May Concert: “Move Over Winter Games: It’s an International Poetry Extravaganza!”

Recorded May 21 & 22, 2022; premiered Saturday May 28, 2022, 7:30 pm (This recording is no longer available.)

(Bellevue Chamber Chorus Official Channel:

Program Order and Notes:

(program notes by Ben Luedcke)

Germany:  Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805)

Der Abend (from Drei Quartette, Op. 64)
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

One of the most commonly recognizable melodies in today’s global culture is the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony with its “Ode to Joy” chorus. This famous movement – among other things – has made Beethoven a household name; less commonly known is that the text for the final “Ode to Joy” chorus comes from eighteenth-century German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Beethoven allegedly said, “Schiller’s poems are difficult to set to music. The composer must be able to rise far above the poet. Who can do that in the case of Schiller?” Perhaps other composers shared Beethoven’s sentiment because while Schiller was one of the most famous and successful German playwrights of the century, besides “Ode to Joy,” only a few of Schiller’s texts were set to music by his contemporaries. The most notable were several songs for voice and piano by Franz Schubert, as well as Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) choral orchestral funeral song, Nänie. “Der Abend”is one of three quartets that comprise Brahms’ Op. 64 for four solo voices and piano, and Schiller’s poem was also set by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) in his Zwei Gesänge. Schiller employs mythological characters, with the central figure being Phoebus, or Apollo in Greek mythology, who is the God of the sun and rode a chariot pulled by horses. Thetis is also known as the beautiful sea goddess Nareid and mother of Achilles, and she beckons to Phoebus and the two passionately embrace. Brahms aptly employs a variety of textures and tempos to paint the picture of this erotic meeting.

Text and translation

Italy:  Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374)

Mia Benigna Fortuna (From “Mia benigna fortuna e ‘l viver lieto,” verses 1 and 2)
Cipriano de Rore (1515 – 1565)

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) anglicized as “Petrarch” – is considered to be the father of the Renaissance and one of the first humanists. Though Petrarch was a devout Catholic, like many other humanists of the Italian Renaissance, he questioned some of the religious dogma of Rome and helped usher in a new era marked by an interest in ancient philosophy, art, literature, and music. Petrarch’s poetry was so influential that the Italian sonnet – a poetic form with a set rhyme scheme across fourteen lines – was in fact dubbed the “Petrarchan sonnet.” Petrarch was likely the most influential poet of the Italian Renaissance as nearly every noteworthy continental composer of the sixteenth century set his verse to music. Over the course of the sixteenth century, composers increasingly sought out higher quality poetry that captured both the beauty and tragedy of life and love, and Petrarch’s poetry withstood the test of time. The poem “Mia benigna fortuna e ‘l viver lieto” was set by several famous madrigalists, including Orlando di Lasso and Cipriano de Rore (1515-1565). In the high Renaissance the sacred music of Palestrina codified proper musical convention; however, composers consciously began to take more melodic and harmonic risks to better convey the meaning of the text. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, Claudio Monteverdi identified Rore as his musical ancestor, famously citing Rore’s madrigals as the first of their kind in which the meaning of the text – not musical convention – was supreme.

Text and translation

India:  Rabinandrath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a Bengali polymath born in Calcutta, what is today part of the Indian state West Bengal. He was best known as a poet and writer, but he was also a painter, song composer, and social reformer. He translated his own works into English and his dissemination across the globe was on par with figures such as Plato, Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, and Tolstoy. In 1913, he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a composer, a couple of his songs were adapted as national anthems and gained mass appeal during the social movements of Ghandi, including his song “If They Answer Not to Thy Call, Walk Alone.” Against British colonialism, he denounced his knighthood and had an influence on others that opposed Western imperialism around the globe.

Tagore was a reformer of education and advocated against rote learning: he founded Visva-Bharati, a higher education institution focused on cultivating the whole self. As a teacher and mentor at the school, he donated much of his Nobel prize money and helped write and translate the students’ textbooks.  Isaac Lovdahl (b. 1993) is one of two co-winners of Bellevue Chamber Chorus’ “Emerging Composer Competition,” and this is the premiere performance of his work Three Tagore Settings. Tagore’s larger work Stray Birds is a series of small one-liners and micro tales, and Lovdahl was attracted to the depth and profundity that is compacted into such short lines. Lovdahl selected the text on account of its reverence for nature and humans’ responsibility as stewards of this natural wonder.  In “Salutation,” Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) employs a thick chordal texture to communicate the grand scale and gravitas of the text, spoken as a prayer to God while knowingly at the end of one’s life.

