Back in the dead of winter, members of The Bluegrass Opera had all manner of preparations in place to begin rehearsals for its annual Easter oratorio.
The organization, now in its sixth year, had a cast. It had secured two churches to present the production. There was even a rehearsal schedule mapped out. For a performance piece, nothing was left to chance. The Bluegrass Opera decided to go with the work that had served its singers and patrons well the two previous springs, Angela Rices Thy Will Be Done.
But when Global Creative Connections, the Lexington-based production company owned by opera impresario Everett McCorvey, secured rights to the oratorio for its own production (staged April 3 and 6), The Bluegrass Opera found itself in an odd predicament. It was prepared for work but had no work to prepare.
We suddenly had this big hole in our schedule said Lorne Dechtenberg, artistic director and conductor for The Bluegrass Opera. We had the venues, we had the performers, we had a rehearsal calendar. We just didnt have a piece.
The situation literally took company back to the drawing board. Encouraged by the reception last year to his musical adaptation of Oscar Wildes Lady Windermeres Fan, Dechtenberg set out to write his own oratorio for Easter weekend. But time was not on his side. He had less than three months to compose and stage an original piece. Adding to the stress, a central idea for his oratorio was taking its time to surface.
Honestly, I had no clue what I was going to do, Dechtenberg said. I was completely frantic for the first week or so. Then I thought about The Messiah, which has three acts. Each one is almost an hour long. The first is the Christmas-themed part about the birth of Jesus. But the second act is all about Easter.
With that as a guiding inspiration, Dechtenberg composed King of Glory. But the challenges didnt stop there.
Just for the record, Im Jewish, Dechtenberg says. So it was risky for me to figure, OK, I have to write this piece about someone who is a major figure for a lot of people. So I went back and looked at the second act of The Messiah and realized, You know, a lot of this is actually from the Old Testament. Thats an interesting thing, because I serve as a musician and a worship leader at Temple Adath Israel here in Lexington, so I have a lot of exposure to the Old Testament.
These are lessons about forgiveness, about taking care of each other, about not judging. Its really a universal thing that speaks to people no matter what faith they profess, even if they dont profess any faith. I think its a great way to bridge the gap that can too often happen between groups of people in the name of faith.
Finally, there is Dechtenbergs own musical background. Though he has earned a doctorate in music, he grew up with a fondness for all kinds of contemporary and popular music.
Until I went to college, I had never studied a lick of classical music, he said. I grew up playing piano bars in my teens, so Im very familiar with the popular music language. Thats why in rehearsing this piece, someone in our cast has called out, This sounds like Disney and This sounds like an 80s rock song.
I hope Ive brought together enough of my classical background and my non-classical upbringing to King of Glory. There is something in there for every listener. Its meant to grab you. Its meant to make your heart pound a little bit and reach you on an emotional level.
IF YOU GO
King of Glory
7:30 p.m. April 14. First United Methodist Church Andover, 4131 Todds Rd.
7:30 pm April 15, 18. Tates Creek Presbyterian Church, 3900 Rapid Run Dr.
Walter Tunis is a Lexington-based writer and critic.