Most contemporary composers rarely hear their music performed live and often have no control over how it's presented in concert. Composer & Curator asks an artist to design a dream program around a piece they've written and explain their selections.

Composer Terry Schlenker

(Photo: Courtesy Terry Schlenker)

Wheat Ridge composer Terry Schlenker, who works closely with St. Martin's Chamber Choir in Denver, is one of the few artists featured in Composer & Curator who have actually created a program around one of their works and heard the selections in concert. 

He's one of Colorado's most widely performed composers, having seen his works presented on five continents. He's also an embryologist by day.

  • Related audio: Terry Schlenker on his music and his inspirations: 

    Audio: A portrait of Colorado composer Terry Schlenker

For Composer & Curator, he featured his piece Mass for Double Choir and a Frank Martin composition by the same name that inspired it. 

Frank Martin, Mass for Double Choir  

In the late 1990s I received a Christmas gift from my sister, which was a CD of the Dale Warland Singers performing the Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin.

I was unaware of this piece at that time. As I began to listen, I was mesmerized, entranced. In the ensuing year, I listened to the recording hundreds of times. I was convinced it was the greatest choral work ever written.

Amazingly, Martin was insecure about its value. He called the piece, written in the 1920s, a 'youthful sin,' and withheld it from performance until 1962 and publication until 1972.

About a year after discovering this stunning work, I lost the CD. … 

Terry Schlenker, Mass for Double Choir

Around the same time, I began to sing with the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. It was clearly the finest choir I had ever sung with.  

The artistic director, Tim Krueger, seemed exceedingly open to compositions written by choir members. I wrote a few pieces, which were very well received.  

I began to think back to Martin’s Mass. This choir I was singing with seemed to be able to tackle anything, perhaps something as challenging as this Mass. I took inspiration from this amazing work and the choir I was singing with, and began.

In the next two years (2002-03), my Mass for Double Choir took form. Much of it was written in the solitude of my mountain cabin, at a very challenging time in my life. As I wrote, I viewed the Mass in broad terms, rather than taking each word literally.

These themes included pleas for mercy, the glorification of life and my connection with my source, a statement of what I believe, and wrestling with the question of whether peace was possible in this life.  

The work was premiered in June of 2004 in a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of St. Martin’s Chamber Choir.

Terry Schlenker's music has been performed by St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, The Ars Nova Singers, Kantorei, Canto Deo, and the choirs of the University of Denver and Metropolitan State University. It has also been performed at the national conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, and the International Festival of Gala Choruses.

In February, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performed a concert in Denver consisting entirely of Schlenker's music.