The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: After hearing a memorably beautiful performance of Verdi’s operatic Requiem, The Ear asks: Why do people enjoy singing and playing instruments together as a group? Let’s hear from the performers themselves.

April 27, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday night, I attended a performance of Verdi’s operatic Requiem given by the University of Wisconsin Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra with four soloists, all under the baton of UW choral director Beverly Taylor.

It was a special event – it always is – because it marked the first time the two large groups got to perform together in Overture Center’s trademark Overture Hall, which is beautifully designed and built, and has terrific acoustics.

It is also a necessary venue for this piece. When all the forces are assembled they are too big for the usual venue, Mills Hall, where the 120-year-old campus and community choir usually performs with the UW Chamber and Symphony Orchestras.

Indeed, when the magnificent Verdi Requiem has been done before, it  was not even in Mills but in the larger Stock Pavilion, the livestock barn or cow palace where the last time at least one soloist had an allergic reactions to the sawdust and straw. And it is not a good thing when a soloist’s throat starts closing up during a performance.

Anyway, there were no problems on that score this time.

It wasn’t a full house of 2,000 but it was close to it — a large audience, especially considering how many other events, including the Wisconsin Film Festival, were going on at the same time.

And I found much I liked about the performance. It was beautiful and moving, in part for personal reasons that many of us have but which I don’t want to write about. Great art should touch you personally. Then it becomes even greater, no?

I loved the way the two massive groups and four soloists were kept in balance, yet dialogued with each other and complemented each other. This memorial is a cathedral of sound that has lasted for good reason.

I especially loved the softer parts and the way conductor Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) shaped the sonic texture and quietness at  the comforting opening and in the etherial Lux Aeterna section near the end.

But I also loved the loud and operatically dramatic parts like the “Dies Irae.” I am convinced more than ever than Hell must indeed sound like loud brass and a beaten bass drum (at bottom) – though one can also argue that Verdi, pretty much a non-believer, might have been using that same combination not only to portray the Day of Wrath but also, as a friend remarked, to protest against the whole notion of Death and a Day of Judgment.

All the soloists — soprano Shannon Prickett, mezzo-soprano Marion Dry, tenor Aldo Perrelli and bass-baritone Tony Dillon — sang with beautiful tone and seemed pretty well matched to my ears.

But occasionally soprano Shannon Prickett (below) really soared above the others. You always felt she had even more volume to draw on, more force to spare; that she never strained or felt stretched to her limit, let alone beyond it. And her tone was consistently lovely.

The 180-voice chorus, mixed and not separated into parts, performed very well and stayed together to full effect, as did the 90-piece student orchestra.

Both helped you to appreciate what absolute mastery Verdi had over how to write effectively both for the human voice, singly or en masse, and for instruments, both alone and in combination.

But truth be told, the part of the performance that I really liked best. with something akin to envy, was watching the various singers and instrumentalists perform and seeing how much enjoyment they took from performing.

More than football, basketball or soccer, singing in a chorus or playing in an orchestra is my kind of team sport. I just don’t play either.

It was clear that everyone was having a terrific time up on the stage in front of family, friends and strangers as they brought to life an indisputably great choral and instrumental masterpiece.

They were having what I like to call “PROFOUND FUN.”

So more than a detailed review, what I really want to use today’s post for is to simply ask: Why do singers and instrumentalists like to perform and make music together as a group?

Is it because it brings you closer to great art and allows you to make great art, which you otherwise couldn’t do on your own?

Is it because you make friends and acquaintances you otherwise wouldn’t meet?

Is it because you feel emotionally and physically better by singing and performing?

Is it because you get a sense of belonging and solidarity?

Is it because the simple act of singing or playing gives you physical pleasure?

I suspect it is all of these and more. Certainly I have heard reviews, writers and analysts explain it in those ways. And I know what makes me feel good os a listener.

But I want to hear more directly, right from the horse’s mouth – from the Requiem’s Mouth, so to speak.

So I am writing and posting this in the hope that some or even many of the performers, vocal and instrumental, will post a comment about what they took out of the rehearsals and performance, and will explain first-hand what they so love about making music together as a group.

It can be a short comment, like a Tweet, or  a longer one – whatever the writer wants to say.

And since I am being deliberately derelict as a reviewer, here are links to other, more in-depth and more opinionated reviews.

Here is the review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=36564

And here is Bill Wineke’s review for WISC-TV’s website Channel3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/entertainment/Concert-Review-UW-Symphony-and-Choral-Union-perform-Verdi-masterpiece/-/1628/11415074/-/10tax0hz/-/index.html


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