Local chorale ensemble Chorus Polaris presented the third concert of its 2022-2023 season at First Lutheran Church, 1555 40th Ave. NE, on Saturday, Feb. 18. The audience was treated to two pieces spanning several centuries: Giovanni Gabrieli’s “In Ecclesiis” and John Rutter’s “Requiem.” They also heard the premiere of a recently commissioned work, “Song of Nature,” by local composer David Evan Thomas.
The 47 choir members and six musicians played in what has become a very active concert venue because of its exceptional organ and acoustics, according to church organist Jeffrey Patry. Chorus Polaris also uses First Lutheran as their regular rehearsal venue every Tuesday evening and has for many years.
Chorus Polaris’ Artistic Director William Mathis conducted; this is his sixth year as head of the group, succeeding its founding director John Hoffhacker in 2017. Mathis had retired from a 50-year career in church music that year, and, he said, “Luckily for me, Chorus Polaris was looking for a new conductor at that time.”
Mathis has led workshops or guest conducted in 35 states and served on state boards of the American Choir Directors Association in California, Oklahoma and Minnesota. David Hood is the group’s executive director.
Mathis said, “The group tries to do two performances of our concerts in two different parts of the Cities when we can, partly because it gives an opportunity for more people to attend, but also because we like to get ‘two bites of the apple’ with the music. That was the case this time, especially in that after just one rehearsal with the instrumentalists… the concerts progressed as we went along.” The program was presented the following day at Edina’s Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
When Mathis approached David Evan Thomas to compose a work to pair with Rutter’s Requiem, he looked at two early Emerson poems, with recurring themes of water and tide from “Song of Nature,” and “undersong” from “Woodnotes II.”
About the connection, Thomas remarked, “The undersong is the terrestrial equivalent of time and tide that runs underneath like a root system and speaks to the notion that we are part of a continuity in time and space just as waves transmit energy over time and space.”
Alto singer Carol Stoops said she’s been in the choir, “almost since it started. I joined because I love to sing and because I love sacred choral music, and with the choir, I got to do both under both great directors John and Bill. I was introduced to new pieces in this genre and to many new composers.” She added that the experience has expanded her musical horizons, helped develop her vocal techniques and brought new friends who share the same interests.
First Lutheran also serves as rehearsal space for the Augsburg Centennial Singers, Caritas Vocal Ensemble and Woven Voices. It will host a dozen more concerts between March and June.
Chorus Polaris performed at First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights on Saturday, Feb. 18. The church has become a popular venue for musical groups because of its excellent acoustics. Bottom left: Chorale members gave the music their all. Artistic Director William Mathis conducted the concert. (Photos by Mark Peterson)