Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Concert Reviews - March 2013

Part of a series of reviews of concerts I attend. Select "Concert Reviews" from the list of labels in the sidebar to see all of them.


Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra
Concerto Competition Honors Concert
Friday, March 1
Edman Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

I began March with what had been one of my most-anticipated events as an undergraduate music major, the Wheaton College Concerto Competition Honors Concert. In October/November of each year are the four divisional concerto competitions (generally with piano accompaniment), and the winner of each division then performs his or her piece with the full orchestra in the first part of the spring semester. This concert also features a performance of the piece that won that year’s Alumni Composition Prize.

The concert began with that winning piece, David Christensen’s This is a Poverty for soprano voice, alto voice, piano, and percussion. The text includes excerpts from the Bible, famous speeches, and a fictional Twitter feed. I had not heard a work like it before, and I applaud David for his creativity.

The orchestra took the stage and the four divisional winners performed: Mark Franklin, Rebecca Weddle, and Justin David played a Carl Maria von Weber piano concerto, Samuel Barber violin concerto, and Mozart clarinet concerto, respectively, and Olivia Doig sang an aria from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. All four played or sang with obvious passion and enjoyment, not to mention technical and artistic brilliance. I had missed last year’s Honors Concert (my first year after graduation), so I was glad to be able to see this year’s, one of the last years in which I will actually know the soloists and composer.

Chicago Brass Festival
Chicago Brass Band
Fine Arts Center Auditorium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois

The 2013 Chicago Brass Festival featured several concerts, including this one that I saw, by the Chicago Brass Band, under the direction of Dr. Colin Holman. The CBB describes itself as “formed in the British band tradition but with a Chicago flair.” It is certainly a musically excellent and sonically powerful group.

The Chicago Brass Band // Colin Holman, Music Director

The showpiece of their program (though all their selections were well-received) was “‘Rextreme’ Concerto No. 2 for Trumpet” by James M. Stephenson (who was present) with virtuoso Rex Richardson playing the solo part. The piece is something of a showcase of a trumpeter’s skills – and I say trumpeter, not trumpet, intentionally, for Mr. Richardson used no fewer than three different instruments: a Bb trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and flugelhorn.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bronfman plays Bartok
Tuesday, March 12
Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, Chicago, Illinois

This concert was not one I had really been considered until an invitation arrived to attend a special pre-concert event. The Institute for Learning, Access, and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was releasing a new set of Dream Out Loud media, and had invited Chicago-area educators for a preview and brief remarks. The invitation came with an offer of a discounted ticket to the concert. I was only able to enjoy the first half of the concert, but there were more than enough musical treats before intermission.

The first work was Debussy’s Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun.” Not being a flutist or a scholar of French classical music, I know the piece more by reputation than anything else, but I enjoyed the peacefulness of the music – a ten-minute oasis of gentle music in the middle of a bustling city on a weeknight.

After a set change, it was now time for Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto. Not being a piano player (can you tell why this concert was never on my list to begin with?), I knew nothing about this piece, so I had spent a few minutes with Wikipedia that afternoon to learn what was coming. I learned that it was one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire.

It showed. From my vantage point in the front row of gallery, I had an unobstructed if distant view of soloist Yefim Bronfman’s ferocious technique. I was also thrilled to see and hear that this concerto required quite a bit of work from the low brass section – all the wind players really; there were a few minutes when the piece could have been appropriately titled Concerto for Piano and Wind Ensemble. The concerto is written in an arch form, with fast outer movements and a slow inner movement – and an inner movement with a fast middle.

In response to a standing ovation, Bronfman played a short work by Scarlatti as an encore, before waving good night.

Wheaton College Artist Series
Harlem String Quartet
Friday, March 22
Edman Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

After a heavy-duty mid-season for the Artist Series, the last quarter began with a smaller yet still excellent act, the Harlem String Quartet. The Harlem Quartet is a relatively young group, only first formed in 2006. In addition, the current violist and cellist have only been with the group since November. Harlem was formed by a separate entity, the Sphinx Organization, which administered scholarship competitions for young Black and Hispanic musicians.

Harlem brought a diverse program, beginning with a Mozart quartet, making their way through Chick Corea’s “Adventures of Hippocrates” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A-Train,” and concluding with Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.

With the exception of “A-Train,” which I knew from my school jazz band days, the other items were unfamiliar to me (though I knew the name and reputation of the Schubert quartet), so it was a treat to be introduced to some new music. All of it was played with precision and passion – the best concerts, in my opinion, are those where the musicians are clearly enjoying their work, and Harlem was decidedly doing so.

The Harlem String Quartet in Edman Chapel

Have you heard any good concerts lately? Share a review in the comments section below!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Model for Leaders

Are you a leader in any capacity? Are you a teacher, minister, or in some leadership position in the business or arts worlds? A few weeks ago, my senior pastor, Dr. Todd Wilson, preached a sermon that I found particularly challenging in my capacity as a leader.

