On Saturday, Oct. 25, Deo Cantamus presents Abraham, a new oratorio by University of Minnesota Ph.D. student Josh Bauder. Only 27 years old, Bauder already has numerous credits as a composer with the organization.
While the story of Abraham has been adapted by composers in the past — Handel, Britten, and Stravinksy all tackled the tale — "it's not one that has been attempted a lot over the course of history," says artistic Director Al Hawkins, who conducts the performance.
The story centers on Abraham, who at 100 years old (his wife is 90) is blessed with the birth of a son, Isaac. That's all well and good until God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son. "The real conflict is in God's command for Abraham to take the child of promise and sacrifice him," Bauder says. "So it's got all this drama you could want in a story, and of course there's a fantastic resolution at the end."
The collaborative relationship between Bauder and Hawkins stems from the founding of Deo Cantamus as an organization over ten years ago. At the time, Bauder was still in high school and participated in a men's chorus with the organization. "As he's grown into his years as a composer in his own right, he just started composing a couple of things we did," Hawkins says of Bauder.
Bauder says that one reasons he has been able to grow as a composer is "because of the collaboration with Al, where he's really taken me under his wing." With opportunities through Deo Cantamus, Bauder has gotten opportunities to have his pieces "actually done in person, which is always great news for a young composer."
Working together, the two artists have built a strong trust. "We're in constant dialogue about different elements of what he's writing," Hawkins says.
The piece includes six soloists along with a brass quartet, a string quintet, organ piano, and percussion. The story is told by a narrator, who for the most part is out of sight from the audience. He does make an appearance however, at a dramatic moment when the music and lights cut out and there's a spotlight on Abraham, who is then joined by the narrator. They engage in dialogue, all taken as direct quotes from scripture, Bauder says.
Bauder describes the piece as having traditional harmonic musical language. "This isn't something that's going to excite the avant-garde community," he says. "This isn't my Rite of Spring." Rather, he believes communication and expression in music "are still best achieved within the bounds of tonality."
At the same time, Hawkins says that Bauder's work carries one of the trademarks of music that's written well, by adding to and taking the text "off the page," he says. "There are some things in this that are so exciting."
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