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UI Symphony and combined choirs will present Bloch's 'Sacred Service'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Symphony and combined choirs from the School of Music will present the "Sacred Service" of composer Ernest Bloch for their spring choral concert, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

The performance will be led by William Hatcher, director of choral activities for the UI School of Music. It will be free and open to the public.

Rabbi Edward Chesman of Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids will be the reader, and baritone Stephen Swanson of the UI School of Music faculty will perform as cantor. Other soloists for the performance will be mezzo soprano Katherine Pracht, an undergraduate student in the UI School of Music, and soprano Jennifer White, a UI graduate student.

UI School of Music groups participating in the combined choirs will be Kantorei, which is directed by Hatcher; Camerata Singers, directed by Richard Bloesch; University Choir, directed by Hatcher; and the Women's Chorale, directed by Melanie Jacobson.

A musical setting of a Jewish Sabbath service, the "Sacred Service" was commissioned in 1929 by the Temple Emanuel Congregation of San Francisco. At the time Bloch, a native of Switzerland, was director of the San Francisco Conservatory and a naturalized American citizen.

Although he had written an earlier "Jewish Cycle," a series of large-scale works that have Biblical or Jewish subjects, Bloch used the commission as an opportunity to explore his Jewish heritage with extraordinary thoroughness. He left his position in San Francisco and returned to Switzerland to compose.

Working in seclusion, Bloch immersed himself in the text of the Sabbath service and soon was able to report: "I can write (the whole service) in Hebrew from memory. I know its significance word by word. But what is more important, I have absorbed it to the point that it has become mine and as it were, the very expression of my soul."

Upon its completion in 1933, Bloch felt that the score was more than an individual Hebrew service. As he expressed it, the completed work encompassed "the Laws of the Universe . . . a dream of stars, of forces (and) a 'private affair' between God and me."

Virtually the only complete setting of the Sabbath morning service, "Sacred Service" has become a work of universal significance, receiving frequent performances in both synagogues and concert halls.

The score calls for baritone and/or cantor, mixed chorus and large orchestra. It is divided into five parts, following the liturgy of the Sabbath morning service. Bloch made use of a traditional cantorial chant that Cantor Rubin Rider of Temple Emmanuel had sent to him, "Tsur Yisrael," as well as themes from some of his earlier works on Jewish subjects.

The choral portions of the "Sacred Service" are punctuated with a series of short instrumental preludes based on a unifying five-note motive. These interludes take the place in the service of responsive readings and are designed to provide opportunities for meditation or silent prayer. Musically, they give unity to the total work by tying together the many changes of mood found in the text.

Hatcher has served as director of choral activities at the UI School of Music since 1988. He directs the graduate choral conducting program, conducts choral ensembles in the School of Music and frequently appears as music director of productions by the UI Opera Theater. He has published materials on choral skills and choral arrangements, and he appears frequently as a choral clinician and festival choir director. Prior to coming to Iowa he taught at UCLA, the University of Washington and Pasadena City College.

In the fall of 1996, he took Kantorei, the School of Music's premiere vocal ensemble, to the International Choral Competition in Tolosa, Spain. Earlier, his UI Kantorei was one of only five choirs chosen to participate in the 1994 World Choral Festival in Seoul, South Korea. In 1990 Kantorei performed the Mozart "Requiem" with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and other orchestras in the former Soviet Union, and also gave concerts in Russia, Estonia and Finland.

Hatcher's concert tours with other collegiate ensembles have included Europe, Greece, the British Isles, Canada, Hawaii and the western United States. Hatcher was also coordinator and assistant director of the 1,000-voice Olympic Honor Chorus, which sang for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, an event telecast to more than two billion people worldwide.

Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994. For nearly 20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During that time his repertoire grew to more than 70 roles in opera, operetta and musicals. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy.

Swanson has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis. Since coming to Iowa City, he has appeared in UI Opera Theater productions and performances of the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.

For additional information, contact the UI School of Music at (319) 335-1667.

3/21/97