FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists will soon grace Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo and Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Detroit Lakes, Minn., with a world premiere featuring next-level musical skill and mystery.

On the edge of ascension into the afterlife, Jesus Christ spoke the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” according to the biblical script of Luke. This statement sets off a series of Christ’s seven last words, his final statements from the cross.

That story inspired “I Call Your Name” by Connor Koppin with texts by Brian Newhouse in a world premiere of a seven-movement choral cycle to be performed regionally Jan. 17-19.

“Singing in this beautiful church is a real honor for us,” says artistic director and conductor Michael Culloton about the Fargo church. “It will be particularly special to breathe life into this new work by composer Connor Koppin. It's for choir, string quartet and percussion, so we'll get to utilize instruments in the space for the first time, which I’m excited about.”

The rites of dedication were celebrated at Fargo's Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in 2010. Special to The Forum
The rites of dedication were celebrated at Fargo's Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in 2010. Special to The Forum

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A Concordia College faculty member and prodigious conductor, Culloton first approached the composer at a conference with enthusiasm for commissioning the body of music.

While Koppin’s doctoral studies at Michigan State University conflict with the concert, this composition has been special to him in a few ways. It’s an opportunity to create fresh material from a story line that has inspired people going back to the Renaissance period and before.

“What is great about this piece is that although it’s new, it has an old feeling to it because it is ingrained in our choral world in many ways," Koppin says. “It’s very fitting that it will be performed in a cathedral and it will be interesting to see what it sounds like.”

Composed by Connor J. Koppin (seen here) with text from Brian Newhouse, “I Call Your Name” seeks to meet the last words of Christ with harmonic language that is comforting and challenging. Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists / Special to The Forum
Composed by Connor J. Koppin (seen here) with text from Brian Newhouse, “I Call Your Name” seeks to meet the last words of Christ with harmonic language that is comforting and challenging. Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists / Special to The Forum

Koppin’s compositional style builds anticipation with delicate notes that swell into deep wells of vocal harmony. In “I Call Your Name,” themes of forgiveness, need, fear and a hope for peace are coupled with musical moments that are dense, complex and visceral.

“Two or three are written in that beautiful and elegant style; some are more gritty and angular,” says Koppin. “Others are more challenging to the ear, then there are two moments that I would classify as minimal, using very few musical ideas and repeating them.”

The Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists. Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists / Special to The Forum
The Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists. Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists / Special to The Forum

Without ever having met one another, Koppin collaborated with Newhouse, managing director of classical programming for Minnesota Public Radio. The two worked over the phone and electronically to develop words alongside the compositions.

“I always aim for simplicity, writing something that is as fresh and surprising as possible,” says Newhouse, who approached the project with the intention of adapting Christ’s final words into a story of modern-day death and the importance of those last moments.

Newhouse holds degrees in voice and English from Luther College in northern Iowa and had an active professional singing career alongside his work in radio. He won a Peabody Award for writing the radio documentary “The Mississippi: River of Song,” and he’s the author of the memoir, “A Crossing.”

Michael Culloton is the sixth artistic director and conductor of the Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists, which has also been led by Mary Kay Geston, Alice Fasman, Jo Ann Miller, Mark Ring and Paul Nesheim. Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists / Special to The Forum
Michael Culloton is the sixth artistic director and conductor of the Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists, which has also been led by Mary Kay Geston, Alice Fasman, Jo Ann Miller, Mark Ring and Paul Nesheim. Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists / Special to The Forum

By endeavoring to create and perform new music, the choral artists continue their commitment to advancing their art form. With their expertise, the choir can perform music that has existed for hundreds of years alongside new works in a seamless fashion.

“If we are going to take this challenge to heart, then we need to be performing new music, and encouraging young composers to write new music for us,” Culloton says.” I’m pleased that our board has financially supported this venture several times during my eight years.”

Also included in the program will be music by J.S. Bach, Antonio Lotti, Pablo Casals, and Adolphus Hailstork.

If you go

What: "Cathedral Classics" with the Fargo-Moorhead Choral Artists directed by Michael Culloton

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19

Where: Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church, 5202 25th St. S., Fargo

Info: $15 for general admission; an additional performance will be held in Detroit Lakes' Holy Rosary Catholic Church at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan 17

Fargo's Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church. Special to The Forum
Fargo's Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church. Special to The Forum

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.