St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf celebrates sounds of the season with Christmas Festival at Orchestra Hall

The American Choral Directors Association featured two major performances of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival at Orchestra Hall during its national conference in March 2017.
The American Choral Directors Association featured two major performances of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival at Orchestra Hall during its national conference in March 2017.

The 2022 St. Olaf Christmas Festival, Promise of Peace, will take place at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis December 2 and 3. 

A tradition since 1912, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is one of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States. Led by five conductors, it features more than 500 musicians who are members of the college’s world-renowned choirs and orchestra.

St. Olaf Choir Conductor Anton Armstrong ’78 says the Christmas Festival Artistic Committee developed this year’s theme, Promise of Peace, as they tried to anticipate what the world would be grappling with as the end of another year draws near. 

“We finalized on this theme with the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine clearly on our minds. However, we were also cognizant of the strife and division in our own country, the impact of COVID in our lives, and the yearning for peace for each of us and the wider world,” Armstrong says. “As we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child, the Prince of Peace, it is our musical prayer that we hear the song and words of the angels: ‘Peace on the earth, good will to all.’ We fervently hope that this Promise of Peace will be felt by our student musicians and all who will hear the words and music proclaiming this message of hope, love, and peace at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival this year.”

The St. Olaf Christmas Festival is traditionally held on campus in Skoglund Auditorium, but this year audiences have the opportunity to attend the event at one of Minnesota’s premier concert venues. Orchestra Hall, located on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, is home to the Grammy Award–winning Minnesota Orchestra and is renowned for its acoustics.

This isn’t the first time that music from the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has been performed at Orchestra Hall. The American Choral Directors Association featured two major performances of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival at Orchestra Hall during its national conference in March 2017. Sharing the music of the Christmas Festival in a world-class professional venue was deeply impactful for St. Olaf student musicians — and now, five years later, the college is once again offering this opportunity to current students.

In addition to providing students with the opportunity to perform at Orchestra Hall, St. Olaf will also continue several of the traditions on campus that accompany the Christmas Festival each year.

A traditional Scandinavian buffet dinner will be available by reservation on Friday, December 2, in the Black, Gold, and Sun Ballrooms in Buntrock Commons. Stav Hall will also serve a traditional Scandinavian brunch buffet on Sunday, December 4, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Reservations are not required.

The St. Olaf Band will perform during Sunday morning worship at 10:30 a.m. in Boe Chapel. The St. Olaf Handbells will perform in Buntrock Commons following the Sunday morning worship.

A live video stream of this year’s Christmas Festival will also be available free of charge. Viewers can visit the Christmas Festival stream link on Saturday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. CST. The concert will be available to watch on-demand beginning Wednesday, December 14. Audio and video downloads and CDs of this year’s Christmas Festival will be available in early 2023.

As they prepare to perform at Orchestra Hall, student musicians share what they’re looking forward to about this year’s St. Olaf Christmas Festival, what they’re a little apprehensive about, and the role that music plays in their life.

Ruhama Solomon ’24 * St. Olaf Chapel Choir Co-President * Mezzo SopranoI have never been to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis before, and I am looking forward to performing in a different venue! It inspires and motivates me to perform to the best of my ability. Especially being one of only a handful of BIPOC singers in my choir and in general, it makes me proud to be recognized for one of my gifts. I am from Minnesota, so I have been to Minneapolis a multitude of times. My go-to restaurant has to be Afro Deli & Grill on Washington Avenue. I also like walking through Dinkytown, and I usually kick it with my friends who go to the University of Minnesota.

Jack Slavik ’23 * St. Olaf Choir President and Bass Section Leader * Bass IIWhen I found out about Christmas Fest changing venues, I wondered whether it would feel the same without an on-campus performance. At the same time, I have long wanted to perform in Orchestra Hall, and I am thrilled to sing in a venue with excellent acoustics. As preparation for Fest has continued, I’ve been excited about the change and am eager to see what the performances will look like this year. I anticipate that the audience might feel similar. Those who have spent years attending Christmas Fest performances in Skoglund may mourn the loss of that tradition, but once the audience hears the difference in sound in Orchestra Hall I think many will appreciate the performance even more. Minneapolis is an incredible hub for the arts and has a vibrant community of musicians of many styles and genres. To perform in an event at Orchestra Hall is a privilege, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to perform in such an extraordinary venue.

