A Hauntingly Beautiful Rock Album Reimagined as a Celestial Oratorio

Apr 29, 2016

Andrew Lipke
Credit Chris Sikich

In 2011, the Philadelphia-based, South-Africa born singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Lipke released his fourth album, The Plague, with much fanfare, including a live interview and performance on WHYY's Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, and lots of coverage on WXPN.  Fast forward to 2015, when he's approached by Matthew Glandorf, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia, with an idea. Will Lipke create an oratorio based on The Plague? The answer: of course!

And now, Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Bach Collegium have come together to premiere Lipke's modern-day "End of Times" oratorio at the season finale concert of the Bach@7 Cantata Series on May 4th. This will be an unusual treat for audiences and performers alike.

Despite a background that is mostly in the rock world, Lipke actively looks for the common ground between all genres of music and works closely with classical musicians in Philadelphia creating collaborative, cross-genre presentations highlighting the transformative and boundary-crossing nature of music.

Take a look at this video to hear "Hosanna" from The Plague, and then a sneak preview of Choral Arts Philadelphia rehearsing the same song for the oratorio.

Lipke will appear as a leading vocalist, playing keyboard and guitar in the "pay as you wish" concert on Wednesday, May 4, at 7 PM, at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Andrew Lipke
Credit Barry Lively

The Plague is juxtaposed in the program with the thematically related J.S. Bach Cantata BWV 19 Es erhub sich ein Streit (There arose a war). Composed in 1726 for the Feast of St. Michael, this Cantata is set to text from the Book of Revelation telling the story of the Archangel Michael fighting Satan in heaven. Echoing the theme in his contemporary take on the Rapture and the End of Times, Lipke uses texts from the Judgment Day is Coming speech by Rev. J.M. Gates, in addition to his own lyrics.

This season, Glandorf has been experimenting with pairing Bach Cantatas with contemporary music. “I am particularly interested in breaking down the boundaries of so-called ‘classical’ and ‘pop’ music. Bach's music seems so timeless to me, and Andrew's choral writing is taking on the kind of contrapuntal complexity to complement it,” he said. “This particular program will certainly be a much bigger stretch for our audiences, as the Oratorio is one of the most daring projects we have ever done in our history.”

According to Lipke, The Plague will utilize the choir and the string orchestra in “unorthodox ways and will challenge the expectations of the audience.” He added: “Embarking on this endeavor out of a sincere desire to explore uncharted territory is the best approach to generate interest in what this organization specializes in for those who may have never experienced it. Sometimes bringing something unusual and out-of-the ordinary into the mix re-frames the standard fare and helps bring to light exactly what makes classical music stand the test of time and connects modern audiences to the audiences that witnessed this music when it was first created.”

Listen to "Holy War" from Andrew Lipke's The Plague