By Julie Armlovich
Patrick Henry College
The Patrick Henry College chorale joined Lancaster Bible College and musicians from Spain last Saturday to perform the world premiere of Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” in Spanish.
“It was a really exciting, very unique experience,” said PHC’s Director of Music, Steven McCollum. “It was the first time it had been sung in Spanish.”
The chair of LBC’s worship and performing arts department, Daniel Hollingsworth, worked with others to translate “Elijah” into a Spanish performance edition.
Hollingsworth spent about 20 years as a missionary in Spain and formed regional choirs there that together make up the 700-member National Evangelical Choir and orchestra of Spain. When he translated Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” into Spanish ten years ago, the Spanish government provided an orchestra and the best auditoriums in the country for Hollingsworth’s Spanish choir. Both “Messiah” and “Elijah” are very evangelistic in nature, McCollum said, yet the Spanish government supports the music as a cultural project.
LBC’s chorale is traveling to Spain in May to perform with the Spanish choir. McCollum said he originally considered the trip for PHC’s chorale, but decided it would be too much of a strain since the trip would fall during finals’ week.
The premiere performance in Pennsylvania was advertised to the local Spanish community, and when a poll was taken to see how many in the audience understood Spanish, about one quarter of the 700-person crowd raised their hand.
“I was thrilled to know that we were reaching out to the local community of Spanish speakers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as well as the Spaniards who joined us for the performance,” junior and chorale member Natalie Harris said.
Though the presentation of “Elijah” at LBC was entirely in Spanish, there were English subtitles on a Powerpoint presentation and dramatic characters of the performance. “The combined effect was very powerful,” PHC junior John Curry said.
Curry, who helped transport the chorale to Pennsylvania in the school vans, said it was the first oratorio he’d ever attended. It’s an opera without sets or costumes, he said--“opera on the cheap.” Curry said the oratorio really “forced you to slow down and meditate on the text.”
The oratorio is over two hours long, but was cut down slightly for the occasion. “Fortunately, traditionally, oratorios aren’t memorized,” McCollum said, “that was nice.”
Sophomore and chorale member Jacob Baum said that the performance included solos and arias though, not just full chorale pieces “The choir actually sang, I’m guessing, about 50 minutes to an hour.”
The choir was made up of about 75 members--the LBC and PHC chorales and several Spanish choir members. The conductor joked that with 75 voices they “almost had enough” to really perform the piece.
“When they’re singing to Baal, calling down fire from heaven they need a lot of people,” said junior Juli Schuttger. “a quartet wouldn’t get it, or the 25 [PHC chorale members.]”
PHC chorale members arrived at on Thursday and Friday night and had a few hours of practice with the LBC chorale and Spanish choir. “We had never gone through the whole thing until the performance,” PHC junior and chorale member Kelly-Christelle Orsini said. Certain parts, like the fugue at the end, weren’t going too well during practice, she said, but on Saturday “it all clicked.”Baum said it was beautiful to see “the body of Christ from all over the world come together spiritually as well as musically to give glory to God through music.” The concert venue was also amazing, he said, and provided for a very powerful sound. “it was about the size of 20 Town Halls.” The concert ended with a crescendo of amen’s, and before they were cut off the audience was on their feet applauding. “The end was amazing,”