The original idea behind Saturday night's "Battle of the Choirs" was to pit the Corvallis Repertory Singers in a sing-off of sorts against a Las Vegas choir led by an Oregon State University music graduate.
But that original idea had to change when circumstances made it impossible to bring the Las Vegas choir, the Battle Born Chorale, to Corvallis. But the director of that ensemble, Jonathan Baltera, will make the return trip to Corvallis to lead the OSU Millennial Choir — a collection of OSU alumni — into the arena with the Repertory Singers.
The musical rumble starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist Church, 1165 NW Monroe Ave. in Corvallis.
Steven Zielke, the director of the Repertory Singers, said the original idea behind the event was to put together a fun competition on the eve of the Super Bowl featuring Baltera, one of Zielke's first students after he arrived at OSU in 1999 to lead the university's choral studies program.
That idea had to evolve somewhat after it became clear that Baltera's Battle Born Chorale would be unable to make the trip to Corvallis for the concert. Zielke noted that, although the Millennial Choir features ringers (in the form of OSU musical alumni with considerable talent), that choir will only have limited opportunities to rehearse together. So it would have been unfair to pit the two choirs against each other in head-to-head competition.
"I didn't want them to feel that they came in to get beat up," Zielke said.
Instead, Zielke had to rethink that notion of competition. So the concert now features, in its first half, two classical masses so that listeners can compare and contrast the works. One of the masses is a Kenyan piece, "Missa Kenya" by Paul Basler. The second mass is more secular: "Five Hebrew Love Songs" by Eric Whitacre, which celebrates the spiritual qualities of human love. (Whitacre's wife, Hila Plitmann, wrote the poetry for the piece.)
The concert's second half continues that theme of comparing similar pieces and features works by various composers using the same text. For example, the singers will tackle two versions of "Elijah Rock," one written by Jester Hairston and one by Moses Hogan; "The 23rd Psalm," in settings written by John Rutter and Bobby McFerrin; and two versions of "Sure on this Shining NIght," one by Samuel Barber and one by Morten Lauridsen.
It all wraps up with a variety of selections from musical theater.
Baltera graduated from OSU in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in music and earned a master's degree in 2007. He now is pursuing his doctorate in voice pedagogy at the University of Nevada.
Zielke has high praise for his former student: "He's really one of the best conductors to graduate from OSU," he said. He's kept in touch with Baltera over the years.
And even if circumstances didn't allow the two to stage the full-bore choral battle they originally had envisioned, the result Saturday night still should be fun, Zielke said.
"The music is really enjoyable, very listenable," Zielke said. "If you love choral music, this will be a great concert."