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Waimea choral group performs with American composer Lauridsen

A still of Morten Lauridsen from the documentary on his life and work, “Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen.” (COURTESY PHOTO)
A still of Morten Lauridsen from the documentary on his life and work, “Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen.” (COURTESY PHOTO)

Members from the Waimea Community Chorus and the Waimea Consort received a rare performance opportunity at the Waimea Ocean Film Festival. The 30-person combined choir had a chance to sing with Morten Lauridsen during the showing of the documentary on his life and work, “Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen.”

Under the direction of Barbara Kopra, the group performed his “Sure on This Shining Night” from the poem by James Agee and “Prayer,” a composition Lauridsen wrote to Dana Gioia’s poem in memory of his son, Michael Jasper Gioia, who died in infancy.

“It was absolutely awesome to sing with a composer of his magnitude,” Kopra said. “To get to work with him and to hear what went into it (his compositions) and to see his movie, it was an amazing experience on all levels.”

Lauridsen is a National Medal of Arts recipient. He is the composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles master chorale and has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years. His works have been recorded on more than 200 CDs, five of which have received Grammy Award nominations.

The combined Waimea Community Chorus and Waimea Consort group performed with Lauridsen twice – once at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 3, at Kahilu Theatre and at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan 8, at the Four Seasons.

“We got a second chance — and it was even better the second time because we were even more aware of the nuances (in the music),” she said.

Kopra has directed the Waimea Community Chorus since 2005. She said that in the late 1990’s, she had the opportunity to direct a few of Lauridsen’s pieces with a different choir, including “Chansons des Roses” from a series of compositions he wrote from Rainer Maria Rilke poems.

Steven Kaplan, who performs with both the Waimea Consort and the Waimea Community Chorus, also said he was grateful for the opportunity to work with Lauridsen.

“It was unbelievable,” Kaplan said. “He is one of the great contemporary American composers, and for him to come to our small town and to be able to sing with him was an amazing opportunity.”

Kaplan said he enjoyed the documentary on Lauridsen’s life on Waldron Island in Washington, especially the exploration of his composing process in a locale that is “totally at peace.”

“He is very humble for being an eminent composer,” he said about Lauridsen. “ … We are very much amateurs. Even though it wasn’t perfect, he appreciated what we did.”

“It was exciting to me,” said Peter Gregg, one of the directors of the Waimea Consort. “I first sang one of his pieces ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ in Honolulu with an alumni men’s chorus. I was very moved by the piece three years ago and when I found out it was the same composer, I was excited.”

Gregg said that “Shining Night” and “Prayer” both have the same feeling of lush chords and challenging changes in speed and volume combined with stirring texts that make Lauridsen’s compositions powerful. Gregg said that though there are recordings of “Shining Night,” there were no recordings of “Prayer” yet, so he had to practice it without hearing it first.

“It reaffirmed to me that there is a lot of nice modern music and we need to be singing it more,” Gregg said of performing with Lauridsen. “His compositions we heard in the film were all very audience friendly, though they are somewhat challenging to sing.”

The Waimea Community Chorus is now accepting new members for their annual spring concert. There are no auditions, though members need to attend practices, which are from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday nights at St. James Episcopal Church in Waimea. For more information on the group, visit their Facebook pages or their website at www.waimeacommunitytheatre.org/chorus, or by calling 885-5818.

“We love sharing the joy of singing,” Kopra said.

For more information on Lauridsen or to hear his music, visit his website at mortenlauridsen.net.