, with one of the most important composers in the world joining us to conduct one of the most important choral works of the 20th century. This is unique in every sense, and not to be missed.”
It seems to me chorus master DiOrio has made a strong case for this favored assignment of his. Admission is free, but you need to get a ticket to get in, and I’m not sure if any are still available. Visit or call the MAC ticket office (812-855-7433).
From Quarryland, something special
The Quarryland Men’s Chorus will devote its annual holiday concert next Sunday evening to music of heavier weight than usual: the performance of “Tyler’s Suite,” a nine-piece choral work dedicated to Tyler Clementi, a young musician who committed suicide after being bullied by his roommate during his early weeks in college.
Put together by composer Stephen Schwartz (creator of “Wicked” and “Pippin”) and Timothy Seelig (conductor and artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus), “Tyler’s Suite” features music of nine contemporary composers: John Bucchino, Ann Hampton Callaway, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Stephen Flaherty, Nolan Glasser, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Schwartz.
The message to be passed along by words and song is meant — through the tragic story of Tyler Clementi — to focus on the destructive presence of bullying. Quarryland director Barry Magee says the suite “is not intended to portray Tyler as a martyr or necessarily a special case, rather a vehicle for telling the story of so many who are targets of bullies every day.”
Joining the Quarryland voices will be soprano Sylvia McNair, IU BFA student Colin LeMoine, Jacobs School student Benjamin St. John, and Mayor John Hamilton.
I wanted to let you know about the event a week ahead.
Contact Peter Jacobi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
St. Luke Passion: Composer Krzysztof Penderecki conducts his oratorio, as performed by the Indiana University Oratorio Chorus, Philharmonic Orchestra, and four soloists. Dominick DiOrio has trained the chorus and Brent Gault the children’s chorus.
Where: Musical Arts Center on the IU Bloomington campus.
When: Wednesday evening at 8.
Admission: Free, but tickets are required. Available at the Musical Arts Center box office or call 812-855-7433.
Tyler’s Suite: The Quarryland Men’s chorus presents “Tyler’s Suite,” a collection of choral pieces by nine contemporary composers and shaped into a suite by Stephen Schwartz, composer of the musicals “Wicked” and “Pippin,” and Timothy Seelig, conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The work honors Tyler Clementi, a young musician who committed suicide after being bullied by his roommate in college. Also featured are soprano Sylvia McNair, IU students Benjamin St.John and Colin LeMoine, and Mayor John Hamilton.
Where: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood. When: Next Sunday evening at 7.
Admission: Tickets available at the Buskirk-Chumley box office or http://www.betboxoffice.org or from Quarryland members. $15 general admission; $10 for students and seniors; free for children under 12.
• This afternoon at 3 in the Musical Arts Center (MAC), Thomas Wilkins conducts the IU Concert Orchestra in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 1 and Brahms’ Symphony Number 3. Free.
• This afternoon at 4 in Auer Hall, soprano Katherine Jolly, along with pianist Kimberly Carballo, offers a recital. Free.
• Monday evening at 8 in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Jazz at the BCT presents the IU Latin Jazz Ensemble, led by Michael Spiro and Wayne Wallace. Free.
• Tuesday evening at 8 in the MAC, the IU Concert and Symphonic Bands perform under the leadership of Jason Nam and Eric Smedley. Free.