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Community music groups to perform Brahms’ German Requiem

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra celebrates 50 years to the day of incorporation with a performance, along with the Bethel College Oratorio Chorus, of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), one of the first works the orchestra performed in its inaugural year of 1956.

The chorus and NMKSO will present their annual Masterworks concert at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 7, in Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus.

The conductor is Jonah Kliewer, instructor in the Bethel College’s choral music department during professor of music William Eash’s sabbatical. Kliewer retired in 1998 after a 23-year tenure as professor of choral music at Tabor College, Hillsboro.

Soloists are soprano Holly Swartzendruber, Hillsboro, and bass Glenn Litke, Marion.

Swartzendruber has a bachelor of arts degree in music from Goshen (Ind.) College, a master’s degree in vocal performance with a pedagogy emphasis from Ohio University and a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Kansas. She was also the soprano soloist in last year’s Bethel College Masterworks performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Swartzendruber is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda and the National Association of Teachers of Singing. She is currently assistant professor of voice at Tabor College, maintains a private voice studio of high school students and adjudicates regionally and statewide.

Litke has degrees from Tabor College and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Besides teaching private voice and related courses, he has served as conductor of the Tabor College Chorale and the Liberty University Concert Choir in Lynchburg, Va., director of vocal ensembles at Grace College of the Bible in Omaha, Neb., and conductor of the Berean Academy High School Choir, Elbing. Litke is an accomplished soloist with a broad orchestral repertoire, including 14 engagements as soloist with the Bethany College Messiah Festival in Lindsborg. He has performed with the Nebraska Choral Arts Society, Nebraska Opera Ensemble, Voices of Omaha, Fine Arts Society of Lynchburg, Reno Choral Society of Hutchinson, Wichita Choral Society, Wichita Chamber Chorale and in numerous churches and recital halls. Litke is actively involved in farming, as well as in church music, vocal performance, choral clinics and adjudicating.

Kliewer, professor emeritus of music at Tabor College, Hillsboro, has a bachelor of arts degree from Tabor College, a master of arts from the University of Kansas and a doctorate from the University of Southern California. He has sung in the Shaw Festival Chorus and with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and currently with Conspirare in Austin, Texas. He is also a member of ON WITH THE SHOW, a Newton-based mixed quartet that performs show tunes, and sings with the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus.

Brahms composed his seven-movement Requiem (a mass for the dead) in 1868. In contrast to most previous requiems of this kind, the text is written in German instead of Latin and the emphasis is on comforting the living instead of praying for the dead.

“I chose the German Requiem because it is one of my favorites,” said Kliewer, “and I knew that it had not been performed here [at Bethel] for at least nine years.

“I’ve done Brahms many times,” he continued. “I feel at home with it. Brahms as a musical craftsman is peerless.”

The Bethel College Oratorio Chorus is comprised of 75 members of Bethel College’s choral groups and ¬¬ 60 singers from surrounding communities. Professionals, Bethel College students and area musicians make up the 45-piece Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of NMKSO. Orchestra founders Elvera Voth, Lenexa, and Gary Fletcher, Wichita, will be honored guests at the Masterworks concert, and a post-concert reception will kick off the NMKSO’s anniversary celebration.

Tickets for the German Requiem are available at Thresher Bookstore in the Schultz Student Center on the Bethel campus, phone (316) 284-5205, or at the door. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students. All seats are general admission.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at

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