“Luther” pop oratorio

Project of a thousand voices
Photo: epd-bild/Friedrich Stark

The choir project shines the spotlight on the beginnings and issues of the Reformation, with a regional project choir ranging from venue to venue from 1,500 to 2,500 voices and twelve musical soloists. In a modern Broadway piece featuring an orchestra and a band, writers Michael Kunze and Dieter Falk tell a fascinating tale of politics and religion focussing on the figure of Martin Luther – with catchy tunes and memorable lyrics. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther stood up to the demands of the seemingly overwhelming authorities, refusing to recant his criticism of the Church, following his conscious and encouraging us to do the same.

Luther is not a hero, but a gifted speaker with weak moments

Falk and Kunze had already worked together on the pop oratorium The Ten Commandments. For Luther, they have gone with a similar format, but with a much bigger choir. The show doesn’t try to tell the story of Luther’s life, but focuses on the Diet of Worms. The event allows us to see what sort of character Luther is, composer Dieter Falk told the epd. “He was a gifted rhetorician, of course, but one with a rough edge and his moments of weakness. It’s not a heroic tale, not a heroic history.” Lyricist Michael Kunze still considers Luther’s courage “almost heroic”. For Kunze, Luther opened the gates to individualism by listening to his conscience and resisting the conventions of his time.

Kunze says that he and Falk strove to make Luther’s issues accessible for people today. “Luther’s roots are still largely in the Middle Ages and hence we can only have a rudimentary understanding of his mentality and his thoughts,” says the 73-year-old. He doesn’t promise to tell the audience anything they haven’t heard before about Luther, but it might be possible “to bring the character to life” and show the man and not the monument.

“I want to think for myself“ – Pakistani refugee sings in the Luther oratorio

He is certainly one of the more unusual participants in the Luther oratorio: Pakistani refugee Hasan Nabeel is currently rehearsing for the performance of the pop oratorio in Düsseldorf in February. Before his involvement, he did not know who Martin Luther was.

Musically, the oratorio has a contemporary pop orientation. This does justice to the reformer, according to Kunze, who was very musical himself. Composer Falk agrees with Kunze in the epd interview: “There’s quite a bit of rock in some places, in keeping with this coarse figure of Luther.” It was also important to him that the original quotations are recognisable throughout the production. Some Luther hymns are re-arranged as big band swing numbers. “Luther was the first to bring pop music to church, with his choral adaptations of folksongs,” adds Falk.

But despite some parallels, the production is not a musical, says the 58-year-old Falk. While there is dance and some choreography, there is no scenery. “The best scenery we have is the giant choir. And our choir is not only in the foreground optically, but through the sheer number of songs they sing. Which is the same with an oratorio,” the composer explains.

An audience of 16,000 experienced the premiere of “Luther”

The pop oratorio “Luther – the Project of a Thousand Voices” had its world premiere in Dortmund’s Westfalenhalle on Saturday (31.10.15).

On a Train with … Michael Kunze

The oratorio’s premiere in Dortmund on Reformation Day in 2015 was attended by 16,000, and the premieres in Hanover, Stuttgart and Düsseldorf in the jubilee year of 2017 have all been great successes. In Düsseldorf Mayor Thomas Geisel served as patron of the performances – and also featured as a singer. He was one of almost 3,000 singers to entertain an audience of almost 16,000 in Düsseldorf’s ISS-Dome. Margot Käßmann, Special Envoy for the Anniversary of the Reformation of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), was also thrilled by the tour opener in Hanover. “I am sure some of the songs will become new Evangelical hits,” she said after the show.

The oratorio is touring the Federal Republic, culminating in a final performance in Berlin’s Mercedes Benz Arena in October. Along with Mannheim, Hamburg, Halle (Westphalia), Munich, Siegen and Witten, the tour also takes in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, with an open air performance in front of the Castle Church.