The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will sing a varied holiday program about peace on Earth this coming Saturday night | December 13, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will sing its holiday concert featuring works about peace on Earth.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium, (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The holiday message of peace and good will to all people resonates across the centuries. Tragically, the proclamation, “Peace on earth” is every bit as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

WCC director and conductor Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the UW-Whitewater and who is celebrating his 10th season with the group, writes in his program notes to the concert:

“According to New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, “Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.” “This evening’s program by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir explores humanity’s yearning for peace through the centuries. 

The centerpiece of the WCC’s 2017 holiday concert is British composer Gerald Finzi’s exquisite retelling of the Christmas story, In terra pax, for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra. Baritone Brian Leeper (below top) and soprano Ann Baltes (below bottom) are among the featured soloists, performing with members of Sinfonia Sacra, the WCC’s professional orchestra.

In his own program notes, Finzi explained that the Nativity “becomes a vision seen by a wanderer on a dark and frosty Chrismas Eve, in our own familiar landscape.”

Finzi scholar Andrew Burn elaborates: “On New Year’s Eve, 1926, the 25-year old Gerald Finzi (below) joined the bell-ringers of the tiny church of St. Bartholomew perched on the crest of Chosen Hill, near Gloucester, as they rang in the New Year. For Finzi, the experience was unforgettable—the frosty starlit night with bells ringing out from churches far and near across the Severn valley—and from it sprang the orchestral New Year Music and [25 years later] In terra pax, his last major composition.

In terra pax is a masterpiece in miniature. Finzi’s pacifism is at its heart, and his belief that men and women of goodwill should live harmoniously together. Weaving through the music are three ideas: the pealing of the bells with their joyous message, a phrase from the carol The First Nowell, and the alleluia refrain from the hymn Lasst uns erfreuen (‘Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones”).”  (You can hear the opening of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Complementing Finzi’s music are two other works with instrumental accompaniment: Felix Mendelssohn’s moving prayer for peace, Verleih uns Frieden, and an energetic Gloria from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in A major.

Several more recent works bring the concert’s message up to date, including Cry Peace by Libby Larsen (below top) and the haunting Winter Solstice Carol by Giles Swayne (below bottom).

A varied selection of carol arrangements rounds out the program, including a resplendent setting of Silent Night by one of the WCC’s favorite composers, Peter Bloesch (below).

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world premieres.

Advance tickets for the Dec. 16 performance are available for $20 ($10 for students) from, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (all three locations).

Tickets will also be available at the door for $25 ($10 for students).


  1. Gerald Finzi seems to be the musical flavor of the day but am I alone in thinking that his music is sentimental hash and boring?

    Yes, the title hits the spot for the selection of music but that’s about all: there are far better and more worthwhile pieces that deserve attention, some of them relatively contemporary.

    Here, in my opinion, are some much better choices on the same theme: Frank Martin, “In Terra Pax”; Alan Hovhaness, “Mystery of the Holy Martyrs”; Sergei Rachmaninoff, “Praise the Lord”; Arvo Pärt- “Magnificat”; and “Da Pacem”, Morten Lauridsen, “Lux Æterna”; Antonín Dvořák – “Requiem”; Peteris Vasks, “Plainscapes” and “Lord Open Our Eyes”.

    Vasks, Pärt, and Lauridsen are far better than Finzi.


    Comment by fflambeau — December 13, 2017 @ 3:35 am

    • There are literally thousands of pieces composed on the topic of “peace on earth.” The pieces you have listed are also lovely compositions, as are the ones selected by Professor Gehrenbeck for this program. The choir will perform Lauridsen on the spring concert. Vasks, Part and many of the other composers on your list have also been programmed in previous concerts by the choir.


      Comment by Linda Palmer — December 13, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

      • Festival Choir of Madison has recently performed Part’s Da Pacem as well as pieces by Vasks and is programming a concert of Dvorak this coming spring. Madison Chamber Choir has recently sung Rachmaninoff and Martin. Several of the pieces on the program are 21st century. The goal was to create a range of piece on the theme of peace, but also on Christmas. It is a lovely program–come hear for yourself and then judge.


        Comment by sherrihansen2013 — December 13, 2017 @ 5:34 pm

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