LIVERMORE -- The Valley Concert Chorale will celebrate its golden anniversary this month with the help of the man considered by many to be America's greatest contemporary composer of choral music.
Morten Lauridsen, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, will host workshops for a handful of area high school and college choirs, as well as for the Valley Concert Chorale, all of whom will then collaborate in two public performances of Lauridsen's music.
A documentary on the composer also will be screened at the Vine Theater in downtown Livermore as part of the event.
The concerts are a rare opportunity for music lovers of all types to experience a true master at his art, said John Emory Bush, the chorale's artistic director and conductor.
"When we were thinking about our 50th season, I really wanted to do something very special and extra," said Bush, who has directed the group since 1998. "I've known of Lauridsen's music for years, and we've done many of his works previously; they're just beautiful ... He's recognized all around the world -- there's not a place around the world you could find a choir that hasn't sung or knows of Morten Lauridsen's music.
"He is the number one living American choral composer," Bush added. "His music is performed more frequently than any other American choral composer's. I just think it's because of its beauty, its raw beauty."
Lauridsen, 71, is a professor of composition at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, where he's taught for more than 40 years. In addition to receiving the National Medal of Arts, he was named an American Choral Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. His work has been recorded on more than 200 CDs, five of which have received Grammy nominations.
Lauridsen's participation in the Valley Concert Chorale's anniversary event is a rare opportunity both for the community and for the vocalists he'll be mentoring, said chorale member Heidi Massie.
"It's an incredible experience for these choirs, from a learning standpoint, to perform a piece from a leading choral composer of our time and to actually have the composer there, the top dog in the country; you just don't have that," she said. "He'll come and work with all of us for a couple nights in preparation for this ... it's going to be awesome."
Lauridsen incorporates poetry -- some ancient and some contemporary -- into his wide-ranging music as well as an appreciation of the natural world, which he nurtures with summers spent largely isolated on Waldron Island in the Pacific Northwest. Complex and challenging to sing, his music is embraced by both choirs and audiences alike.
In addition to the choral group workshops, Lauridsen will oversee performances in both San Francisco and Pleasanton, where he will interact with the audience, introduce pieces and accompany some on piano. Organizers hope the community -- musicians and music novices -- will take advantage of this rare opportunity.
"Here the man is -- he's just turned 70, and now he's able to go around and listen to other groups everywhere perform his music," Bush said. "This music will live forever."
Valley Concert Chorale: A Morten Lauridsen Festival