The Lewis University choir is hosting two concerts featuring Russian liturgical music.
Lawrence Sisk, choir director, has one good reason why you should attend.
“It’s the most beautiful choral music ever composed,” Sisk said. “And you can quote me on that.”
The concerts will be 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 in Convocation Hall on the Romeoville campus of Lewis University.
A second performance will be given at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at St. John of Chicago Orthodox Chapel located at 112 Church St. in New Lenox.
Admission to both concerts is free and open to the public. The Lewis University concert is part of the Arts and Ideas program, Sisk said.
The program comprises of liturgical music of illustrious Russian composers, such as Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Chesnokov, Arkangelski and Ippolitov-Ivanov, as well as new compositions by Paul Manz, Stephen J. Platko and Sisk, according to a news release from Lewis University.
The hymns are sung a cappella in Slavonic, Greek or English. Translations will be provided, the release also said.
Sisk said this choir has specialized in four repertoires in the 20 years – or so – he has directed it.
The first is plain song or Gregorian chant. The second is Renaissance polyphone. The third is the music of the Anglican church during the Elizabethan period.
“But then one of our staples has been Russian liturgical music,” Sisk said. “There’s such a great wealth of choral music written by majors composers whose names everyone knows, like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
"People will be surprised to learn that these composers wrote just astonishingly beautiful choral music…All of this music is meant to be sung a cappella, which suits us very well.”
Sisk said because of his extensive experience with the Orthodox church (He is the past choir director at St. Athanasios Orthodox Church in Aurora), he understands the liturgical context of the music he’s directing.
“My interest in singing and conducting Russian music goes back a long way,” Sisk said. “I studied Russian and sang a lot in Russian when I was a young tenor. And that kind of translated into training choirs to sing in Russian.”
One challenge in singing this type of music is that Russian is “pretty much the major music language” that does not use the Roman alphabet, Sisk said. It uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which requires special training to understand, although Sisk said he does use some modern translations of music from Musica Russica.
And while a great deal of the music the choir will sing is useful for actual church services, “most of it is actually better suited for concerts” due to its sheer length, Sisk said.
“If you did the complete service, it could go on for a couple hours,” Sisk said. “It’s too long.”
Sisk is also able to add commentary to the pieces by showcasing them in a concert setting, he said.
Below are the selections the Lewis University choir will sing:
• "The Song of Simeon" (English) – Aleksandr Arkhangelsky
• "Lord now let thy servant depart in peace" – Aleksandr Arkhangelsky
• "Praise the name of the Lord" – Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
• "It is truly fitting" – Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
• The Cherubic Hymn – Mikhail Glinka
• Salvation is Created – Pavel Chesnokov
• "My soul magnifies the Lord" – Pavel Chesnokov
• "The Cherubic Hymn – Mikhael Ippolitov-Ivanov
• "Gladsome Light" – Mikhael Ippolitov-Ivanov
• "Rejoice, O Virgin" – Mikhael Ippolitov-Ivanov
• "The Thrice Holy" (English)– Stephen Platko
• 'The Cherubic Hymn" (English) – Stephen Platko
• "Bless the Lord" (English) – Stephen Platko
• "E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come" – Paul Manz
The Lewis University Choir is open by audition to students, faculty, staff and community members.
Many of the singers in the choir have extensive choral experience as music educators, and some have appeared with the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The mission of the choir is to present in concert the great liturgical music one seldom hears in church.
Their repertoire includes plainsong, Renaissance polyphony, music of the Anglican Church, and Russian liturgical music, as well as music by living composers.
Sisk is a professor of music and director of music ensembles at Lewis University. He holds a doctorate in historical musicology from Northwestern University, where he also studied choral and orchestral conducting.
His long career as a choral conductor includes service in Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as in the Conservative Synagogue.
He has directed the Lewis University choir for over 20 years.
For more information, visit lewisu.edu.