Arts News

Music and the Redemptive Invitation of Christ

Wheaton Ensembles Perform the Inaugural Commissioned Work of the Nelson Center

Words: Melissa Schill ’22
Photos: Josh and Alexa Adams

Original score of Ave Verum Corpus by Morten Lauridsen

Original Score of “Ave Verum Corpus” by Morten Lauridsen

The Wheaton Concert Choir and String Orchestra premiered Ave Verum Corpus, an original work by American composer Morten Lauridsen. The March performance was a preview of the commissioning vision of the future John and Anita Nelson Center for Sacred Music.

Once fully established, the Nelson Center will be a commissioning agency, supporting the creation of a new work annually as part of its mission to champion the production of sacred choral music based on biblical texts. The Center exists at the intersection of the academy, the church, and the concert hall, and seeks to unite the three through new compositions. The Center will operate from a dedicated endowed fund that is currently being raised. An anonymous donor has offered to match every gift up to $2 million in the 2022–23 school year. Once funding goals are met, the Center plans to bring on an artistic director and general manager to oversee fiscal planning, coordinate institutional partnerships, and provide artistic vision. An advisory council will assist in the commissioning process.

According to Dr. Michael Wilder, Dean of the Conservatory of Music and the Division of Arts and Communication, sacred music is in need of strong patronage. Historically, the church and the government were the primary patrons, but resources and support have dwindled. Wheaton College and its Conservatory of Music are ideally positioned to fill that space and catalyze the creation of new sacred music. “We all will benefit enormously from the power of this music and the opportunity to engage directly in it,” Wilder said.

Wheaton students and ensembles will have the unique opportunity to engage with the new works and their composers, diving into the biblical messages that inspire and permeate the music.

The Center is named after John and Anita Nelson, graduates of the College who went on to become models of artistic excellence and leadership. Maestro Nelson conducts major orchestras and choirs domestically and globally, bringing the Good News of Christ to each concert hall he graces. The couple received Wheaton College’s 1998 Distinguished Service to Society Award, and the new Center exists to further honor their legacy.

“My hope is that this framework will allow for the creation of new music which directly serves the redemptive invitation of Christ,” Wilder said. “The world desperately needs to hear it.”