The Goshen College Chamber Choir performed Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil along with the St. Joseph Valley Camerata and special guest, Glenn Miller in Sauder Concert Hall on Friday, Oct. 14.
Both the Chamber Choir and Camerata, a local professional group, were conducted by Scott Hochstetler, associate professor of music. The groups had rehearsed both separately and together over the course of the last few months.
Hochstetler described the experience of preparing for and performing the concert as a little different than most. The work is both technically challenging and lengthy but the participation of both choirs made it more feasible.
Hochstetler said, “The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil is a unique choral work that requires a choir of amazing depth of sound and range of texture.”
The uniqueness of this work comes from its place in time, culture and language. Written by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1915 in the midst of World War I, the A cappella piece carries significance regarding the upheaval of that era. The work, also known as “Vespers,” is entirely written in the Slavonic language of the Russian Orthodox Church, making it harder for modern non-Russian speaking performers to learn.
Jacob Zehr, a member of the Chamber Choir, noted that engaging with a piece foreign in language and context had its challenges for singers, but also its rewards. Zehr performed a solo in the piece, and expressed how he wanted to do justice to its meaning.
“The music itself is beautiful alone,” he said, “and it’s really enjoyable just to experience it by itself.”
Both Hochstetler and Zehr cited help with the language from Irina Gladun, a sophomore Chamber Choir member, as very valuable to preparing for the performance. Hochstetler also voiced his gratitude to accompanist Chris Seitz for helping choir rehearsals run smoothly.
Another component that made this presentation of the vigil distinctive was the addition of Glenn Miller, a Grammy-Award winning basso profundo. Miller has performed this piece many times and has the ability to reach its lowest phrases in a way that few singers can.
Hochstetler described Miller as fun to work with as well as talented. Of Miller’s voice, Hochstetler said, “I don’t think Sauder Hall has ever before experienced bass notes of that power and resonance.”
Anja Kenagy, a sophomore who attended the concert, also expressed admiration of what Miller’s vocal abilities contributed to an overall impressive performance. Kenagy is a member of the GC orchestra, and she remarked on how she enjoyed the experience of hearing only voices, as opposed to these same voices with accompaniment.
“I liked how it was such a large group of well-trained voices singing A cappella,” said Kenagy.
The All-Night Vigil was intended to create an encounter with music unlike many others, using its beauty to take listeners to a more divine place. As it was a response to violence in the beginning of last century, the piece, as Hochstetler articulates, can take people out of the turmoil of life today.
“With so much ugliness in our world today,” Hochstetler said, “this work brings a necessary beauty that all humans crave.”