His text was John 10:1-21, where Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd and gives an extended illustration. From those verses, Todd outlined the qualities of a good leader, specifically a good pastor of a church, but when I spoke with him afterward (as well as with my small group about the sermon), he (and they) agreed that it could easily apply to teachers, and other leadership capacities.

Watch the whole sermon - it will be worth your time!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Secularism and Christianity - Are Christians Losing?

Does the increasing secularism in the Western world over the last half-century spell doom for followers of Jesus Christ and our mission to make disciples of all nations? There is, of course, no end to the books, blogs, and other media that answer in the affirmative.

However, I would answer in the negative. I do not believe that our present postmodern world is poised to defeat Christianity. Far from it.

First of all, followers of Jesus and the institutional Church have always had opposition, though it has taken vastly different forms over the centuries and within different cultures. It is true that the Enlightenment was a significant turning point in the Church’s role as an institution in the West (that is a whole separate discussion), but there are more Christians alive today, in 2013, than there are in heaven.

Secondly, Scripture affirms that the Church is not going anywhere.

The prophet Isaiah records the LORD saying, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (55:10-11)

Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, promised to build His Church, and promised that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). If the powers of hell cannot bring down the Church, then the worldly forces of secularism cannot even make a dent – as evidenced by the population statistic I stated above.

One final Scripture: Hebrews 12:18-29 speaks of God’s “unshakeable kingdom.” Take a few minutes to read in full this sweeping declaration of the awesome reality.

Thus, the whole of Scripture, from the prophets to the early Christians to the words of Jesus to Peter, affirms that the Church is not going anywhere.

And there is further evidence.

Several years ago, John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge (the editor-in-chief and management editor, respectively, of The Economist) wrote a book, God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World (Penguin Press, 2009). Their central thesis, as implied by the title, is that Christianity is in fact growing around the world at the popular level, even as the institutional state becomes more secular.

More recently, Mark Galli and Andy Crouch of Christianity Today wrote a piece for the March 2013 issue of the magazine, “The Future of Today’s Christianity.” (Well worth reading in full – this was the piece that refined my thinking on this issue.) Near the end, they state:

The church that Christ promised to build survived the license of Corinth, the legalism of Galatia, and the lukewarmness of Laodicea. It will survive, and more than survive, in our time, because it is built not by human hands but by Christ himself. He constantly renews and reforms his people. He breathes new life and new forms into being in response to institutional decay. And every day he calls sinners from every nation to himself, transforming them into sons and daughters in a new family.

And then they say, “We cannot imagine a more exciting time to be Christians than today,” a sentiment I find much more agreeable than dire warnings. Christianity is not going anywhere – God has promised so.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Articles of the Week - Francis I

It has been quite some time since my last "Articles of the Week" installment. In truth, by midday Wednesday, I had been thinking I should pick a topic to highlight at the week's end, because I had come across a number of good articles on several different topics of personal interest (for some of those, see my re-Tweets).

But then Wednesday midday rolled around, and the news of the election of a new pope. Here are a few of the thoughts I have read this week about it all:

  • On Wednesday morning, Timothy C. Morgan at Christianity Today shared his thoughts on why Protestants should care about the papacy (the piece also appears in the April print issue).
  • Thursday morning, the Chicago Tribune editorial board shared its thoughts on the reputation of "Father Jorge," and James Weiss of Boston College offered his predictions about the Francis papacy.
  • The Economist had to effect a quick turn-around, but its report on the Francis election, with editorial thoughts on the new pope's opportunities (and likelihood) to effect great change, made it to press.
  • Back at Christianity Today, Ruth Moon outlined the (many positive) implications of the Francis papacy for the evangelical Christian world, and Melissa Steffan interviewed evangelist Luis Palau on his friendship with and thoughts on Francis I.
  • Josh Moody of College Church offered five sobering truths about the pope in the midst of the excitement.
  • Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition listed nine "things you should know about the papcy."

Have you come across any good articles, blogs, or columns on this topic? Share a link in the comments section below!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Praying through Today and Tomorrow

"As our body cannot live without nourishment, so our soul cannot live without prayer," St. Augustine said.

I thought I would share how I conduct my daily prayers.

(First, though, I should note that I pray more than once a day. What follows is a description of my extended, end-of-the-day personal time of prayer.)

When I was in junior high, I was introduced to the ACTS method of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. About a year ago, though, I switched to a somewhat different method, that of praying through the day just finished and the day about to come.

As I think back on the day that is ending, I offer praises, confessions, and petitions to God based on the events, in the sequence they occurred. For example, I will thank God for a safe commute to work. I may then repeat prayers offered during the morning staff prayer time. If a particular student was struggling with something (or particulalry successful with something, also), I will then pray for him or her. And so on. The reason I find this method a bit more helpful than ACTS is that some events in a given day merit some combination of the four types of prayer in ACTS, and thus I can spend extended time on one event/concern without feeling like I have to wait to talk to God about it in a different way.

Then I move on to tomorrow, praying through everything I have planned for that day. From there, I move onto less time-specific concerns, such as praying for family members, friends, colleagues, institutions, and current events.

