St. Olaf College | News

Alumnus wins Grammy for Best Choral Performance

Adam Luebke ‘02 holds his 2020 Grammy award for Best Choral Performance.

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards were unlike any other — held on March 14, 2021, before the vaccine became widely available, this event was necessarily adapted for the COVID age.

In 2021, there was no red carpet, no lavish parties. Instead, the Grammys were broadcast virtually with pop music icons like Beck, Billie Eilish, and Megan Thee Stallion calling in to accept their awards from home.

So when Adam Luebke ‘02 learned he won the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for the album “Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua,” he was miles away from the announcer on a soundstage who accepted the award on his behalf, along with fellow chorus master James K. Bass and conductor JoAnn Falletta.

Luebke credits the win to a stellar promotional campaign that launched the recording into the view of the nomination committee.

“We had a lot of great press around the recording from major national and international organizations, which really helped get the momentum going,” says Luebke. The album was also nominated for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Album, Classical.

“The Passion of Yeshua” tells the story of Christ’s final hours on earth by incorporating texts from Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Gospels. Its composer, Richard Danielpour, spent 25 years perfecting the score before its world premiere in 2018 at the Oregon Bach Festival.

Falletta led the piece at that premiere and brought it back to the East Coast to be performed by her ensemble, the Buffalo Philharmonic, which is when Luebke got involved.

Adam Luebke ‘02 conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.

Luebke serves as Music Director of Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Assistant Professor of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, united with UCLA Chamber Singers (led by Bass), provided the vocals for this recording.

Luebke joined discussions about the project with Falletta and Danielpour in 2016, and knew it was going to be an incredibly impactful experience for him, the chorus, and future listeners.

“I knew from that first meeting that this was a big deal,” says Luebke.

Because of his past experience working with Falletta, Luebke understood how she wanted the piece to be prepared and was able to trust his instincts. He also had some guidance from the piece’s premiere performance in Oregon. Danielpour also worked occasionally with Luebke and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, offering notes as the recording date drew near.

As a music director, Luebke strives to build emotional connections between his audience and the music. Because “The Passion of Yeshua” was a new composition with few performances prior to the recording, he pushed his ensemble to draw on past experiences and familiar pieces of music to help communicate a musical narrative that would feel whole and familiar during its recording.

“There was a lot of extra preparation for this piece,” says Luebke. “I added in extra rehearsals and weekend rehearsals — there was much more preparation for this piece than normal.”

While a student at St. Olaf, Luebke learned many important lessons from Tosdal Professor of Music and Conductor of the St. Olaf Choir Anton Armstrong ‘78. Things like how to program music, meet performance deadlines, and prepare for a performance over a long period of time — all lessons he relied upon to record “The Passion of Yeshua.”

Having to be a professional musician when you’re 19 and 20 is a big deal, because it sets you up to see what the world and music industry is like.Adam Luebke ‘02

“Having to be a professional musician when you’re 19 and 20 is a big deal, because it sets you up to see what the world and music industry is like,” says Luebke.

The St. Olaf Choir performing at Carnegie Hall.

While singing with the St. Olaf Choir, Luebke experienced a high level of professionalism and performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and at the world-renowned venues Severance Hall and Carnegie Hall. He also sang in small chamber groups, the Viking Chorus, and Early Music Singers (now St. Olaf Chamber Singers).

Even prior to attending St. Olaf, Luebke was a driven musician under Armstrong’s guidance. He participated in ALBEMARLE (the summer program of the American Boychoir School) run by Armstrong, and he later attended the Boychoir School before singing as a high school student in the All Eastern MENC Chorus that Armstrong conducted in 1998 in Baltimore, Maryland. Then, as a member of the NAfME All-Eastern Honor Choir, Luebke approached Armstrong about his interest in attending St. Olaf. Luebke remembers Armstrong then inviting him to lunch and “giving him the hard sell” about why he should come to St. Olaf.

“Dr. Armstrong has been a huge influence, and I would not be where I am today without his input and mentorship,” says Luebke.

After working with such a large chorus and orchestra to record “The Passion of Yeshua,” Luebke looks forward to switching things up and performing more chamber choral music. He says he has enjoyed being immersed in the production of “The Passion of Yeshua” from the ground up and looks forward to tackling his next challenge.