The Classical Station’s interview with Daniel Gawthrop for Preview!

Interview with Daniel Gawthrop
by Bethany Tillerson (Photo credit: Daniel

Today’s Preview! guest, Daniel Gawthrop, is an accomplished composer of choral and organ pieces, and his motet Sing Me to Heaven has sold over half a million copies. His 2001 cantata, In Quiet Resting Places, has recently been re-recorded by Craig Jessop and the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra.

KENNEDY: Dan Gawthrop, tell our listeners about your cantata In Quiet Resting Places. What inspired us? Tell us about the text you set and who commissioned the work. 

GAWTHROP: In Quiet Resting Places was commissioned by the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation to commemorate the opening of the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship in Northern Virginia and received its world premiere in the concert hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. That was November 4th of 2001, so it goes back a few years. It’s scored for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. And I’ve been in the habit of calling it a choral symphony, but I think that was a marketing ploy, hoping that some directors would pick up a piece they might not look at if I called it a cantata. Anyway, it explores both vocal and instrumental colors, textures in a manner reflective of the natural beauties which are preserved and protected within the borders of that Center for Environmental Stewardship. 

The text blends verses from scripture and original material by my frequent lyricist, Jane Greiner, and does a fair amount of exposition on the idea of shared stewardship for our earthly environment. It draws on biblical accounts of creation and divine injunctions to cherish, protect, and nurture our planet. And the words of the chorus warn of the consequences of our failure to do so, but also promise that faithful care of nature’s glories will ultimately bring us to those quiet resting places. The premiere was given by the Master Chorale of Washington, with Don McCullough conducting, and I felt like we had a very fine first performance. It’s been exciting to see the work brought back to public performance with a fine recording by Craig Jessop, who has the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra in Logan, Utah. He founded that group some years back after he left his position at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, so I’m delighted to see that he has brought a fresh approach to the score, and the singing and playing were of the very highest quality. I’m excited about this new recording. I hope it will bring attention to the piece that it hasn’t had in the past. 

KENNEDY: What were the challenges for the choir in learning this wonderful piece? 

GAWTHROP: Choral singers sometimes need some time to get an unfamiliar work into their ears and become comfortable with it. The choral singers were challenged by the fact that both of the works on the concert were new and quite difficult, so they were pushed pretty hard. The plan originally was that the recording would be done the following week after the concert, and unfortunately COVID interrupted that plan, and so the recording was delayed several months. The advantage that accrued because of that was that they had additional time and additional rehearsals before they went back into the concert hall to actually record. The specific technical challenges are, as you would normally expect, mostly that it’s unfamiliar and that I like to write my harmonies fairly close. The singers sometimes have a little challenge with that, but they came through like professionals and it really sounds fun. 

KENNEDY: Then you also have a new recording of another work coming out. Can you tell our listeners about that? 

GAWTHROP: Well, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with organist Jan Kraybill, a very well-known concert artist who is established in the Kansas City area. And in February, she did her annual Super Bowl Sunday concert and ultimately decided to build the entire recital around this new piece of mine, A Requiem for Organ. I know of organ masses and some other liturgical movements that have been set by various composers for organ alone, particularly from the French classic period. But I’m not aware of very many other complete requiems set in a wordless fashion. Jan did a lovely job and the instrument, a huge Aeolian Skinner in the auditorium of the Community of Christ, just sounds wonderful on this piece. We’re excited that we’re about to have a fine recording of that work available for distribution as well. 

KENNEDY: Dan, thank you so much for sharing information about these wonderful new works with our audience here at The Classical Station. 

Join us for Daniel Gawthrop’s Preview! interview at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 30th! Listen on, on 89.7 FM, or on our app!