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Release: March 24, 2000

Mendelssohn's 'Walpurgis Night' will be performed by UI Symphony and Choruses April 5

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Music by Felix Mendelssohn and Anton Bruckner, two of the 19th-century's most active and successful composers of choral music, will be performed by the University of Iowa Symphony and Choruses at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 5 in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

The program will comprise three pieces: the motet "Heilig, Heilig" (Holy, holy) by Mendelssohn, for unaccompanied choir; the Bruckner's "Te Deum" for choir and orchestra; and Mendelssohn's secular oratorio, "Die erste Walpurgisnacht" (The first Walpurgis night) op. 60.

Timothy Stalter, director of choral activities at the UI School of Music, will conduct the performance, which will be free and open to the public. Soloists will include baritone Stephen Swanson from the School of Music faculty, along with UI graduate students Emeline Fitzmorris, soprano; Ann Cravero, alto; Lawrence Reppert and John Des Marais, tenors; and John Spomer, bass.

This will be the first Symphony and Choruses performance conducted by Stalter, who joined the UI faculty last fall.

The two major works of the program -- Bruckner's "Te Deum" and Mendelssohn's "Walpurgisnacht" -- are colorful, expressive pieces of less than 30 minutes. In other ways, however, they are very different: The "Te Deum" is Bruckner's best known choral work, and it is a powerful affirmation of simple faith. In contrast, "Die erste Walpurgisnacht" is infrequently performed; it is a secular, rather than sacred, oratorio; and it tells a sophisticated and at times satirical story of pagan Druids and Christian crusaders.

Stalter believes that the two works make an attractive combination. "Bruckner's 'Te Deum' and Mendelssohn's 'Die erste Walpurgisnacht' are both wonderful examples of the best of the choral/orchestral repertoire from the Romantic era." he said. "Both are exciting, powerful, impressive pieces. We are all looking forward to performing these incredible works in Hancher."

In modern liturgical books the "Te Deum" is termed a "Hymn of Thanksgiving" and it has long been associated with important ceremonies such as coronations and celebrations of victory in battle. The stirring text inspired a number of 19th-century composers, chief among them Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Bruckner, Dvorak and Verdi.

Bruckner's "Te Deum" had its first performance in Vienna on May 2, 1885 with the composer conducting. It was well received, despite the fact that the orchestra part was played on two pianos. The Vienna Philharmonic premiered the orchestral version under the famous conductor Hans Richter the next year. Soon there was a triumphal series of performances of the "Te Deum" as far afield as Oslo, Amsterdam, and Cincinnati -- where it was performed by 800 singers and a 120-strong orchestra before an audience of 7000!

The dictionary defines the Walpurgis Night as a depiction of a witches' Sabbath, or a situation that has a nightmarish quality. Mendlessohn's oratorio is based on a dramatic ballad by Goethe that satirizes the medieval crusaders as superstitious, in contrast to the genuine reverence for a God-like nature as practiced by Druids. "Walpurgis Night" is used ironically for the title, since the Druids pretend to be devils in order to frighten away the threatening crusaders. For Mendelssohn, the text provided many opportunities for the expression in music of both humor and reverence.

The premiere of "Die erste Walpurgisnacht" took place in Leipzig under the composer's baton on Feb. 2, 1843. Composer Hector Berlioz, who attended the final rehearsal, wrote afterward, "I was at once quite astounded by the . . .grandeur of the work. I am strongly inclined to regard it as the finest thing that Mendelssohn has done."

The April 5 concert by the UI Symphony and Choruses is supported in part by a contribution from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

Stalter directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the UI School of Music, teaches graduate conducting courses, and administers the graduate program in choral conducting. He has research interests in the teaching of conducting and historical musical performance. An active member of the American Choral Directors Association, he frequently presents clinics and workshops in choral conducting around the United States.

In addition to conducting and teaching choral music, Stalter is active as a tenor soloist in the United States and abroad. A specialist in the music of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, he is known for his performances as the Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schuetz. He has appeared as tenor soloist with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in France, the Robert Shaw Chamber Choir in Atlanta, the Classical Music Seminar and Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.

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 91 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, the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy.

Swanson recently took part in the Viktor Ullman-Projekt 1998, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of a composer who died in the Nazi death camps. Swanson sang major roles in Ullman's operas "Der zerbrochene Krug" and "Der Kaiser von Atlantis" at performances in Europe, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Martyr's Museum in Los Angeles.

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/~uiowacr on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/.