LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, March 19, 2007

Soli Deo Gloria: Music on Its Own Terms

Before I get started on today's interview, I wanted to let you know that I have joined the rest of the blog world and added a feature that will allow you to get my posts via email if you prefer. It’s easy and convenient. Just sign up in the sidebar below.

This week I’m talking to Chandler Branch, Executive Director of Soli Deo Gloria http://www.SDGmusic.org, an organization that preserves, promotes, and enhances the classical sacred music repertoire.

LeAnne: I’m so excited about Soli Deo Gloria. For readers who may not have heard about it, describe SDG’s mission and purpose.

Our purpose is to facilitate the creation and performance of classical sacred music, at the highest level, for the glory of God. We take our name from the practice of J. S. Bach, who inscribed many of his compositions with the Latin phrase, SOLI DEO GLORIA (to God alone be the Glory). How we translate that statement into action is primarily by commissioning the great composers of our time—the Pulitzer prize winners, the composers in residence with major orchestras, artists whose works are performed all over the world—to compose new, large scale works of music based on or inspired by the Bible. It’s really quite an unusual focus in the field of contemporary classical music.

But Soli Deo Gloria isn’t only about new music; we also sponsor performances and recordings of the classic masterworks of sacred music. We’re particularly active in supporting concerts of sacred music in world regions where mounting performances of major choral/orchestral works is especially challenging or where for any reason such works are seldom heard. We’ve assisted concerts in Russia, Ukraine, China, Armenia and Costa Rica. Among the highlights was assisting the first performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem in the history of China. Two performances took place with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and (believe it or not!) the entire text of the Requiem was translated into Chinese and sung in the vernacular.

LM: How has SDG been received by the classical music world at large?

Classical music enthusiasts generally share a respect for the sacred music repertoire, or at least a handful of individual pieces, that sort of preconditions them to value the concept of Soli Deo Gloria. Still, people are often surprised and fascinated to learn that such an organization exists. The response in general has been very positive. And there is more to that, I think, than just a familiarity with the tradition of sacred music. In the classical music world, communication and excellence are paramount, often providing a point of synthesis for artists and audiences of disparate religious backgrounds and beliefs. In the case of Soli Deo Gloria, audiences and performers alike are less likely to take issue with what might be perceived as a religious agenda if they can see that we share their passion for music that speaks on its own terms, with imagination and technique that can satisfy the critical ear. Far more often than not, though, it is the person of faith in Christ who values our efforts great enough to provide us with the support that keeps us running.

LM: Tell me about the Musical Feast in Paris, which is actually taking place right now: March 17-21.

It’s a bit of a side item for Soli Deo Gloria, but an exciting one nonetheless! Each year, during the Easter season, Soli Deo Gloria’s Artistic Director, John Nelson, conducts L’Ensemble orchestral de Paris and the choir of Notre Dame de Paris in one of Bach’s three greatest choral/orchestral masterworks, the Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew Passion or the St. John Passion. The performances take place at the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and have become quite a popular annual event in the life of the city of Paris. There’s no surprise in that, as the magnificence of the cathedral surroundings combined with the power of these Bach masterpieces make for an unforgettable experience. So, for the past several years Soli Deo Gloria has hosted a five day adventure in Paris that begins with fine dinning, private recitals and lectures, and culminates with the Bach performance at Notre Dame. The tour is open to anyone and I highly recommend it! This year about 20 people have joined us for the event this week, which is centered on a performance of the St. John Passion. Next year we’ll be celebrating the St. Matthew Passion from March 1 through 6.

On Thursday, Chandler will be discussing some current projects as well as his own background and involvement with SDG.

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