Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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Holiday Concert

Category: Regional
December, 2019
EMPAC
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Welcome, everyone, to the Concert Hall at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC, whose remarkable acoustics you will be experiencing in a very few minutes.

While Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute may be best known for its top-ranked programs in the sciences and engineering — what is less well-known is the degree to which we have pioneered in the arts. Our Department of the Arts is home to the first integrated electronic arts program within a research university in the United States.

With the creation of EMPAC, the most technologically advanced performing arts center in the world, as well as a laboratory for immersive technologies of all kinds, we extended this leadership to all of the time-based arts, and gave our faculty and students the tools that would allow them to conduct groundbreaking investigations at the nexus of art, science, engineering, architecture, computation, and the humanities and social sciences.

With our Art_X @ Rensselaer initiative, we have incorporated aesthetic concepts throughout our curriculum, so students in all fields can employ them as a spur to their own creativity. But even an arts-infused campus did not fully answer the educational ambitions of some of our students, who intend to lead in 21st-century musical careers. So, a little over a year ago, we celebrated the inauguration of a Bachelor of Science in Music degree program, with a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Tonight, you will have the opportunity to hear the supremely talented students who compose our Rensselaer Concert Choir and the Rensselaer Orchestra — and understand why a degree program in music is essential.

I thank our guest performers tonight, including the members of the Albany Symphony Orchestra joining our students. I also thank Dean Mary Simoni of our School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, who has moved music to the fore of a Rensselaer education. And I thank our conductors, Mr. Matthew Chamberlain and Mr. Andrew Burger.

Together, they have assembled a program with the theme of “Hallelujah,” which, as you know, is an exclamation or song of praise or thanksgiving. You will hear a fascinating assortment of hallelujahs from a long span of music history, many of them plucked from larger or incomplete works.

We begin with two choral pieces: O Magnum Mysterium, by Tomas Luis de Victoria, first published in 1572, and based on a Latin chant celebrating the awe of the shepherds at the birth of Christ, and Ave Generosa, which was composed and arranged in this decade by the Juillard-educated, Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjielo, with lyrics from a 12th-century poem in praise of the Virgin Mary.

In addition to these deeply felt expressions of religious devotion, you will hear songs of secular joy and praise this afternoon: A “polonaise” from the Tchaikovsky opera Eugene Onegin captures the glittering enjoyments of high society. Dance tunes by Jean-Baptiste Lully, court composer of King Louis XIV of France, were written to delight the Sun King.

Throughout the program, you will hear three choruses from George Frederick Handel’s great Messiah oratorio, ending, of course, with the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. Our orchestra and concert choir have asked all of us to join them in this chorus. While this seems quite generous to those of us whose musical gifts are not entirely stage-worthy — it is a wonderful expression of the season, of the collaborative nature of the Rensselaer community, and of the sheer fun of hearing great music on a Sunday afternoon in this magnificent concert hall.

So I urge you all to sing your hearts out!

Please enjoy the concert, and I wish you and your families the happiest of holidays!