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UNM Chamber Singers debut during Morten Lauridsen concert

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Morten Lauridsen, considered America’s most performed living composer, returns to Albuquerque this week to help celebrate the debut of the University of New Mexico Chamber Singers.

The first of 16 endowed scholarships for members of the vocal ensemble was named for Lauridsen after he had done a residency at UNM in 2004. Ticket proceeds of a concert held during that residency were put towards the initial scholarship.

Composer Morten Lauridsen will see his works performed on Thursday at Popejoy Hall.

Composer Morten Lauridsen will see his works performed on Thursday at Popejoy Hall.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had 16 music scholarships, one for each member of a UNM Chamber Singers?” said Bradley Ellingboe, UNM director of choral activities.

Fundraising has accomplished that goal.

“We’re bringing Morten Lauridsen back because we’ve now got all 16 scholarships endowed,” Ellingboe said.

Lauridsen will be in residency from Monday, Nov. 17, through Thursday, Nov. 20.

The culminating event is Thursday night’s all-Lauridsen concert at Popejoy Hall. The UNM Chamber Singers will make their debut performing Lauridsen’s “The Mid-Winter Songs,” set to the poetry of Robert Graves.

Ellingboe explained the reason for creating the UNM Chamber Singers.

“We want to keep our best New Mexico students in the state with this attractive scholarship ensemble and we want to bring wonderful singers from other states to attend UNM,” he said.

Also singing Lauridsen’s music in the concert will be a high school festival choir, the UNM Concert Choir, Las Cantantes and the University Chorus.

Lauridsen said he was excited to return to celebrate the launch of the UNM Chamber Singers.

“This is the sort of an anniversary of the success that a number of students (experience). That’s why I was especially pleased to come. When I was going to college I was helped by funds from donors,” he said in a phone interview.

Lauridsen will attend Thursday’s concert. He is widely known for his choral works, especially “Lux Aeterna,” which the University Chorus will sing.

“It premiered in 1997 by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. It has achieved an astonishing number of performances around the world. It’s a half-hour piece in Latin based on sacred Latin text,” he said.

“I began working on it when I got the news that my mother had a terminal illness. I collected Latin texts that refer to light and illumination. It could be spiritual or intellectual or artistic.”

Lauridsen constantly receives mail about this work.

“It doesn’t matter what one’s spiritual learnings are. It’s a piece that celebrates illumination and goodness. Because of that, people connect with it,” he said.

While here, Lauridsen will work with all five of the ensembles performing in the concert, address the graduate conducting seminar and meet with the student chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.

He has been a professor of music composition at the University of Southern California for more than 40 years. In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts named Lauridsen an “American Choral Master” and the next year he received the National Medal of Arts “for his composition of radiant choral works combing musical beauty, power and spiritual depth that have thrilled audiences worldwide.”