Music Gala a Tribute to Matt Garber

The EMU music department‘s celebratory concert for the fall semester will include a tribute to a 2008 EMU graduate who died this summer.

The concert will be held 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, in EMU’s Lehman Auditorium and will feature EMU music students and faculty performing alongside one another.

“Death cannot separate,” a new piece for choir and instrumental ensemble, composed by EMU alumnus Nathan Bontrager of Akron, Pa., will be presented as a tribute to classmate Matthew Garber of Elizabethtown, Pa. Bontrager is completing a master’s degree in cello performance at the University of Maryland.

EMU graduate Matt Garber
2008 EMU graduate Matthew Garber, who died in a swimming accident in Costa Rica July 1 this year, singing with EMU’s Chamber Singers during the 2008 baccalaureate ceremony.

Garber, a 2008 nursing graduate, died on July 1 in a swimming accident while on a missions trip in Costa Rica. He was active in a variety of campus ministries and music as a student and received the “Cords of Distinction” honor at graduation this spring. Garber was scheduled to begin work as an emergency room nurse at Lancaster General Hospital in late August. Read the many online tributes to Matt in EMU’s reflections blog

“I wanted [the composition] to reflect the ways in which I knew Matt and the manner in which I thought he might want to be remembered in music. However, I wanted to be true to my own creative impulses as well,” Bontrager said. “My interactions with Matt ranged from raucous, laughter-filled meals at lunch to leading times of reflective worship at campus ‘Celebration’ services. I wanted to demonstrate this spectrum in the music, something that ranged from austere and mournful to jubilant and playful.

EMU graduate Nate Bontrager
2008 EMU graduate Nathan Bontrager will play cello in “death cannot separate,” composed in memory of his friend and classmate, Matt Garber.

Bontrager said the piece, following portions of the text, “moves from a mood of somber recognition of death to a light dance of friendship remembered to an idyllic yet confident hope in the eternity of Matt’s friendship with all of us which remains preserved in memory. I knew Matt to range freely between these emotions, a trait which I deeply admired in him.

“Musically, I drew on experiences I shared with Matt in Chamber Singers both as a co-participant and as an observer,” Bontrager said. “The unaccompanied choral section near the end is an homage to the a cappella music that Matt always held on to even as he engaged in more popular forms of both secular and sacred music. Any time I hear a confident tenor voice leap out from a choir to lean into a beautiful dissonance I will always think of Matt and his love for music and the song of the church.

“My hope is that this piece can be both a somber and grateful remembrance of a friend we dearly loved, a memorial to the extraordinary person that Matt was and will remain in our memory,” he added.

Handel Oratorio

The program will include the oratorio, “Jubilate for the Peace of Utrecht 1713” by George Frideric Handel, featuring the combined EMU choirs, EMU orchestra and voice faculty member James Richardson, baritone; and “Misa Cubana,” a Cuban mass for choir and orchestra by Jose Maria Vitier. The director is Kenneth J. Nafziger, professor of music at EMU.

In 1713, the War of the Spanish Succession ended with a series of peace treaties (The Treaty of Utrecht) between Great Britain, France, and Spain. Terms were highly favorable to the English.

London celebrated this important national event with a State Service of Morning Prayer in St. Paul’s Cathedral with the royal family and nobility in attendance. In this Prayer Book liturgy, both Psalm 100 (Jubilate Deo) and the Te Deum are sung by a choir, and Handel was commissioned to provide large settings for choir, soloists, and orchestra.

“It is astonishing to realize that this is Handel’s first try in the English language,” noted Dr. Nafziger. At age 28 he could barely speak it, and yet this ‘Jubilate Deo’ has not a trace of tentativeness. Only Handel could write so internationally, summing up the German, Italian and English musical traditions with conciseness and brilliance.

“The year 2009 will be celebrated in world-wide events to mark the 250th anniversary of Handel’s birth,” noted Dr. Nafziger. “This concert anticipates the arrival of a year of reveling in the great music that Handel has left to us and to all the world.”

Jose Maria Vitier (b. 1954) is a composer and pianist whose compositions for piano, orchestra and chamber and jazz ensembles blend traditional and popular forms of Cuban music. His work is included in the repertoires of all major Cuban performers and musical groups.

Vitier has written music for more than 50 films, with “Fresa y Chocolate” (Strawberry and Chocolate) and “The Century of Lights” among the most recent. He has composed scores for television series, theater, ballet and dance productions, music for symphony orchestra, chamber music and choral music, sacred music and music for children.

Nafziger conducted the North American premier of “Misa Cubana” in Washington, D.C., in 2000 with the composer in attendance.

Admission to the concert is free, but a $10 donation is suggested to benefit the music department student scholarship fund.