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The Choir of the West: PLU’s Premier Choral Ensemble Keeps Particularly Busy

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Dr. Richard Nance, left, conducts a Choir of the West rehearsal on Nov. 3, 2014. (Photo: Shunying Wang '15)

Image: Dr. Richard Nance, left, conducts a Choir of the West rehearsal on Nov. 3, 2014. (Photo: Shunying Wang ’15)

November 7, 2014

By Shunying Wang ’15
PLU Marketing & Communications Student Worker

It’s an especially busy—and newsy—year for PLU’s renowned Choir of the West, including the return of Dr. Richard Nance, Director of Choral Activities and conductor of the choir, who’s back from a yearlong sabbatical.

During his leave, Nance focused on trips to four Northern European countries to visit composers and conductors and to collect repertoire and music to bring back for possible use with his PLU choirs. While in Riga, Latvia, and Helsinki, Finland, he was able to visit with primary publishers Musica Baltica and Sulasol and, based on their recommendations, he selected pieces he thought would benefit the Choir of the West.

“I came back with an immense amount of repertoire,” Nance said. “I am probably going to spend the majority of this year just trying to sort through all the repertoire I came back with.”

When in Sweden, Nance met with Gary Graden, an American conductor who works at the Stockholm Cathedral, and conductor Stefan Parkman from Uppsala University. Those visits resulted in important contacts for Choir of the West’s 2015 spring tour to Northern Europe, right after Commencement in May. In Estonia, Nance learned about Estonian repertoire through Associate Professor of Music Timothy Fitzpatrick from Western Washington University, who was living in Tallinn during his sabbatical.

Members of PLU's Choir of the West pose in Red Square in October 2014. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Members of PLU’s Choir of the West pose in Red Square in October 2014. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

“I attended some concerts, visited with conductors and composers, watched them rehearse and perform, and was just absorbed in the cultures,” Nance said. “It was fantastic!”

Nance’s sabbatical visits also inspired more future collaborations for PLU’s Music Department, and Nance plans to bring some U.S. premiere concerts to PLU in the near future. Nance is now organizing the premiere of Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström’s St. Matthew Passion at PLU in March 2016, for example, to be conducted by Parkman. Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds also asked Nance to perform the U.S. premiere of his multimedia Nordic Light Symphony at PLU in 2017. This work will be based on folk songs about the aurora sung by the indigenous peoples of the Earth’s polar regions.

At the same time, the Choir of the West has released its new album, Look Down, Fair Moon. Every two years, the Choir of the West releases a CD that includes musical selections from tours. This year the disc features music the choir performed at the 2013 American Choral Directors Association National Conference and the premiere of Northern Lights by Ešenvalds, as well as music composed by 2013 PLU graduate Julian Reisenthel and Assistant Professor Brian Galante, who conducted the choir during Nance’s sabbatical leave.  PLU faculty pianist Oksana Ezhokina accompanied several of the selections on the disc.

“These albums are excellent archives, so we have a record of the choir and of what they performed,” said Nance.

Also of note from the choir:

  • •At this year’s Christmas Concerts, the Choir of the West, University Chorale and members of the University Symphony Orchestra will present the world premiere of Robert Kyr’s Christmas Oratorio. Kyr is Professor of Music at the University of Oregon.
  • From the end of May to the second week of June 2015, the Choir of the West will go on an international tour, performing concerts in Stockholm (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark), Wittenberg (Germany), Prague (the Czech Republic) and Linz (Austria).  In Linz, the choir will compete in the Anton Bruckner Choir Competition.
  • The Choir of the West has been invited to perform as the featured choir for the National Collegiate Choral Organization at its national conference in Portland, Ore., in November 2015. The group will perform an hour-long program led by the conference headliner, Simon Carrington, who was one of the founding members of the famed King’s Singers and one of the world’s foremost choral conductors.
  • In December 2015, the Choir of the West will join with University Chorale and the University Symphony Orchestra for a special video taping of the Christmas Concert, as part of the university’s 125th Anniversary.
  • And in March 2016, the choir will be part of the premiere of Sven-David Sandström’s St. Matthew Passion, mentioned above.

“That’s a pretty exciting year!” Nance said, adding that it is his goal to see the Choir of the West, one of the university’s primary organizations, become a larger presence nationally and internationally.

“The Choir of the West is an amazing representative for PLU; a group the university can be very proud of,” he said. “We have a wonderful Music Department with many great ensembles. If we continue to do these sort of exciting events, it can only help bring PLU music to a larger audience in our country and the world.”