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Spending an evening in the east

BY CAROLINE BERG | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

Charlie Anderson/The Daily Iowan
Tariel Iberi rehearses with the St. Raphael Orthodox Christian choir for a performance in Old Brick on Wednesday. He will conduct the choir, which will be accompanied by his 12 year old daughter.
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In 2000, St. Raphael Orthodox Christian Chapel found fertile soil in Iowa City. Over 10 years, the chapel has matured and attracted a congregation of more than 100 Syrians, Russians, Romanians, Greeks, Lebanese, Georgians, and Americans. Last year, the Orthodox church moved out of a rental space into a permanent home to accommodate its steady growth.

The chapel will celebrate “An Evening in the East: Rachmaninoff Vespers” at Old Brick, 26 E. Market St., at 7 p.m. today. The Grinnell Singers, along with Iowa City’s own Georgian composer Tariel Iberi, will demonstrate the rich musical traditions represented in the congregation. Home-cooked Greek, Middle Eastern, Romanian, Georgian, and Russian food, as well as varied auction items, will accompany the music. Admission is $25.

“Iowa City has more of an international flavor than most of the rest of Iowa,” chapel leader Ignatius Valentine said. “[This] has been helpful to the growth of our church.”

The St. Raphael choir will début Georgian music that Iberi recently composed. Since moving here in 2007 from the Democratic Republic of Georgia, he and his family found a community in Iowa City’s only Orthodox church. He devotes himself to guitar pedagogy, and his 12-year-old daughter will accompany the church choir on the guitar in tonight’s performance.

“The international component to our church really gives us a rich tapestry of opportunities,” Valentine said.

The Grinnell Singers comprises 54 members from scattered domestic and international areas, and they also represent a spectrum of religious backgrounds.

“It’s not as though we’re singing as a group of Christians,” group director John Rommereim said, noting that the members include Jews, agnostics, atheists, and Hindis. “Despite the fact that they’re singing Christian music, these singers must translate [it] into their own personal interpretations.”

The Grinnell Singers will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, written from texts meant for the Russian Orthodox All-Night Vigil ceremony.

“Rachmaninoff is known for creating glorious piano concertos,” Rommereim said. “With these Vespers, he turned his focus and expertise completely toward the chorus … [which] became the vocal substitute for an orchestra.”

The composer’s Vespers is considered a crowning achievement at the end of Russia’s short-lived musical renaissance.

“The Vespers incorporates the roots of Russia’s past,” Rommereim said. “What’s poignant about this body of work is that, up until the Russian Revolution in 1917, there was a great flowering of music growing in the country that got completely decimated.”

He described the stifling reform of the Soviet era’s music in which the safest lyrics to chant included “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” or most plainly “La la la.”

Valentine said last year’s benefit as a success both in terms of raising money and merrymaking. He hopes the celebration of faith and diversity will become an annual event.

“We would love to see more growth in the church,” he said. “Which is greatly accomplished through reaching ourselves out into the community.”


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