Two Southeast Missouri State University music professors are among an elite group of three dozen artists selected to perform in the Southern Illinois Music Festival this month.
Dr. Christopher Goeke and Dr. Brandon Christensen will perform in Rossini’s final opera, “William Tell,” sung in French with projected English supertitles, at the Marion (Illinois) Cultural and Civic Center June 7, 8, 10 and 11.
Goeke, professor of music, teaches voice and is also very active in opera, including conducting, directing and serving as technical coordinator for the full operatic productions at Southeast. He will perform the role of “Rodolphe,” one of the show’s villains.
Christensen, professor of music, teaches violin and viola, directs the string chamber music program, and is concertmaster of the Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestra. He will perform in the festival’s orchestra.
“The festival includes over a dozen concerts over the course of two weeks, including chamber music performances, educational programs, orchestra concerts, and, of course, the main production of ‘William Tell’ Rossini’s massive opera which will be performed over two days,” Christensen said. “It’s the only event of its type in our region over the summer and is a treasure trove of fabulous performances. “
Christensen, who has performed in four previous Southern Illinois Music Festivals, said, “Many of the musicians are members of professional orchestras throughout the Midwest. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet regional professionals and perform at a very high level.”
Goeke added, “I am honored to be a part of this young and very talented cast.”
The “William Tell” opera has only been produced in the United States three times in the last century, making the performance at the festival an historic event.
“The opera is monumental in stature – its length, subject matter and the extremely difficult casting concerns,” Goeke said. Because of these issues, the opera is not performed frequently.
Most people know William Tell’s famous overture (with its Lone Ranger theme), but the opera is full of beautiful arias, stirring ensembles and rousing choruses. This production is set it in 1776, to coincide with Washington crossing the Delaware, on this 240th anniversary of our Independence, and also includes all the original ballet music.
“This is actually a very difficult opera to perform, but they make it look easy,” Goeke said. “When I get to work with such talent, I am encouraged about the future of opera in America. These young performers really bring the characters to life; they are thrilling to listen to and watch as they work.”
Goeke says he was invited to audition for the part (via recording) by Artistic Director and Conductor Ed Benjas about six weeks ago. Benjas is also music director of the Southern Illinois Symphony and the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra. Directing the festival will be Josh Shaw from the Pacific Opera Project.
“They have assembled an outstanding cast of young professionals from New York to L.A.,” Goeke said. “This will be a rare opportunity to see this amazing work – in a new concept.”
He said his role as “Rodolphe,” the captain of the British forces, is a new part for him.
“I am enjoying the challenge of bringing this character to life,” Goeke said. “I really like the idea of setting this in colonial America.
“I think this is a great idea and will really help make the opera relevant to American audiences,” Goeke said.
“The concept even works in modern times – because this is a brutal and repressive military occupation of a peaceful culture. It seems very real to me that this is still happening across the world – there are still brave people that have to stand up to evil, sacrificing their lives for freedom and liberty. The story of William Tell shows how people struggle through this awful situation and come together to beat the oppressors. “
Goeke says preparing to perform alongside a group of talented artists is “a great opportunity for me to ‘practice what I preach.’
“As an opera director and voice teacher at Southeast, I am usually the one giving direction; but now I am taking direction,” he said. “It has reminded me what it’s like to be a student, and also what our students need to work toward as they prepare to be professional performers. It’s kind of an ‘Opera Boot Camp’ for me — a very short and intense rehearsal period. Everyone comes in with their part learned and it has come together very quickly.
Goeke, a tenor, has performed with the Central City Opera in Colorado, the State Repertory Opera of New Jersey, Westchester Opera in New York, the Light Opera of Manhattan, New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, New York Choral Artists, Santa Fe Desert Choral, Cedar Rapids Symphony, Muddy River Opera (Illinois) and the Bach Society of St. Louis. He has performed numerous operatic roles and is an active recitalist who has presented a wide range of literature. Most recently, Goeke presented multi-media performances of Schubert’s Winterreise with subtitles and projected art images.
Goeke holds both a Doctor of Musical Arts in vocal performance and pedagogy and a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Iowa and is an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS.) He has served as the Missouri Governor for NATS, and is beginning a term as Treasurer for the Central Region NATS.
Christensen, a violinist, graduated from New York’s Stony Brook University with a doctor of musical arts in 2002. That same year, he joined Southeast’s Department of Music. Prior to coming to Missouri, Christensen was a visiting artist at Dickenson College, and a member of the artist faculty at the Pennsylvania Academy of Music.
As an orchestral player, he is assistant concertmaster of the Paducah Symphony and is beginning a new association with the Arkansas Symphony this season. He is a regular soloist with the Southeast Symphony and has been featured as a soloist with the Southern Illinois Festival Orchestra, Carolina Chamber Symphony, and Beijing Sinfonietta, among others. Christensen has a strong interest in early music and performs regularly on the baroque violin with regional early music ensembles.
Southern Illinois Music Festival
The Annual Southern Illinois Music Festival is now in its 12th season. The opera will star two internationally recognized singers, including Wes Mason, in the title role, and William Davenport, singing one of the most demanding Tenor roles in the repertoire. Also participating will be a 40 voice chorus, 20 member ballet company, and the Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra, under the musical direction of Benyas.
The Festival Orchestra will also perform a grand orchestral program of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, including the “Eroica” Symphony and the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, featuring violinist, Michael Barta and cellist, Eric Lenz. The Festival will also present music by Mozart from 1776, including his three great violin concerti, the concerto for three pianos, the Serenata Notturno and the “Paris” Symphony.
The Southern Illinois Music Festival presents three-dozen professional performances of classical music and jazz in two dozen venues throughout Southern Illinois each June. The Festival has been nationally recognized in Symphony magazine, the premiere publication for American orchestras; by the Chicago Tribune Travel section as one of 24 top summer activities (musical and otherwise) in an eight-state region; and by AAA Midwest magazine as a Midwest Travel Treasure.
Tickets for the festival are available at the event, or by calling the Marion Civic Center box office during business hours at (618) 997-4030 or online at www.MarionCCC.com. For more information, visit SIFest.com.