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Mike Foley
Choir members practice for the April 1 and 8 Tacoma-area Multi-Stake Cultural Arts Committee performances of Rob Gardner's "Lamb of God" Easter oratorio.

TACOMA, Wash. — The Tacoma Multi-Stake Cultural Arts Committee will present two free performances on April 1 and 8 of the Easter oratorio, "Lamb of God: A Sacred Work for Choir, Orchestra and Soloists."

The 80-minute production by Mormon composer Rob Gardner features a 70-voice choir, 13 soloists and a 27-piece orchestra. The production will include video imagery compiled by Krista Shawcroft.

Erin Guinup, a University of Puget Sound graduate who has appeared in local opera, theater and church productions, will direct the oratorio.

“Rob Gardner is a young composer who has a really accessible writing style that’s complex yet relatable to modern audiences, that allows the Spirit to come through,” Guinup said. She added that Gardner has been “excessively generous” in allowing the MSCAC to perform "Lamb of God" locally. “I think he recognizes he’s been given a talent that’s bigger than himself,” she said.

Guinup recalled she had been listening to an interview with Gardner on the Mormon Channel. When his "Gloria" number from "Lamb of God" came on, “I just started weeping, it was so beautiful.” The next day she recommended that the MSCAC perform it locally.

Gardner wrote on his website in 2009, the year before "Lamb of God" debuted, that he had been thinking about this composition since 2000, but it eluded him quite a while “due to its profound subject matter and fear that I won’t do it justice. You see, this piece is about the Savior and will focus on his final hours, the Atonement and Resurrection, and specifically on the hope it offers.”

Guinup noted two other interesting aspects of the work are that cello and orchestral themes represent the voice of the Savior, and that “part of the production is in Aramaic. It’s really beautiful, and some of the choir members have expressed gratitude for the uniqueness and spirit that comes from singing the language of the Savior. There’s something special about that.

“A rabbi from a local synagogue prepared a pronunciation guide for the choir and recorded the text for us so that we could do it accurately.”

The soloists for this Easter season production and the roles they play are: Grant Drees, Peter; Jonathan Fowles, Thomas; Tupu Doiron, John; Josh Gates, Judas; Stephen Wightman, a false witness; Patrick Watson, Pilate; James Dewey, the accuser; Jennifer Ceresa, Mary Magdalene; Anna Jones, Martha; Lara Bentley, Mary of Bethany; Mari Feller, Mary, mother of Jesus; Dawnette Palmer, the maid; and Chelsea Gunn, a damsel.

“I feel the Spirit most through music, and I've performed other works that have to do with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Savior," said Soloist Ceresa, who sings professionally with the Seattle Opera and other groups. "Those are my most personal moments, so I think this is really a deep thing for me spiritually to do.”

Choir member Anne Marie Corey said, “Every time I listen to this piece of music, the beauty, the dissonance, the depth and precision of writing continues to strike me over and over again. The brilliance of the composition is truly amazing. Every time I sing it, I’m moved emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.”

“Lives are changing because of the 'Lamb of God,'" Guinup said. “I’ve received several letters from choir members who’ve been moved to better handle their challenges due to the strong spirit we have felt in rehearsals. One sister wrote, ‘I felt the Spirit course through my entire body testifying the truth of the words we were singing. I have felt the Spirit countless times through music in my lifetime, but I have never ever had an experience quite like that and I shall never forget it. I can't even describe it fully, but as I sang that song every part of my soul knew that Jesus Christ is truly our Savior. I imagine this is what it must feel like to sing with the angels of heaven.’

“My hope is that everyone will leave this production feeling renewed and ready to live their lives more singularly devoted to the Savior, that they’ll feel uplifted and glad for the gift of the Easter season,” Guinup said. “The music fills me with joy, and I really want people to feel the same, to leave happy and grateful.”

The Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup and Puyallup South stakes along with the Lace Washington Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formed the Multi-Stake Cultural Arts Committee in 2005. MSCAC has since produced an Easter program every year, including "Savior of the World," "Amahl and the Night Visitors," "The Messiah," musical revues, arts programs, an opera night and a festival of the nativity each Christmas.

To accommodate the orchestra, the first four rows of pews in each stake center will be removed temporarily, making seating limited.

The performance schedule is: Tacoma Washington Stake Center, 1102 S. Pearl St., at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 1, and the Puyallup Washington South Stake Center, 13420 94th Ave. East, Puyallup, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 8.