Log In

Reset Password
News Education Local News Nation & World New Mexico

Hail and farewell: Haydn’s ‘Creation’ signals FLC departures

Fort Lewis College professors Wesley Dunnagan, left, and Branden Barker prepare for the performance of Haydn’s “The Creation,” on Saturday and Sunday at the Community Concert Hall. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
Music professors will lead performances Saturday and Sunday

You can wave goodbye.

You can smile and say farewell.

You can quietly leave town.

Or, you can organize and mount a musical masterpiece with a huge choir, large orchestra and professional soloists.

Two outgoing Fort Lewis College music professors are leaving their jobs at FLC in style. At the end of the semester, Brendan Barker and Wesley Dunnagan leave the Southwest for the new horizons.

If you go

WHAT: Haydn’s “The Creation,” FLC String Chamber Orchestra, Choirs and community musicians, conducted by Brendan Barker.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $20 adults; $10 seniors 65 and older; free for FLC students, all students 18 and younger.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangoconcerts.com.

Their farewell gift to Durango will be Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation.” Barker, visiting professor and director of FLC choral activities, will conduct Haydn’s 1798 masterpiece in the Community Concert Hall at 7 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Dunnagan, FLC assistant professor of music, will be the tenor soloist.

Intent on bringing great music to FLC students, the two professors will be joined by an 80-voice chorus, a 50-piece orchestra and two other professional soloists: soprano Sarah Moyer and baritone David Newman.

Among the singers and instrumentalists on stage, you will recognize FLC faculty and community members. To say this is a significant musical achievement for Durango, let alone Colorado, is an understatement.

“The Creation” was Haydn’s first attempt at an oratorio, a large work for chorus, orchestra and soloists that has a story to tell.

Branden Barker conducts a rehearsal at Fort Lewis College. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

At 66, he was already known throughout Europe as a master of symphonic, chamber and solo works. In 1791, after he heard Handel’s “Messiah” in London, Haydn decided to compose an oratorio of his own.

The libretto was based on more than the Book of Genesis. It combined biblical texts with John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” And from the beginning, the text was deliberately set in both English and German. The first public performance in 1798 resulted in public acclaim, which has continued for over 200 years.

Organized by the legendary six days of creation, Haydn’s oratorio begins with an orchestral introduction, a representation of chaos. As the days proceed, solos, choral sections and orchestral interludes follow.

“In two hours, God makes the earth, he creates the universe. It’s a story without a crisis. There’s no antagonist,” Barker said. “It’s essentially a list. Simply put, the plot moves from chaos to order, and order prevails.

“I’ve always been a fan of this oratorio. My first and most meaningful musical experience was singing ‘The Heavens Are Telling.’ That is part of the Fourth Day and follows the beautiful announcement: ‘Let There be Light,’” he said.

The oratorio will be sung in English, and the printed program is structured by the days of creation. Short texts precede every aria, duet and choral section, so the whole story is easy to follow. “The Creation” is divided into three parts, ending with the Garden of Eden and its principal characters.

Haydn’s two-hour creation concludes with a big, glorious final statement: “Sing the Lord, ye voices all.”

Learning from Haydn

Among the many reasons for mounting a huge concert like Haydn’s “The Creation,” Brendan Barker listed all the things music students could learn by performing a Western masterwork. They include developing a music vocabulary that will serve them in all future studies.

“Performing in a work of this magnitude builds musical skills, improves the ability to sight read, for singers and instrumentalists, and develops confidence,” Barker said. “Fort Lewis College can do this. Performing masterworks raises the whole level of musicianship for everyone. It’s been a lot of work and has provided a great deal of satisfaction.”

Branden Barker is seen in his FLC office with the score for “The Creation.” (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
Brendan Barker

In late 2023, Brendan Barker, visiting professor of music, was told his job no longer existed in the Fort Lewis College Music Department. FLC had canceled the position of director of choral activities.

Consequently, he examined his career options, and eventually he decided to return to home territory, Philadelphia. There, he will continue as a freelance musician and resume his membership in the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir. He will also join the family business.

Barker’s day job will be with Visual Communications. Founded in 1959, the company is part of the global exhibit industry and creates projects for international companies like AT&T.

“We create custom exhibits,” he said. “My job will concentrate on electronics. And I will be freelancing as a musician in greater Philadelphia.”

Barker holds multiple degrees in music including a DMA in Choral Music from the University of Illinois-Urbana. His dissertation centered on German composer Johann Hummel, who happened to be a student of Haydn, Barker said.

Earlier, he earned a master’s degree in sacred music from the University of Notre Dame and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Duquesne University.

Immediately after leaving FLC, Barker will travel to Germany where he will assist an order of Catholic Sisters as organist for choral observances for the Pentecost. Then he will return to Philadelphia.

Wesley Dunnagan

Five years ago, Wesley Dunnagan came to Fort Lewis College as assistant professor of music and coordinator of voice studies. In addition to his teaching duties, he created the FLC Baroque Ensemble and Durango’s Colla Voce Singers. Last spring, he and Barker organized a performance of Handel’s complete “Messiah.”

Dunnagan has also been music director for FLC productions such as “Sweeney Todd,” and most recently “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” He has also been a featured soloist in chamber works in the Southwest as well as nationally.

He earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Voice and Opera from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was also a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow in Italian. He holds a bachelor’s degree in German Studies and Music from Stanford University and a master of Sacred Music from the University of Notre Dame. He spent a year at Berlin University as an exchange scholar.

Next fall, Dunnagan will join the music faculty of St. Olaf College in Minnesota as assistant professor of music. St. Olaf is known as one of America’s most prestigious schools of music. Former FLC professor of Percussion Studies, John Pennington, taught there after his tenure at FLC.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

Reader Comments