Will McIntyre ’23 * St. Olaf Choir Vice President * Bass I/BaritoneI love Minneapolis, and it has one of the U.S.’s best music, theater, and art scenes. I have seen many music and theater events in the Twin Cities, and it is amazing to think that we will be a part of the fantastic music scene there this December. I love Skoglund and having our community all together on the Hill, but acoustically and musically, this is the first time current music students have experienced this venue for Christmas Fest. Audiences will be able to hear much more clearly at Orchestra Hall, and although many factors feed mixed feelings about this transition, the artistry audiences will witness will hopefully overpower any mixed feelings.

Aaron Looney ’24 * St. Olaf Choir Student Manager * Tenor IITaking the Christmas Festival off-campus to Orchestra Hall is a game-changing opportunity. Of course, the festival is beautifully orchestrated each year regardless of our performance space, but the opportunity to perform in a venue known for such marvelous acoustics, and the anticipation for the music we can shape in the moment, is invigorating. My initial reaction was conflicted — there is a distinct atmosphere that descends upon the Hill when Christmas Fest rolls around — but I think this felicitous opportunity is one that will be memorable for both the performer and audience.

Ann Li ’23 * St. Olaf Orchestra Treasurer * ViolinI always look forward to performing in Christmas Fest simply because it’s such a huge collaboration on campus! I also really love the morale — everyone’s really excited to make music together, which is really lovely. I love Minneapolis, I love walking around Lake Harriet, and there’s a lot of free and incredible places to go to, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Tinto Kitchen is definitely my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis. Playing at Orchestra Hall is really special in my opinion, considering how the Twin Cities has such a rich tradition of musical performance. The St. Olaf Orchestra performed at Orchestra Hall last spring, which was a really rewarding experience musically. I’m a little bit excited and nervous, but mainly excited!

Micah Land ’23 * Cantorei Vice President * Bass II’m mostly excited because this is the first year my mom is coming to see Fest in person, and we’ll both get to experience a novel Fest in a world-class venue. It’ll be wonderful to sing in a real concert hall and not a gymnasium for the acoustic experience, both from a performer’s perspective and for the difference in sound quality that I hope the audience will hear. I was initially nervous because of logistics, but as we get closer I’m looking at it as a mini-tour for Cantorei, which is fun. I was at a Magnum Chorum concert recently, which is based in St. Olaf’s choral tradition, and it reminded me of why I’ve valued my Fest and choir experiences at St. Olaf so much: music ties you into a community larger than you could ever imagine, across time and distance, and it’s a privilege to share in that experience. It’s cool to think of my ensemble being on a marquee and being part of the larger Twin Cities music community in a more grounded way.

Kayli Keim ’23 * St. Olaf Choir Assistant Student Manager * Soprano IMy favorite part of performing in Christmas Fest is working with multiple conductors, making music with the other ensembles, and celebrating the holiday season. I am very excited to sing at Orchestra Hall for Christmas Fest! The last few years have had plenty of pandemic-related disappointments, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to sing off-campus in a beautiful performing space.

Sam Ivory ’23 * St. Olaf Orchestra President * TrumpetI’ve seen several artists in the Twin Cities: Kevin Morby, Bad Bad Not Good, and Father John Misty. I’ve also been to many Minnesota Orchestra concerts. I think that the Twin Cities have a great diversity of musical experiences. It’s awesome that we’re able to participate in the Twin Cities music scene, and it goes to show the level of excellence here at St. Olaf — that we’re performing in one of the biggest classical music venues in the area. St. Olaf plays a big part in the musical culture in Minnesota, and I think this is a perfect example of this.

Ella Cereghino ’25 * St. Olaf Orchestra * ViolaI love music most when I am part of something larger than myself, so I enjoy Christmas Fest because I know that it can be a meaningful yearly tradition for audience members. I am excited to play in Orchestra Hall and connect with the Twin Cities, and I think the venue will emphasize the quality of the music. A big part of Christmas Fest is also the feeling on campus, not only the music-specific component, so I hope that we can maintain the connection between campus and the performance, keeping opportunities for people on campus to attend and maintaining a feeling on campus similar to what it’s had during Fest in previous years.

Grace Alexander ’23 * St. Olaf Orchestra Concertmaster and Vice President * ViolinWhile I think it’s amazing how they can transform the Skoglund Gym into a full-blown elaborate music venue, the acoustics of the space are less than ideal. I am excited to perform in a space that was designed with the intention of having music performed there. As a Bachelor of Music performance major in violin, my hopeful career will involve performing in large music scenes, so this is a great practice for me professionally. I am anticipating that the Christmas Fest audience will enjoy the acoustical change, but I have a feeling that many of the alums will miss the nostalgia of having Fest on campus.