Three Tagore Settings
Isaac Lovdahl (b. 1993)

(text from Stray Birds, verses, 6, 12, 95, 149, 151, 154, 301, 302, 311)
i. Great Trees
ii. Beauty of the Flower (Kris Bryan, soprano solo)
iii. Wet Earth (David Varner, tenor solo, Erika Pierson, cello)

Text / translation

Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977)

Text / translation

England:  William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Harpsonnets (Four Shakespeare Sonnets for Chorus and Harp)
James Bassi (b. 1961)

1. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?
2. How Like a Winter Hath My Absence Been
3. How Oft, When Thou, My Music, Music Play’st
4. Devouring Time, Blunt Thou the Lion’s Paws

featuring Juliet Stratton, harp

William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) legacy and impact on western art is impossible to overstate. Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language, and the world’s best playwright. Many of his most popular plays, especially his tragedies Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet, have all been translated into dozens of languages. There is a shroud of mystery around Shakespeare, as the authenticity of many of his plays has been scrutinized, and there exists very little evidence to confirm Shakespeare’s religious affiliations, politics, or personal life. While he produced dozens of plays, the rest of his writings are not as numerous or as wide-reaching; however, of particular interest to Western artists, is his famous collection of sonnets. 154 of his sonnets were published together in 1609, though they are largely considered to be written throughout his life. Continuing the fourteen-line tradition as popularized by Petrarch, the poems otherwise follow the English sonnet form and rhyme scheme, where every other line rhymes with one notable exception: the final two lines form a couplet known as the “volta” where the text often takes a turn of perspective or a shift in tone. In contrast to the Italian sonnet which most often speaks lustfully of an unrequited love, Shakespearean sonnets are known for a wide range of topics, including homoeroticism, infidelity, and deceit, and even the more philosophical musings of happiness, time, life, and death. Although the harmonies are more modern, in his Harpsonnets, James Bassi (b. 1961) uses the harp to emulate the plucked and strummed sound of the lute, a small guitar-like instrument that was incredibly popular during Shakespeare’s time. By the seventeenth century, lute songs sung by a solo voice replaced the more complicated multi-voiced madrigal as the most popular small secular form in both Italy and England. As a result, Bassi employs simple, homophonic vocal textures – as if a song sung by one solo voice  – in order to highlight the melody and keep the focus on the text, not a complex web of music.

Link to text

Chile:  Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)

Tu sangre en la mía
Shawn Kirchner (b. 1970)

Ya eres mía
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) is widely considered one of the best writers of the Americas, and perhaps one of the greatest love poets of all time. In fact, his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was first published when he was only nineteen, and remains today the all-time best-selling poetry collection in Spanish. In addition to his artistic career, he wrote political manifestos and lived in many different countries as a diplomat. As a member of the Chilean Communist Party, after communism was outlawed in Chile, he spent several years of his life in exile and in hiding. Neruda admired Stalin, viewing him as the victorious conqueror that defeated the Nazis, but this drew criticism after the war, and Neruda later came to regret some of his political affiliations. Neruda won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971 and returned to Chile as a controversial yet national hero. Neruda dedicated his Cien Sonetos de Amor (“One Hundred Love Poems”) to his wife Matilde, and two different sonnets in this collection serve as the text for both works in this concert. The former, “Tu sangre en la mía,” seems to encapsulate the poet’s life: amid the beauty of domesticity and true love, there is also pain and turbulence, andShawn Kirchner (b.1970) portrays that tension of the third stanza as he shifts to the minor mode and creates a stirring piano accompaniment. Morten Lauridsen’s (b.1943) setting of “Ya eres mía” was first conceived as a vocal duet and later adapted for choir. Lauridsen employs a fitting musical climax to the last two lines of text, “la noche, el mundo…” However, Lauridsen subsequently strays from the poetic form as he returns to the opening text and repeats the first two lines of each of the opening stanzas, creating an intimate and heartfelt close to the work: “no one else, my love.” 

Canada:  Joni Mitchell (b. 1943)

Both Sides Now
Joni Mitchell (b. 1943), arr. Leavitt

Joni Mitchell (b. 1943) is a Canadian songwriter known for her insightful and imaginative lyrics that span many topics, including romance and relationships, protest music of the 1970s, and disillusionment in today’s culture. Her songwriting is marked by unique vocal melodies, open-tuned guitar (which gives her playing a colorful and reverberant tone), as well as the inclusion of dulcimer, a bright four-string guitar-like instrument of Appalachia that sits flat on the player’s lap. She has won wide critical acclaim as she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, citing her as “a powerful influence on all artists who embrace diversity, imagination, and integrity.” Among her nineteen studio albums, Blue has achieved the most widespread praise, named as one of the most important albums in popular music by both the Rolling Stone, New York Times, and NPR. While Mitchell does not personally identify as a feminist, she is a role model as a creative musician and as a leader, while often being the only woman in the room for much of her career. Mitchell wrote “Both Sides, Now” in 1966, and it was first released as a single and then as the title track on her 1969 album Clouds. The song has been featured in several movies and television shows, and covered by several prominent artists including Dion, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, and Herbie Hancock.

