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John Lamb, Published December 07 2012

Singing Concordia choir director’s praise

FARGO – Early December has been a blur for René Clausen for nearly three decades. That’s how long he’s been leading Concordia College’s annual Christmas concert.

“We have a pretty big week here,” he said Friday morning, hours before this weekend’s premiere. “It always is (crazy) this time of the year, so it’s nothing new after 27 years.”

But something new happened Thursday morning. That’s when Clausen discovered a recording of his choral compositions had been nominated for three Grammy Awards.

The major Grammy nominees were announced during a televised show Wednesday night, but Clausen got his big news early the next morning. The producer of the record, “Life and Breath: Choral Works of René Clausen,” recorded by the Kansas City Chorale, sent him an email with the urgent subject line, “René!!!!!!”

“This could be interesting. Let’s open this up,” Clausen recalled thinking to himself. “That was a first for me and an interesting way to begin your morning.

“It took a while for it to sink in because we’re right in the middle of the Christmas concert rehearsals,” he said. “I went back to it and thought, ‘That’s good news, but that’s a Grammy!’ I had to absorb it for a while, that this was not a little thing. … Who knows what will happen? I consider it a high honor to be put in that category.”

“Life and Breath” was nominated for Best Engineered Classical Album, Best Choral Performance (for the Kansas City Chorale) and Classical Producer of the Year.

The disc was recorded in Kansas City, Mo., in early 2011 and released this past June. It is the first recording by a professional choir to feature the 59-year-old composer’s works, mixing sacred and secular compositions from the past 20 years. It also includes the premiere of his “Mass for Double Choir.”

“René’s music is intimately beautiful and stirring. His ‘Mass for Double Choir’ will in time join the ranks of favorite choral masterpieces,” said Charles Bruffy, artistic director of the Kansas City Chorale, in a news release from the chorale.

“ ‘Life and Breath’ has a pleasing choice of liturgical and sacred texts, and René Clausen’s word-setting is always appropriate and approachable to listeners,” a review of the disc in Gramophone magazine said, adding, “his choral works deserve wider international recognition and would be worthy additions to the choral repertoire.”

Clausen didn’t know if he would attend the Grammy ceremonies, scheduled for Feb. 10.

“If that’s a school day, it might be hard to get away. I’ll talk to my wife and see where it falls,” he said. “If it’s possible, it would be fun to be part of that history.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533