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Rene’ Clausen’s The Passion of Jesus Christ, a marvel to behold

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Quote of the Day: “It’s a joyful process,” Clausen says. “This is our 125th year as a college and it’s coming into the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It’s an opportunity to create a piece of new art that can celebrate the college and our Lutheran heritage.” from the program for The Passion of Jesus Christ, a new choral opera composed by Rene’ Clausen, conductor at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, with text from Concordia religion professor Roy Hammerling.

We had the great pleasure of being in the debut audience of this concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN. In a rare moment of planning ahead, our son Zach got us tickets for this performance last fall. We were in the third row. Although, there is no such thing as a bad seat in Orchestra Hall, which is designed for acoustic perfection, sitting that close gave us full facial expressions and total immersion in the hour-long piece. I could see my boy just over the shoulder of Conductor Clausen.

The Concordia College faculty were the soloists and sat up front, standing for their various roles as Pilate, Judas, Jesus, and women narrators and storytellers through the lyrics. What an experience to hear the voices of this amazing faculty featured and reverberating off the very walls of the hall. The chorus fills in story line, shouts from the crowd from “Hosanna” to “Barabas” to “Crucify him!” Several students also had solos, but only two came forward to sing with the faculty. We heard familiar hymns like Go to dark Gethsemane, O sacred head now wounded, and Were You There, along with strains of dissonance and discord representing the agony of Jesus’ suffering and the human condition. Clausen put the whole passion text to music in a powerful way. The music is beautiful, haunting and emotional. The violinists looked exhausted by the end of the performance. Dr. Clausen made a solemn bow, and the crowd rose to their feet in a long standing ovation. 

Concordia Choir at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN. Sold out audience for Rene’ Clausen’s world premiere of The Passion of Jesus Christ. (Photo from Concordia Choir FB page, Heather Gleason posted this shot.)

Over 400 Concordia choral students, plus a full orchestra, along with six faculty soloists, under the direction of composer and conductor Rene’ Clausen performed his masterpiece last weekend, April 8 & 9, 2017, at Orchestra Hall on Saturday night, and back in Moorhead on Sunday evening. It was an historical event. They recorded the performance at Orchestra Hall for possible future broadcasting. I expect they will perform this again, maybe even make it an annual thing, like their renowned Christmas Concerts. 

My son was excited to be part of this creative event. One of the women in the choir tweeted, “Being a part of the world premiere of René Clausen’s Passion of Jesus Christ at Orchestra Hall was one of the best experiences of my life”

Clausen’s choral opera tells the story with fervor and strength. It is about Christ’s suffering and death, and his plea, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Then, he gives up his spirit. Although the chorus sings that “He is risen!” they don’t sing the “Halleluias” that you’d expect. Instead, they go right to the Holy Spirit, the cry from the people, “Stay with us, Lord, Jesus, stay with us.” And, the last words are from Jesus, “I am with you.” 

Then, you sit a moment, remembering to breath, feeling the power of the creative spirit, the joy in making music together, and the greatness of being.

Thank you, Dr. Clausen, the Concordia choir, orchestra, and faculty for this amazing experience.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Have you ever been the first to experience someone’s art, in their audience, revealing a painting, or their creation?

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