Lauridsen’s seven vocal cycles – “Les Chansons des Roses(Rilke),” “Mid-Winter Songs(Graves),”“Cuatro Canciones(Lorca),”“A Winter Come(Moss),” “Madrigali: Six ‘FireSongs’ on Renaissance Italian Poems,” “Nocturnes,” and “Lux Aeterna” – and his series of sacred a cappella motets(“O Magnum Mysterium,” “Ave Maria,” “O Nata Lux,” “Ubi Caritas et Amor” and “Ave Dulcissima Maria”) are featured regularly in concert by distinguished ensembles throughout the world.
“O Magnum Mysterium,” “Dirait-on”(from “Les Chansons des Roses”) and “O Nata Lux”(from “Lux Aeterna”) have become the all-time best-selling choral octavos distributed by Theodore Presser, in business since 1783.
A recipient of numerous grants, prizes and commissions, Lauridsen chaired the composition department at the USC Thornton School of Music from 1990-2002, founded the School’s Advanced Studies Program in Film Scoring, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Composition.
by Mark McGowan
A late-January trip to Peoria has confirmed what Eric Johnson has known for nearly three years: Composer Morten Lauridsen’s upcoming residency at the NIU School of Music is monumental.
Johnson, the school’s director of choral activities, found himself mobbed by several high school choral teachers and students at the Illinois Music Educators Association’s All-State Music Conference who are brimming with anticipation for the visit that begins Tuesday, Feb. 16.
Lauridsen’s residency is expected to earn international recognition for the NIU School of Music as it provides a “phenomenal experience” for scores of music students from NIU and young singers from nearby high schools.
“The buzz at the convention was that Northern had Lauridsen coming. It wasn’t the University of Illinois. It wasn’t Northwestern. It was Northern,” Johnson says.
“I met a teacher who’s going to take time off to come watch the rehearsals. She told her principal, ‘Imagine if Beethoven was at a university 20 miles from you for three days. Would you want me here – or there?’ That’s the stature of Lauridsen,” he adds.
“Talking to high school students, these kids had the whole schedule memorized. The poster’s up in their choir room, they’ve been staring at it for weeks and they’re just fired up to come and do whatever they can. This will never happen again for them.”
Next week’s busy agenda includes rehearsals, concerts, convocations, master classes and a lecture and demonstration for area school singers.
Participants will discover that Lauridsen’s residency “brings music and composers to life,” Johnson says.
“It’s always revelatory when you actually work with a composer on their music. Most of the time, all we have is the printed page. We have to infer, create and imagine what the composer wanted. But when you hear the composer talk about why he did what he did, you gain an infinitely richer understanding of the music.”
The music of Lauridsen, composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994-2001 and professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than 30 years, occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the 20th century.
Since 1993, Lauridsen’s music rapidly increased in international popularity and, by century’s end, he had eclipsed Randall Thompson as the most frequently performed American choral composer. His works have been recorded on over a hundred CDs, three of which have received Grammy nominations.
In 2006, he was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2007, he was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts from the president in a White House ceremony, “for his composition of radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power and spiritual depth that have thrilled audiences worldwide.” The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.
Lauridsen will begin his visit with a Tuesday, Feb. 16, all-school of music convocation, an open rehearsal with the NIU Chamber Choir and a public concert of his works for solo and chamber ensembles featuring NIU faculty and Cor Cantaimo, a semi-professional choir conducted by Johnson. The evening’s concert will conclude with Lauridsen accompanying Cor Cantiamo for a performance of his newest choral cycle, “Nocturnes.”
The Wednesday, Feb. 17, schedule includes a composer’s forum titled “Lauridsen on Composing.” He will hold a composition master class with NIU student composers Thursday, Feb. 18. He also will participate in a lecture demonstration concert Thursday afternoon with NIU Chamber Choir for area high school singers.
Lauridsen’s visit will close Feb. 18 with an 8 p.m. performance of his “Lux Aeterna”by the NIU Concert Choir and NIU Philharmonic. The composer will deliver a pre-concert lecture for the public at 7:00 p.m. in the School of Music Recital Hall.
All of the events will prove enlightening, Johnson says.
“Morten Lauridsen is a very spiritual and thoughtful musician. He carefully considers any texts he chooses to set, long before the music comes to him. The craft of his composition is organically woven out of the fundamental elements found in the text,” he adds.
“At a profoundly musical level, Lauridsen excels at revealing greater truths and realities inherent in the poetry. For the most part, his melodies and vocal lines are challenging but accessible to both the singer and audience. The composite sonorities in his compositions are uniquely Lauridsen; his textures and colors speak to our modern times.”
Preparations for the concerts have been intense and extremely motivating, with members of the Chamber Choir returning to campus a week early to get a jump start on their repertoire. “My students are excited and eager to be successful,” Johnson says. “They are singing well and ready to show off the wonderful choral program we have here at NIU.”
The Morten Lauridsen residency had been funded in part by the MetLife Meet the Composer Program and the DeKalb County Community Foundation.
For a complete residency schedule, visit the NIU School of Music’s Web page or call (815) 753-1551.