Originally Posted Online: May 16, 2012, 10:58 am
Last Updated: May 16, 2012, 9:22 pm

Augie working with Finnish composer on concert

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

Photo: Jonathan Turner
Finnish composer Jaakko Mantyjarvi rehearsed the Augustana College Choir last month in preparation for the performance of two of his works on Saturday at Centennial Hall.
It's rare for any performing group to work with the creator of the piece being brought to life. But that's what the Augustana College Choir did last month, rehearsing with a composer from Finland to prepare for its concert Saturday.

Jaakko Mantyjarvi worked at the Rock Island campus for two days in mid-April, before he attended the premiere of a commissioned choral piece he wrote for Northern Illinois University, DeKalb. "I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Augustana Choir," the 48-year-old composer said.

Mr. Mantyjarvi rehearsed his "Four Shakespeare Songs" (1984-85) and "Pseudo Yoik" (1994) with the students. The former -- with texts by the master of the English language -- is the composer's earliest serious work, and the other -- a completely different, silly piece -- is a takeoff on northern European folk music.

"It's a fun piece; it's a bit insane," Mr. Mantyjarvi said. "Audiences seem to enjoy it. It is in a sort of made-up language."

"It's special for him to be here and work on these with him," said Augustana senior Jessica Aldis. The choir is doing all 20th-century pieces as its part of the "triple concert," which also will feature Augie's band and orchestra. The other choral works are by John Rutter (born 1945) and jazz pianist George Shearing (1919-2011).

"We do a significant amount of contemporary music in our programs," said Jon Hurty, the choir conductor and Augie's director of choral activities. "We do a mix of music -- probably 50 percent of our music was written in the 20th century or later.

"We often don't have the resources to bring the composer here, so we work on our own and try to figure out the best we can what the composer intended," he said. "But having the composer here is a fascinating experience on a couple of levels.

"On one hand, I, as the conductor, have my own interpretation, and the choir works through that. On the other hand, the composer has a unique insight into what he or she was thinking at the time."

Augustana students had a similar experience about 10 years ago, when composer Alice Parker came here to rehearse a work the college commissioned. She also was here for a couple days, and she attended the premiere, said Dr. Hurty, who has a doctorate in choral conducting.

The Augie choir has done some of Mr. Mantyjarvi's music before, he said, and when the conductor heard the composer was coming to NIU, he thought it was a perfect opportunity to invite Mr. Mantyjarvi to come here as well.

"The conception that the composer has in mind is fascinating for me as well as the choir," Dr. Hurty said. "In some ways, I feel it's really important for the students to have that perspective, to hear the perspective that goes beyond how I might feel about it or they might feel about it, but how the person who created it conceives a piece."

"There may have been little things Dr. Hurty didn't know about, and he's a very funny guy," senior Cameron Carrara said of the compose.

Mr. Mantyjarvi is a choral singer himself, and most of his works are for choir. His major commissions include works for the Cork International Choral Festival (1999), the 700th anniversary of the consecration of Turku Cathedral (2000), the World Symposium on Choral Music (2008), and for Chanticleer (2001) and the King's Singers (2002).

During his time here, in addition to rehearsing with the Augustana Choir, Mr. Mantyjarvi taught a class on Finnish choral music, and provided workshops for students studying conducting and composition.

"I think it's very important to see models of people who are doing music or writing music or publishing music," Dr. Hurty said. "They see those people -- they're not just a name on a page. There is a human being that goes along with that. It's a person they can relate to. That's an important part of something they can see they can be involved in."

If you go

-- What: Augustana College Music Festival, featuring Choir, Symphonic Band and Orchestra.
-- When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
-- Where: Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island.
-- Admission: Free.