University of Iowa News Release
April 21, 2005
UI Symphony And Choruses Present Mendelssohn's 'Elijah' May 4
The University of Iowa Symphony and Choruses will perform one of the most popular musical works of the Victorian era, Felix Mendelssohn's dramatic oratorio "Elijah," at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 4 in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.
The performance, under the direction of Timothy Stalter, UI director of choral activities, will feature baritone Stephen Swanson as Elijah.
Other soloists for the performance will be boy soprano Elliot Stalter; sopranos Emily Johnson (Widow, Angel), Kristin Kufeldt and Kelsey Williams; altos Beth Duhr (Queen), Lacretta Ross (Angel) and Elisabeth Bieber (Angel); tenors Quiliano Anderson (Obadiah, Ahab), Jeff Bieber and Robby Kemp; and basses Andy Cook-Feltz and Devin Smith.
In addition to the University Symphony, the performance will feature the combined efforts of Kantorei and the University Choir, directed by Stalter; Camerata, directed by Timothy Dickey; and Women's Chorale, directed by Fred Kiser.
"Mendelssohn's 'Elijah' was the most popular oratorio in the 19th century, and remains popular to this day," Stalter said. "It is rich with drama and intensity of feeling. It will be performed in English, as in its first performance in 1846, so it will be readily understood by our audience."
The sacred oratorio, with its combination of dramatic music and a morally uplifting subject, was particularly popular in Victorian England. Amateur choral societies were found throughout the country, and choral festivals competed in the presentation of the latest oratorios.
In 1845 one such festival, the Birmingham Music Festival, commissioned a new work from Mendelssohn, who was well known in England. Only a year later, in August 1846, the composer conducted the premiere of "Elijah" at Birmingham Town Hall, with a 125-piece orchestra and a chorus of 271 voices. The audience response was so great that no fewer than eight numbers were encored and British critics hailed the work as the greatest masterwork of its age.
Mendelssohn returned to England in 1847 to conduct performances of a revised "Elijah" in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and the oratorio received even greater acclaim. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended one of the London performances, and afterwards the Prince sent Mendelssohn his royal stamp of approval, praising the "Noble Artist who, surrounded by the Baal-worship of debased art, has been able, by his genius and science, to preserve faithfully, like another Elijah, the worship of true art."
"Elijah" is a dramatic oratorio that tells its story though the characters, rather than a narrator. Elijah is immediately introduced -- even before the overture -- and his story unfolds through recitative, arias and choruses. After the Israelites lament the drought and famine, Elijah is summoned by an angel and sent to heal a widow's child. The prophet then sarcastically confronts the worshippers of Baal, calling for God to send the fire that Baal cannot, and finally, brings water to the parched land.
In the oratorio's second part, Queen Jezebel incites the people to kill Elijah, who escapes to the wilderness only to express his despair and longing for death. On Mount Horeb, God appears to the prophet "in a still, small voice," and the plot concludes with Elijah's ascension. Mendelssohn's orchestration is particularly evocative in depicting the story's fire and water, earthquake and tempest.
Stalter joined the UI faculty as director of choral activities in 1999. He directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, teaches graduate conducting courses and administers the graduate program in choral conducting. He has research interests in teaching conducting to undergraduate and graduate students and historical music performance practices. 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 Apollo's Fire, the Newfoundland Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, 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. He has recorded as tenor soloist with conductor Robert Shaw on two compact discs released on the Telarc label.
Prior to coming to the UI, Stalter was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Goshen College in Indiana. He received a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied with renowned choral conductor Robert Fountain, and a master's degree from the University of Illinois, where he studied with Don V. Moses, who was UI director of choral activities in the 1980s.
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 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.
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. He has recorded Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" and Ullmann's "Der Kaiser von Atlantis." Since coming to Iowa City, he has presented solo recitals, appeared in and directed UI Opera Theater productions, and performed with the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.
Tickets to "Elijah" are $8 (UI student and youth $3; senior citizen $6) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to 319-353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
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