Holy Cross Lutheran Church announced the appointment of Michael Gilbertson as its new music director and organist, effective Aug. 25. Gilbertson, 26, is the sixth Music Director in Holy Cross’ 56-year history; he replaces Dr. Elina Christova, who served for seven years.

A native of Dubuque, Iowa,  Gilbertson has an extensive list of achievements for being a relatively short time into his career, beginning with his educational background. He is a 2010 graduate of Columbia University and the Juilliard School. This past spring he graduated from the Yale School of Music.

Gilbertson not only brings great skill at both the organ and piano, but his enthusiasm, drive and personality are traits that made him an attractive hire at Holy Cross. He also had previous experience with choirs, teaching music and as a substitute organist and music director at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Dubuque from 2002-2012.

Beyond his extensive training,  Gilbertson has amassed many creative credits. He is currently collaborating with playwright Caroline McGraw on an opera commissioned by the Washington National Opera, which will be premiered at The Kennedy Center as part of its American Opera Initiative in November 2013. (A synopsis of the opera is on the Kennedy Center website: kennedy-center.org/events/?event=OOOMB.

For five years Gilbertson has been the directing force behind “Juilliard in June,” a charity event in Dubuque that he runs where a handful of Juilliard musicians come and perform to benefit the Northeast Iowa School of Music, of which Michael is an alum. And prior to beginning his position with Holy Cross,  Gilbertson joined the faculty of The Walden School in New Hampshire during its five-week camp June 29-Aug. 4 (for students ages 9 to 18).

Gilbertson has been honored for his compositional skills and has been commissioned to write several pieces. At Juilliard he studied composition with composer and conductor Samuel Adler, Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning John Corigliano and Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winner Christopher Rouse. At Yale he was mentored by Aaron Jay Kermis, Martin Bresnick, Ezra Laderman and Christopher Theofanidis.  Gilbertson’s works have been programmed by ensembles including the Juilliard Orchestra, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Symphony in C, the Cheyenne Symphony, the Grand Rapids Symphony, the New England Philharmonic, the Yale Philharmonia, the Cedar Rapids Symphony, the Flint Symphony, the Michigan Philharmonic, the Rockford Symphony, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, Musica Sacra and Aspen Contemporary Ensemble.

He has earned five Morton Gould Awards from ASCAP, a BMI Student Composer Award, and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One of his Gould Awards, the orchestral piece, “Vigil,” inspired by vespers services of the Russian church, was also the winner of the 2007-2008 Palmer-Dixon Prize, awarded by the Juilliard composition faculty for the best student work of the year.

Gilbertson’s fifth ballet, a collaboration with choreographer Norbert De La Cruz, was premiered by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in July 2013. Also in 2013,  Gilbertson collaborated with choreographer Daniel Baker on “Ballet for Daniel,” which was commissioned by the New York Choreographic Institute and written for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. This was his second ballet composed and conducted for the N.Y. Choreographic Institute. In 2011, his “Music to an Imaginary Ballet” (originally “Ballet for David”), for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and cello, won the 2012 Buffalo Chamber Players International Composition competition. And he won the 2008 Vanguard Voices Composition competition for “Two Medieval Carols” for SATB chorus and piano. The piano trio “Fold by Fold” received the Israel Prize from the Society for New Music. His published music includes choral works with Boosey & Hawkes and G. Schirmer, and orchestral works with Theodore Presser. He has served as Composer-in-Residence since 2011 for Red Cedar Chamber Music.

But it is for Gilbertson’s organ and piano playing that Holy Cross is seeing immediate benefits as he begins his music ministry there.  Gilbertson has shown great feeling and sensitivity to the ebb and flow and emotion of the music, which encourages a similar response from the congregation. Such a feeling for church music can be traced to his background with the religious community. In his interview for the Holy Cross position he said the church is where he came to music and he’s based his musical desires on church life. He will use that church background, and an engaging personality, to teach and educate congregants in expressing their faith through music.