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Student composition premieres at Christmas Festival

By Kenyon Thorp '11
December 10, 2009

As he performed alongside fellow members of the St. Olaf Choir during this year’s Christmas Festival, Stanford Scriven ’11 was undoubtedly looking forward to one piece in the program a little more than the others.

"I wanted to create a sense of peace and assurance in the music that could speak to everyone," says Stanford Scriven '11 about his composition that was performed at this year's St. Olaf Christmas Festival.

The St. Olaf Choir premiered his new composition, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, during its second solo set at this year's Christmas Festival. The work also will be featured on the nationally broadcast Performance Today radio program Dec. 25. The ensemble will perform the piece during its tour of the northeastern United States this February, which will include concerts at Carnegie Hall and Yale and Princeton universities. Anton Armstrong ’78, the Harry R. and Thora H. Tosdal Professor of Music and conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, has submitted the piece for publication as well.

Listen to an interview with Scriven and hear the choir perform his work on Minnesota Public Radio.

The text for Jesus Christ the Apple Tree was written by an anonymous New England poet from the late 18th century. Scriven first came across the text last year at a concert featuring Magnum Chorum, a Twin Cities-based choral group founded by St. Olaf alumni that was recording another of his pieces at the time.

Scriven says he was drawn to the text because of its message and simple style. “In my mind, the poet is a simple, honest individual attempting to depict the wonder of the Son of God in a way that is understandable by all. Thus, I sought the same in composing this piece,” Scriven says. “I wanted to create a sense of peace and assurance in the music that could speak to everyone, even those who know nothing about music technically, because this is how I see the text.”

Scriven has composed several pieces that have been performed, recorded, and published by various choral groups. Last year the Minnesota Music Educators Association named him the Minnesota Collegiate Composer of the Year for his composition titled Lines to an Indian Air. The premiere performance of his piece titled This is the Day (which was published this summer) is featured on the recently released recording Love Divine, a compilation of Magnum Chorum’s live performance recordings from their 2008–09 season.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or