Text (from Joni Mitchell website)

United States of America:  Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American humanist, poet, and journalist. Whitman displays elements of both the transcendental and realist literary movements in which he portrays the values of freedom, individualism, and self-determination while often depicting the every-day reality of the average person. Whitman was not religious, and his remarks reveal him to be a pantheist. He is best known for his epic collection Leaves of Grass, which he expanded and revised until his death. Though he did not invent free verse, many regard him as the father of the form and the quintessential poet of democracy. Leading up to the American Civil War, Whitman supported the Union but was not an outspoken abolitionist, unlike his transcendental peers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Modern critics puzzle how one could write so brilliantly on subjects such as democracy and egalitarianism, yet not address the hypocrisy of the American democratic project. In the end, Whitman left a complex mark on American society that continues to evolve today: on one hand, he was considered a social deviant of his time, and Langston Hughes regarded him as a literary hero. At the same time, when viewed through a historical lens, his shortcomings and his quirky charm simultaneously combine to make him emblematic of the nineteenth-century white American “every man.”  Brittney Benton is one of two co-winners of the Bellevue Chamber Chorus’ Emerging Composer Competition, and this is the premiere performance of the work. Benton’s piece “Continuities” aptly depicts Whitman’s transcendental text: she creates a piano accompaniment that includes a circular pattern of sixteenths that symbolizes the cycle of the natural world. Benton was drawn to the first line of the poem, “Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,” which sets the hopeful tone of the work. Stephen Chatman’s “On the Beach at Night Alone” employs recurring rhythms that inch forward with relentless drive. The contrasting dynamics illustrate the juxtaposition of the various poetic lines which combine with a declamatory vocal style in order to capture the grand scope of Whitman’s text.

Brittney Benton (b. 1999)

featuring Erika Pierson, cello

Link to text

On the Beach at Night Alone (from Nature Songs II)
Stephen Chatman (b. 1950)

Link to text


Guest Artists:

Erika Pierson, cellist, earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Cello Performance from Indiana University and a Master’s in Music Performance from the University of Michigan. Between her degrees, during three years in Europe, Erika studied in Berlin at the Hochschule für Kunste and then studied privately with Eilee Croxford in London. In 2001 she was invited to perform at the Manchester International Cello Festival. Her other main teachers have included Richard Aaron, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Markus Nyikos, and Erling Blondal Bengtsson. Erika has given solo recitals in England, Germany, Spain, and in the United States, and has performed as featured soloist with orchestras in Berlin, Ann Arbor, and Everett, WA. On the less-classical side of things, Erika has also performed with Mannheim Steamroller, Rod Stewart, the Walkmen, and Deltron 3030. Currently she performs in chamber music concerts and also freelances and teaches in the Seattle area.

Juliet Stratton, harpist, has Music degrees in Harp Performance from the U of W (BM), and a Master of Music (MM) from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she also started her DMA  (with Liz Cifani, Principal Harpist of Chicago Lyric Opera).  In addition, Juliet has 2 years of graduate music studies at SMU in Dallas, and 7 summers of private instruction at the renowned “Salzedo Summer Harp Colony” in Camden, ME. (with former Principal harpist Alice Chalifoux, Cleveland Orchestra Principal for 43 years, and instructor at Cleveland Institute and Oberlin).

After receiving an MM and starting a DMA at Northwestern University, Juliet received an opportunity to play with the Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Pops and Opera, where she served as Guest Principal for 1 season, then was appointed Acting Principal there for 2 years.  Before returning to Seattle, she performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera for several months (Zubin Mehta conducting Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle 4 times, in a section of 4 harps).

Upon returning back home to the Seattle area, she subbed for 1 year as 2nd harp with the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera, then was appointed Acting Principal Harp for 2 years, and 2nd harp for an additional 4 years.  In addition, she spent 6 years doing movie score recordings with David Sabee (Seattle Music) and Simon James Music, and has held numerous other orchestra positions over the years, including 2 years with Civic Orchestra of Chicago (1 year as Principal), one season as Guest Principal with PNB, 3 seasons as Principal of the Anchorage Symphony, Tacoma Opera, Skagit Opera, Auburn Symphony, Federal Way, and Rainier Symphony, and is currently principal with the Harmonia Orchestra and Lake Union Civic Orchestra (LUCO). She has performed regularly with numerous choral organizations, including 20 years accompanying the Seattle Girls Choir.

