The Hillsdale College Chamber Choir performed the world premiere of “Three Sunsets” by Steven Lebetkin, a choral work based on Lewis Carroll’s poetry, at the Annual Spring Concert at College Baptist on April 13.
The concert featured poignant numbers written in the 20th and 21st centuries. Fitting for Lenten Season, the repertoire included “Agnus Dei” by composer Samuel Barber, “The Dark Night of the Soul” and the “Luminous Night of the Soul” by contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo, as well as other songs of faith.
James Holleman, music director, said that much of contemporary choir repertoire is composed uniquely for college-age singers, whose voices blend well at their age.
“I’ve spoken often of the nature of music being written for choirs, so many of the top choral composers are living today and writing for these instruments,” he said gesturing toward the students.
Lebetkin met Holleman during a music convention, and according to the both of them, became fast friends. Lebetkin wrote “Three Sunsets” for Hillsdale’s chamber choir, giving the piece of work to them as a gift.
He attended Saturday’s concert, and praised the students’ work on the piece. He said that Carroll’s poem is a poem of love and loss, and represents the three stages of a man’s life of love and loss, punctuated by sunsets.
Performing Barber’s “Agnus Dei,” the voices of the chamber choir blended in tight yet gentle harmonies to convey the solemnity of the plea for mercy to “Christ as the Lamb of God.” They also sang “Brazilian Psalm,” an upbeat praise song with folk influences, and sophomore Gabriel Kramer provided a powerful tenor performance.
The folk theme continued with “I’m Gonna Sing ‘Til The Spirit Moves In My Heart,” a spiritual written by Moses Hogan.
Gjeilo’s “Dark Night of the Soul” and “Luminous Night of the Soul” has far more urgency, conveyed by a quick energetic piano accompaniment, provided by Debbi Wyse. He wrote his music set to St. John of the Cross’s poem written during the Renaissance.
The full college choir sang the two songs, adding a depth of sound fitting to the cinematic quality of the contemporary pieces. Junior Christa LaVoie and sophomore Michaela Stiles soloed. Members of the choir junior Dominic Bulger and sophomore Zsanna Bodor accompanied on cello and violin respectively, joined by senior Keely Rendle on the violin, and sophomore Anne Ziegler on the viola.
While the concert was a performance of firsts with Lebetkin’s work, it was also a performance of lasts. The choirs will no longer perform at College Baptist Church, where they have performed for decades. The next concert will be held at Christ Chapel on campus. Expect to hear a reprise of “Agnus Dei” in Christ Chapel soon.