Phillip Swan leads the orchestra and choirs in a rehearsal on the Memorial Chapel stage.
Phillip Swan leads a rehearsal of This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity on the Memorial Chapel stage. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music will present its Major Works concert April 21, an annual showcase of orchestral and choral talent from across multiple ensembles.

The performance is set for 8 p.m. in Memorial Chapel, featuring three significant pieces—Lili Boulanger’s orchestral nod to spring, D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring Morning), Jake Runestad’s much-lauded A Silence Haunts Me, and Reena Esmail’s musical embrace of connections between Indian and Western music and cultures, This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity.

Mark Dupere, director of orchestral studies, will lead the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra in the Boulanger opener. Phillip A. Swan, co-director of choral studies, will then conduct as the choirs join for A Silence Haunts Me and This Love Between Us.

Choirs rehearse with the orchestra in advance of the Major Works concert.
Choirs rehearse with the orchestra in advance of the Major Works concert.

More than 200 students will perform in the Major Works concert, one of the showcase events on the Conservatory calendar each spring. The choirs have been working on the performance for six weeks; the orchestra for four weeks. It includes, among other musical challenges, singing in unfamiliar languages.

“It’s a great opportunity to share our musical talents in the Conservatory,” Swan said. “It’s a project where we get to collaborate interdepartmentally, the orchestra and the choirs working together. … It’s an important part of what we do and it’s a celebration of what our students can do musically.”

The pieces to be performed come with powerful back stories.

A Silence Haunts Me speaks to Beethoven's agony at losing his hearing, expressed in a heartbreaking letter to his brothers. Runestad, a Minneapolis composer, and Todd Boss, a Minneapolis poet, debuted the choral piece in 2019 to wide acclaim.

This Love Between Us, meanwhile, is about unity, working between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music.

“Its seven movements juxtapose the words of seven major religious traditions of India (Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Islam), and specifically how each of these traditions approaches the topic of unity, of brotherhood, of being kind to one another,” Esmail writes on her website. 

Orchestra students rehearse with the choirs in preparation for the Major Works concert.
Orchestra students rehearse with the choirs in preparation for the Major Works concert.

Sutanu Sur, on tabla, and Shreekant Shah, on sitar, will join the Lawrence students as guest artists on This Love Between Us.

Sur, who grew up in India and now lives in Appleton, performed last year with the Fox Valley Symphony. For many in the audience, it was their first introduction to the tabla, twin hand drums most familiar in the music of India.

“The audience was surprised to learn all the nuances of the tabla,” Sur told “The only way to promote something is to get people to learn about it.”

Four student soloists will be featured on This Love Between Us—junior Tanvi Thatai, soprano; senior Holly Beemer, alto; junior Matthew Carlson, tenor; and first-year Billy Greene, bass. They’re exploring singing in an unfamiliar musical style. 

“It’s a great educational opportunity for them to learn, grow, and create,” Swan said.

On A Silence Haunts Me, senior Ami Hatori will be featured on piano.

If you’re on campus, there is nothing like a live performance; the energy is just palpable. For those who are unable to attend in person, we do offer a livestream and recordings of most Conservatory programs.

Swan called A Silence Haunts Me a “creative force” and said Esmail’s This Love Between Us is a complex, gorgeous, and sonically exciting musical adventure. Those two works and the Boulanger orchestral piece bring with them a connecting thread—love.

“I like to find a theme,” Swan said of planning for the Major Works concert. “The connection for this one comes from the title of the Reena Esmail piece, This Love Between Us. It’s love for different things. The first piece embraces a love for spring. The Runestad piece expresses a love for music; Beethoven’s desire and passion to write music and to explore musical sounds. And Esmail’s piece is searching for love between different people, the common bonds we share.”

If you go

What: Major Works Performance

When: 8 p.m. April 21

Where: Lawrence Memorial Chapel

Cost: Free