The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 20, 2013

Bethany band preparing to premier work of biblical proportions

There might only be one person alive who's composed works commemorating both the Grateful Dead and the biblical story of Noah's Ark.

And that man, Gustavus Adolphus College alum and Minnesota native Lee Johnson, will debut his work exploring the latter during a performance Saturday with the Bethany Lutheran College band.

"We're going to be premiering it," said Adrian Lo, director of instrumental music at Bethany, who is also a former classmate of Johnson's at Gustavus. "We're a very small group, but we'll hold our own."

The Georgia-based composer who is a music instructor at LaGrange College arrived in town Thursday with rehearsals commencing later that day. Though Bethany's band numbers only 28 students — which is fewer even than most high school bands — Lo said there's more than enough talent to carry the moody, atmospheric score to its proper conclusion.

"This ain't your daddy's Noah Ark," Lo said. "It's serious and dark — a very interesting perspective."

Johnson is perhaps most widely as the mind behind "Dead Symphony: An Orchestral Tribute to the Music of the Grateful Dead," a highly praised and intricately woven work recorded with the Russian National Symphony.

But he has also composed five symphonies, numerous chamber works, four musicals, two operas, choral and vocal works, works for ballet theater, feature and experimental film, and hundreds of works for multimedia and interactive technologies. He has performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, Taliesin Orchestra, The American Rock Orchestra and Cyberlin Philharmonia (in addition to the Mankato Symphony Orchestra), garnering a long list of accolades along the way.

As for "Noah," the piece is written for a band with the addition of a few stringed instruments and a narrator. Lo characterized the piece as "more dramatic than melodic" and said the Bethany band would be including the work during performances for its fall tour.

If You Go What Bethany band premier of "Noah" When 3 p.m. on Saturday Where BLC's Trinity Chapel Admission Free

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