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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

'Amazing' Rilling conducts harmonious return

By Brenna Bray
Staff Writer

Friday, March 11, 2005

Boe Chapel’s pews were not as full on Sunday as the sold-out venues Helmuth Rilling usually entertains in, but the world-renowned conductor filled the chapel with resonant music.

After conducting Brahms’ Requiem with St. Olaf choirs last April, Rilling brought the Minneapolis-based VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and German soprano soloist Marlis Petersen to St. Olaf.

Rilling, who is known for his interpretations of Bach’s cantatas, conducted a program of choral works illustrating the influence of Bach on composers Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn.

He conducted the same program a day earlier at the Basilica of St Mary’s

as part of the "Helmuth Rilling Conducts: America & Beyond" series, which opened with the St. Olaf Choir on Oct. 10.

"[Rilling] is such an amazing conductor," said Hillary Hoffman ’06, member of the St. Olaf Choir. "He becomes a whole separate person when he conducts in performances and it’s fun to watch that from the audience, too."

After intermission, Petersen, Rilling’s favorite soloist, earned a standing ovation for her performance of Bach’s dazzling cantata, “Jauchezet Gott in Allen Landen” (Praise God in Every Land).

St. Olaf trumpet and music theory teacher Martin Hodel complemented Petersen’s performance with a trumpet solo, accompanied by Jorja Fleezanis’ chamber orchestra.

"Professor Hodels performance put an exclamation point on the music of Bach ... his playing demanded your attention" St. Olaf Choir member Eric Neuville ’06 said.

Hodel was not the performance’s only St. Olaf connection. Rilling himself received an honorary doctorate of fine arts at St. Olaf last April, after conducting a smash performance of Brahms’ Requiem with St. Olaf choirs at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

Philip Brunelle, VocalEssence’s artistic director, also holds an honorary doctorate from St. Olaf and serves on the St. Olaf Board of Regents.

His colleague, Sigrid Johnson, VocalEssence’s associate conductor, conducts the Manitou Singers and serves as a member of St. Olaf’s choral faculty.

Of the 32 men and women in the VocalEssence Ensemble, seven hold St. Olaf degrees and two, Christopher Brunelle and Robert C. Smith, are members of St. Olaf’s faculty.

With such a strong base of St. Olaf talent, it is not surprising that VocalEssence is recognized internationally as one of America’s premier choral arts organizations.

The Ensemble Singers closed the concert with Bach’s magnificent motet, “Jesu, meine Freude” (Jesus, My Joy), joined by a chamber orchestra with organ and strings.

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