Christ Church Lutheran is known for music and modernism. This week fans of both will join together to preserve its historic building.

Some of the Twin Cities’ biggest classical music stars — headlined by Minnesota Orchestra maestro Osmo Vänskä — will perform Tuesday night to help finance the latest preservation projects at the south Minneapolis church, which also holds a special place in Minnesota’s Finnish-American community.

“It’s a good place to play,” Vänskä said. “The acoustics are good for music — for chamber music — and it’s a good place for the audience to listen. It’s a place not only for the congregation but also a venue for concerts.”

Funds raised by the concert will help Friends of Christ Church Lutheran raise the $150,000 it needs to reach its goal of $1.5 million. The money will go toward both restoration and modernization — including the installation of solar panels.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the church, 3244 34th Av. S. Tickets range in price from $40 to $100.

Built in 1949, Christ Church was designed by the Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen. and is considered one of his masterpieces. He is also known for designing the National Museum of Finland and the Des Moines Art Center.

“The design really rocked the world,” said Will Stark, an architect and volunteer for the Friends of Christ Church nonprofit, which allows community members to support the building without contributing to the parish. Stark specializes in historical preservation.

“Few, if any, churches were built in the modern design at the time. It was a way of looking at religion and spirituality in a modern way,” he said.

Saarinen’s son, Eero, picked up where his father left off. Eero, a famed architect of the mid-20th century, helped the church add an education building in 1962 after his father passed away.

Eero is probably best known for designing the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Since the 1950s, the Christ Church Lutheran building has served as a prototype for church design, attracting architects from around the world, Stark said.

Finnish ties

In addition to the architectural ties to Finland, Christ Church offers Finnish language classes.

“We appeal to the Finnish community,” pastor Kristine Carlson said. “They have a lot of respect and affection for Christ Church.”

Kate Nordstrum, the benefit concert’s producer, has some experience working with the church. For the past four years, Nordstrum has organized performances there by Accordo — a chamber ensemble of principal musicians from both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

“Beautiful architecture inspires the soul and inspires creativity. Musicians understand this viscerally,” she said in a statement. “Christ Church has long maintained a commitment to the arts and to music in particular.”

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra principal strings players Erin Keefe, Steven Copes, Maiya Papach and Anthony Ross will play alongside Vänskä on Tuesday.

Acoustics amaze

Eliel Saarinen’s design for the sanctuary, without square corners or parallel surfaces, allows sound to carry without amplification.

“The acoustics in the building are extraordinary,” Stark said. “It’s a great blend of architecture and music.”

Matthew Mehaffey, an associate professor of music at the University of Minnesota, said the concerts at Christ Church continue the church’s historic role in the creation of music. For a long time, working for the church was an important part of a musician’s livelihood.

“There’s just such a wealth of music composed for church spaces,” Mehaffey said. “Sometimes today, it still only feels right to perform those types of music in church spaces.”

 

Zoë Peterson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

zoe.peterson@startribune.com Twitter: @zlwp_