The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music interview: What makes Beethoven’s “Missa” massive? Hear it for yourself this weekend at UW (Part 2 of 2)

April 27, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday and Sunday nights, the UW Choral Union – a campus and community chorus – will team up with the UW Symphony Orchestra to perform Beethoven’s late and massive (85 minutes long) “Missa Solemnis,” Op. 123.

Performances are in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $8 for seniors over 62 and students. Call 262-2201 or 265-ARTS or 252-1500. Tickets will be sold at the door starting 30 minutes before the performance.

I recently asked Beverly Taylor (below), the director choral activities at the UW School of Music and the assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, to discuss the Missa, which she will conduct after a semester of rehearsals.

What follows is the second of a two-part interview with Taylor. The first part was posted Monday.

Are there particular parts you would direct the attention of the general public to? Which ones and why?

In the slower sections such as the Kyrie, Agnus Dei and Sanctus, listen for the wonderful chorale-like writing for the orchestra, while the soloists, who operate as a quartet most of the time, weave intricate dialogues in and out of the texture.

In the Gloria, it’s the Kentucky Derby, a pep rally and Nascar rolled into one, with an overall acceleration built in.  The Credo uses the word Credo (I believe) repeatedly throughout the work to announce various sections.  Beethoven uses some typical text painting—“Descendit de coelis”  — he descended from the heavens,   “et invisibilium”—believing in invisible things is very quiet— but he uses several twists to expectations, such as the tender start to the Sanctus, instead of a heroic one.

Given the overall popularity of Beethoven, why is the Missa not heard and performed more often?

It is so vocally demanding, and the orchestral challenges are great as well.  And the soloists not only have to be good singers, but have to be astute musically and able to work well with the other soloists.

Is there a recording of the Missa you recommend?

I own the Robert Shaw recording with Atlanta, which I like, but I know there are other good ones out there.

How have the tight budgets of the state and the UW affected the Choral Union)?

More of our soloists now are in-house; if we do a work such as the Verdi Requiem, which requires several adult opera singers for power, it costs much more; at present I don’t have those funds.

I also have to alternate works that are in the public domain, where orchestral parts can be bought or rental is low, with the more modern works that come with heavy rental tags.

We also can not always afford to rent larger spaces, at least not every semester.  Mills is great for many concerts, but for the ones with Choral Union and the UW Symphony (shown below, rehearsing in Mills Hall), it’s a very tight fit on stage; I look forward to a more friendly stage in the new facility.

What can you say about next season’s programs by the Choral Union? Is there truth to the rumor you might perform a major work in Overture Hall? Which one and when?

I can confirm that we’ll perform Handel’s wonderful “Israel in Egypt” next fall, with the UW Chamber Orchestra.  With the smaller orchestra we fit onstage, and we choose repertoire that fits their makeup.  We have some really wonderful string players at the UW, and that’s always exciting for the Handel.

I’m hoping some of our faculty vocalists will perform with us.  Although we’ve picked a performance date for the spring, we may alter it slightly in order to perform in Overture Hall; I’m looking into the funding possibilities for that and have to check out a few things with colleagues before that’s confirmed.

If we go to Overture, the work most likely will be the Brahms Requiem, but if we stay in Mills it might be another work.

BONUS: Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting soloists and the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam in the Benedictus from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis:

Posted in Classical music

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