Meet the Co-winners of our “Emerging Choral Composers” Competition!

Brittney Benton is a senior studying music composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. With her experience as a pianist, she has explored writing for a variety of instruments and musical styles. She has a strong interest in working outside of the concert hall, especially in the realm of video game music.  Her principal teachers include Cynthia Wong, Diego Vega, Jennifer Bellor, and Viet Cuong. She has attended masterclasses with Richard Danielpour, Michael Torke, Marc Mellits, Juan Pablo Contreras, and David Conte.

Benton was recently awarded a Composer’s Showcase Scholarship for undergraduate composers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In 2020, she was named the winner of PARMA Recordings Summer 2020 Call For Scores, and a co-winner of the Bellevue Chamber Chorus’ “Emerging Composer Competition” in 2021.  ​Recent summer festivals include the 2020 Charlotte New Music Festival and Connecticut Summerfest 2021.  See more at

View our interview with Ms. Benton on Facebook!

Isaac Lovdahl is a composer, conductor, educator, and vocalist currently based in Fargo, ND. He directed high school, church, and community choirs in Minnesota after graduating from Concordia College in 2015, and is now pursuing a DMA in Choral Conducting at North Dakota State University where he was named the first ever Challey School of Music Choral Conducting Fellow. Along with his doctoral studies, Lovdahl also directs the campus tenor-bass ensemble (The Statesmen of NDSU) and teaches ear-training. Additionally, he serves as the director of music at the Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Moorhead, MN.

His choral compositions and art songs have been performed in the United States, Germany, South Africa, and Great Britain by educational, community, and professional ensembles and soloists. His distinct harmonic language, detailed attention to natural speech rhythms, and highly expressive text setting have begun to solidify a niche for him in the world of vocal music. See more at https//

View our interview with Mr. Lovdahl on Facebook!

Bellevue Chamber Chorus Personnel

Artistic Director Ben Luedcke is the choir director at Seattle First Baptist Church in downtown Seattle and was recently promoted as the new Minister of Music. He is currently finishing his Doctorate of Musical Arts at University of Washington, studying with Dr. Geoffrey Boers and Dr. Giselle Wyers, and he has held teaching positions in the choral, musicology, and English departments.

Before moving to Washington, Ben was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Monmouth College where he conducted the Monmouth Chorale and chamber choir, and taught music theory, music appreciation, and voice. Ben has also served as faculty at Grinnell College, where he conducted both the Grinnell Singers and the Grinnell Oratorio Society, and taught an introduction to music theory and voice.

Ben is known in Madison, Wisconsin for several of his startup organizations: he was the co-founder and director of Voces Aestatis, a Wisconsin-based professional choir that specialized in the a cappella repertoire of the sixteenth century. Likewise, Ben was the founder and artistic director of Madison Summer Choir, a community chorus that performed large orchestral works. Finally, Ben was the founder and conductor of University of Wisconsin Men’s Choir, a student and community chorus.

Ben completed his Masters of Arts in choral conducting at the University of Iowa where he studied with Dr. Timothy Stalter, and he holds a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Vanessa, and their two dogs, Luthor and Oona.

Kristine Anderson, piano:  Kristine Anderson graduated with a music performance degree from the University of Montana at Missoula.  She is well-known in the Puget Sound region for her artistic and sensitive work with singers as well as instrumentalists ranging from tuba to piccolo. 

Equally at home with jazz, pop, and classical, she can adjust her style from Sondheim to Gershwin to Strauss.  Her clients include winners in local and national competitions, including the Seattle Young Artist Music Festival, Metropolitan Opera semifinals, and concerto contests.  Kristine also serves as accompanist for the Flute and Piccolo Forum, hosted by Seattle Symphony flutist Zart Dombourian Eby.  She has been the accompanist for Bellevue Chamber Chorus for the past thirteen seasons.  In 2012 she became an employee in the University of Washington Music Department and a staff accompanist.  In addition to the Bellevue Chamber Chorus, she accompanies the choir at North Seattle College.

Bellevue Chamber Chorus


Maria Bayer

Kristine Bryan

Debra Defotis

Tori Force

Jane Wasell


Marie Connett

Rachel Macias

Pratha Muthiah

Karin Swenson-Moore

Gloria Tzuang

Kristen Wright


Melanie Grube

Michael Grube

Jim Leininger

(Mark Liebendorfer)

(Larry Richardson)

Paul Roby

David Varner

David Williams


Dennis Defotis

(James McTernan)

Fabien Mousseau

Eric Mullen

John Schleg

(David Tummons)