Knox Students Work With Renowned Choral Composers

May 27, 2014

Jaakko Mantyjarvi with the Knox College Choir

Students in the Knox College Choir took advantage of the unmatched insight that comes from engaging directly with noted composers, as they gave a world premiere this spring of a choral composition by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, and last fall premiered another new work by Abbie Betinis.

Knox students joined with choral groups from around the region for the May 2 concert, which featured nine works by Mäntyjärvi, including his newest piece When I heard the learned astronomer. The work was a joint commission by Knox College and Monmouth College.

Jaakko Mantyjarvi, Knox Choir Director Laura Lane
Jaakko Mäntyjärvi and Knox Choir Director Laura Lane. For more from his visit, see the Knox Flickr channel.

The result of the commission was a "unique and historic concert," said Laura Lane, professor of music and director of choral activities at Knox. "Historic, because it's the first time that choirs from Monmouth and Knox colleges have jointly commissioned a choral work, then come together to form a unified choral ensemble. And it's unique in that each of the four choirs in the concert sang one piece by Mäntyjärvi, concluding with the world premiere of the commissioned work."

It's the second time this year that the Knox College Choir has premiered a new composition and met with the composer. Last fall, the Choir premiered At A Window, composed for Knox by Betinis, who came to campus to work with the choir and attend the premiere.

Abbie Betinis and the Knox College Choir
Abbie Betinis with the Knox College Choir. For more photos from her visit, see the Knox Flickr channel.

"Working with composers is really fun, to hear what they want, their thought process when they were writing," said choir member J'Maw Moses, a senior theatre and dance student.

"It helps us a lot of understand what we need to be doing as a choir, as individual singers, to get the effect that the composer is looking for," said choir member Emily Antoff, a senior theatre and art history student.

Mäntyjärvi is a Finnish translator and composer of more than 100 published choral works. When I heard the learned astronomer is a choral setting of two texts, one in Latin by Copernicus about the solar system, and one in English by Walt Whitman that contrasts scientific with non-rational views of the universe.