Andrew Lipke's Rock Album Reimagined as a Celestial Oratorio for Choral Arts Philadelphia

Oct 8, 2020

WRTI's Friday Choral Connection with host Debra Lew Harder presented something different and very special on Friday, October 9th. Choral Arts Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Bach Collegium, and composer/guitar and vocals soloist Andrew Lipke were featured in a performance of  "Hosanna" from Lipke's The Plague. Here's the story behind the music.

Back in 2011, the Philadelphia-based, South-Africa born singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Lipke released his fourth rock album, The Plague, with much fanfare including a live interview and performance on WHYY's Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, and lots of coverage on WXPN.  Fast forward to 2015, when he's approached by Matthew Glandorf, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia, with an idea. Will Lipke create an oratorio based on The Plague? The answer: of course!

Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Bach Collegium premiered Lipke's modern-day "End of Times" oratorio at the season finale concert of the Bach@7 Cantata Series in May, 2016, an unusual treat for audiences and performers alike.

Despite a background that is mostly in the rock world, Lipke actively looks for the common ground between all genres of music and works closely with classical musicians in Philadelphia creating collaborative, cross-genre presentations highlighting the transformative and boundary-crossing nature of music.

Take a look at this video to hear "Hosanna" from The Plague, and then a sneak preview of Choral Arts Philadelphia rehearsing the same song for the oratorio.

Andrew Lipke
Credit Barry Lively

The Plague is juxtaposed in the program with the thematically related J.S. Bach Cantata BWV 19 Es erhub sich ein Streit (There arose a war). Composed in 1726 for the Feast of St. Michael, this Cantata is set to text from the Book of Revelation telling the story of the Archangel Michael fighting Satan in heaven. Echoing the theme in his contemporary take on the Rapture and the End of Times, Lipke uses texts from the Judgment Day is Coming speech by Rev. J.M. Gates, in addition to his own lyrics.

In 2015, Glandorf had been experimenting with pairing Bach Cantatas with contemporary music. “I am particularly interested in breaking down the boundaries of so-called ‘classical’ and ‘pop’ music. Bach's music seems so timeless to me, and Andrew's choral writing is taking on the kind of contrapuntal complexity to complement it,” he said. “This particular program will certainly be a much bigger stretch for our audiences, as the Oratorio is one of the most daring projects we have ever done in our history.”

Talking in advance of the concert, Lipke said, "The Plague will utilize the choir and the string orchestra in unorthodox ways and will challenge the expectations of the audience.” He added: “Embarking on this endeavor out of a sincere desire to explore uncharted territory is the best approach to generate interest in what this organization specializes in for those who may have never experienced it. Sometimes bringing something unusual and out-of-the ordinary into the mix re-frames the standard fare and helps bring to light exactly what makes classical music stand the test of time and connects modern audiences to the audiences that witnessed this music when it was first created.”

Listen to "Holy War" from Andrew Lipke's The Plague

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The Museum of the American Revolution supports WRTI's Friday Choral Connection. The new exhibition at MAR is "When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776-1807." Details here.