Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Why would I want to spend part of a Sunday listening to a Requiem?"

I just wrote this over on SmallerIndiana, and I figured it would fit here, too. It contains more information about what the "Requiem" piece is like and what to expect when you attend the concert on Sunday.

Having grown up in the orchestra program of Carmel-Clay Schools, I'm probably more into classical music than the average person. I hope, though, that you'll consider joining me and almost 200 other musicians for a concert this Sunday, to hear the Indianapolis premiere of a piece that debuted at the opening and re-dedication of the Mormon Tabernacle just a little over a year ago.

The centerpiece of the concert is "Requiem," a stirring composition by Mack Wilberg, music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If you're big into church music (and, come on, who isn't these days?!), then you already know that Wilberg is widely known as one of the foremost composers and arrangers of spiritual music in the world today. If you happen not to be big into church music, I'll share with you what I've learned along the way about how we'll be performing the "Requiem" and why this piece is special.

If you'd like to save your eyeholes and use your earholes, just click on the player below. Otherwise, read on!

I think the most important thing to know about this "Requiem" is that it's not all dead people, dying, doom and gloom. In fact, Wilberg intentionally set out to compose what he describes as "a requiem for the living." The setting builds on the centuries-old tradition of a requiem (a Mass for the dead) but makes it contemporary and accessible by opening the Latin and Greek choruses up with familiar scripture in English. The ethereal Latin and tumultuous Greek are interwoven with passages like "The Lord is my shepherd..." and "How lovely is they dwelling place..." as performed in English by baritone and mezzo-soprano soloists.

Before we started rehearsing Wilberg's "Requiem," my only requiem reference point was from the movie "Amadeus," where Mozart is commissioned by a scary guy in a scary mask to write a requiem, only to die before he could finish. Morose, right? So I was reluctant to dive head-first into a concert whose centerpiece would be so dark and foreboding. But, it turns out, Wilberg's piece doesn't really have that tone at all; rather, it's uplifting and inspirational. A rundown of the seven movements (yes, seven! be strong -- it's only about 35 minutes, start to finish) is below. You can listen to clips from Movements 1, 5, 6, and 7 in the audio preview above.

1. Requiem Aeternam
A movement for the choir, introducing the requiem itself and reflecting the traditional requiem theme: "Give them eternal peace, Lord." Though this movement starts out somewhat bleak and dark, it transitions quickly to more soaring passages. Performed in Latin.

2. Kyrie
A lively, even stormy, movement for choir and baritone soloist, wherein we (humankind, the world) cry out for mercy. ("Kyrie eleison" is translated, "O Lord have mercy.") The turbulent orchestration is almost cinematic, as the realities of our humanness conflict with the promise of eternal life. Performed in Greek and English.

3. I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes
The first of three scriptural passages from the Book of Psalms. This movement contains some of the most moving music of the piece, with the message of the psalmist dancing back and forth between the soloist and the choir. Performed in English.

4. How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place
The second of the three Psalms texts, performed entirely by mezzo-soprano soloist. The high wind instruments mimic bird calls throughout the piece, and it will be easy to imagine sparrows and swallows flitting around the concert space. The orchestration alternates between bright and dark, bleak and promising. Performed in English.

5. O Nata Lux
A calm and ethereal movement sung by the entire choir that offers a prayer that we may be worthy of God's love. Performed in Latin.

6. The Lord Is My Shepherd
The third, and perhaps most recognizable, text from Psalms. This movement is performed entirely by the baritone soloist and follows Psalm 23, a stirring and soaring expression of God's promise to us and our trust in God. Performed in English.

7. I Am the Resurrection and the Life
The final movement of the piece returns to musical themes from the first and second movements and adds even more uplifting and inspirational themes. Performed in English and Latin.

Even if you normally wouldn't be up for an experience like "church music on a Sunday afternoon," this concert will be a great refuge from the noise and chaos of the world. You are welcome to join us, whatever your faith background -- sometimes just letting the music wash over you is the most spiritual experience (non-denominational) you can have.

I hope you'll consider joining us for the concert this Sunday, March 22, at 4:00pm, at St. Luke's United Methodist Church: 100 W. 86th Street. The concert is free to all persons, and a free-will offering will be received. You can click here for more details.

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