EOU professor experiences An audience with the pope

By Dick Mason, The Observer July 19, 2011 09:53 pm

Leandro Espinosa, an EOU music professor and the director of the Grande Ronde Symphony, during his recent visit to Vatican City.
Leandro Espinosa, an EOU music professor and the director of the Grande Ronde Symphony, during his recent visit to Vatican City.

Leandro Espinosa writes musical score for special celebration

Two years of sleepless nights did not get the best of EOU Music Professor Leandro Espinosa.

A new exhibit at Vatican City is proof. It is evidence that Espinosa is now in internationally select company after writing a musical score that took more than two years to finish.

Espinosa is one of 60 artists from throughout the world chosen to help Pope Benedict XVI celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination as a priest. The 60 artists submitted works to Pope Benedict for an anniversary celebration and exhibition commemorating his ordination.

Espinosa wrote a musical composition for the celebration, conducted in Vatican City in late June and early July. Pope Benedict met with Espinosa on July 4 to thank him for the work.

The meeting was powerful for Espinosa, who said Benedict radiates an extraordinary sense of spirituality.

“There is a very special light. There is tremendous power, you can feel it,’’ said Espinosa, who returned to La Grande several days ago.

Espinosa was one of only six composers asked to submit works celebrating the 60th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination. The composers include Arvo Part, a classical composer from Estonia considered one of the best composers of sacred music in the world.

The EOU music professor, who is also director of the Grande Ronde Symphony, was asked to write the piece a little more than two years ago by the Vatican. He was asked to compose the work after he directed a performance of one his works in 2008 at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome during the closing the International Festival of Organ of Morelia.

Espinosa immersed himself in the project, balancing his composing work with his responsibilities as a professor and director of the Grande Ronde Symphony. The pressure took a toll.

“I was sick and did not sleep well for two years,’’ Espinosa said.

The music professor needed help and he received it from EOU, which granted him a sabbatical last summer that provided the time needed to focus his efforts on completing his work.

“When I can focus without interruptions, I function much better,’’ Espinosa said.

He wrote his piece in Latin. Composing it in this language presented special challenges because syllables are used differently. Espinosa, who grew up in Mexico, was aided by the fact he has studied Latin since he was a child.

Espinosa wrote three versions of his piece — one for a large orchestra, another for a normal-sized orchestra and a third for an organ and a choir. He was asked by the Vatican to compose the piece for the organ because it wants to boost its fading heritage.

“(The organ) is the instrument of civilization. The organ’s place in Western culture is being forgotten,’’ said Espinosa, who came to Eastern in 2001 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Espinosa’s piece, which consists of more than 1,000 pages when all three versions are counted, has seven movements, two of which have been performed by musical groups in Rome. Professional recordings of the performances were made and presented to Pope Benedict.

His musical score and all the works created by the 60 artists for the ordination anniversary celebration will be displayed in Vatican City through Sept. 4. The works also include paintings, sculptures and poetry.

The exhibit has special meaning for Espinosa because he realizes how deeply Pope Benedict appreciates the value of art.

“He believes the world can not change unless artists remember the spirit in man.’’