Naturally, I may abandon this method if on one day something is weighing very heavily on my heart, but thinking about each specific request I make to God within the context of "praying through the day" helps me keep perspective on what is on my heart and mind, and that perspective in turn helps me see how God is working through everything I experience.

Do you have a certain way you structure your prayer time? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

An Enacted Parable

Bible Trivia Question: Which of the four Gospels does NOT have any parables?
Answer: John

My senior pastor, Dr. Todd Wilson, might beg to differ.

His sermon last weekend, on John 9, was titled "An Enacted Parable of the Son's Mission." It is one message in his current series, "Come and See: (Re)Discovering Jesus in John's Gospel."

The passage has the heading "Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind" in the English Standard Version, and while John does chronicle such an event in this passage, as Todd points out, the passage is about so much more than that miracle. In the conversations that happen after the miraculous healing, we find an exposition on Jesus' mission in the world - and with it a challenge to the church for all ages. Listen to this exciting sermon for more!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

An Open Letter to Wheaton College

Dear Wheaton College,

Many alumni, including me, regularly read the confessions made via the Wheaton Confessions page. Many of the posts have made me roll my eyes, shake my head, and think, “Only at Wheaton…” And I am not judging at all when I say that – I love Wheaton’s uniqueness, and I am eternally grateful to have been part of it!

Other confessions, though, have broken my heart. The revelations that someone has deeply hurt the confessor. The confessor who made up a reason for not going to the President’s Ball to avoid speaking the real reason. The cynical, the depressed, the bitter, the frustrated, the disappointed, and the lonely. Those on the receiving end of harsh, senseless, thoughtless judgment. Those young men and women struggling with same-sex attraction who fear seeking counsel. Those longing for a hug.

Some may wonder, what is the root cause of all this suffering beneath the surface of the quick wit, good looks, and full course load of the typical Wheaton student?

Friends, it is not unique to Wheaton. The church at large struggles with hiding its brokenness beneath the surface. For it is simply this – our broken, sinful, fallen state – that is the cause of many of the confessions. I say this not to blame or judge anyone, but to acknowledge the reality of our condition. I think the “beneath the surface” phenomenon is magnified at Wheaton because it is a small community that lives together during one of the most precarious times of life – that time when you are first free from your parents’ ubiquitous influence and you have to (begin to) decide who you are. It is also the first time most students have been in a residential, explicitly Christian community, and the shock of discovering all the brokenness is painful after all the wide smiles in admissions office brochures. Much has been written and said about this phase by wiser and more verbose people than me.

The point, to put it bluntly, is that every single member of the Wheaton community is a sinner. Every one has broken the Covenant – and I do not mean “breaking” in the sense of purposefully disregarding the prohibitions against, e.g., alcohol. In the section “Living the Christian Life,” the Community Covenant affirms several marks of the Christian lifestyle, based on Scripture. These include “show evidence of the Holy Spirit,” “love and side with what is good in God’s eyes and abhor what is evil,” and “be people of integrity.”

I fell short of these marks when I was a student at Wheaton. But truthfully, if I could have chosen anywhere to be when I fell short, it would be Wheaton.

I agree fully with Confession #48 and later ones like it: “I actually really like Wheaton. I’ve been blessed by my professors and have grown incredibly in my faith. Wheaton is a broken place full of sinners, but I’m so glad I’ve been here.”

That was my experience, and the experience of countless other alumni. Many of us alumni pray for you all – every day. We pray that God would be your strength in times of weakness and your joy in times of sorrow. We pray that God would fill you with the Holy Spirit as you sharpen your minds and soften your hearts to reach this lost and broken world that He loves so much. In even the two years since I graduated, I have cried out to God many times to cover the college community with His Spirit.

And so, Wheaton, if I may, let me offer you but one challenge. Run to the Cross. Run. To. The. Cross. Fall prostrate at the feet of Jesus. His endless grace has covered all your stains, and made you whiter than the first beautiful, pristine snowfall that covers the campus every winter. His death has made the way for you to be reconciled with God. His resurrection changed the course of human history, and it can change your life, and those of your roommates, classmates, teammates, lab partners, chapel buddies, CFAs, and the people you see at Sunday brunch, dressed in their Sunday best but hurting so much on the inside.

This is not an easy fix. There is no easy fix to all that plagues us in the already but not yet. C.S. Lewis noted that nowhere does Scripture promise the Christian an easy life. The exact opposite is a better reading of Christ’s words. Christ Himself suffered beyond all we can comprehend. But Christ, just before He ascended into heaven, promised the disciples His everlasting presence and help in time of need. That is what I (and many, many other alumni) pray for you every day – that you would stop relying on your own strength, but rather reach out and grasp the hand that reaches down from heaven. It is the hand of the Lord Jesus, who died not just so that you would live, but that so you would flourish. That you would find healing and restoration beyond your wildest dreams.

I say this not as someone who has “figured it all out.” Far, far from it. But I hope my words may be of some encouragement to you all as you approach each new day at Wheaton.

Run to the Cross, Wheaton! Find there all you need and so much more.

With love and prayers for God's grace,

Eric Joseph Rubio ‘11