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Verdi Requiem – Opera in Disguise

Marlene’s Musings
January, 2015

MarlenePodiumShotWebThis is my fifth season as Music Director of the wonderful Wayzata Symphony Orchestra. I’m thrilled that a hallmark of the season will be our performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Orchestra Hall on Feb. 22, 2015.

I have been a lover of great singing since I was a kid. My paternal grandmother, though not an opera singer per se, was soprano soloist in their Lutheran Church in Austin, MN. She had the most glorious voice and would often hum as I nestled in for a cuddle on the couch. Very happy memories, indeed!

Although Verdi’s Requiem is not an opera, it cannot be performed or conducted unless one has a love and an understanding of opera. The four vocal soloists will be required to display virtuosity comparable to many of Verdi’s great arias. Our soprano will climb to a breathtaking high C at the climax of the final movement as she sings, “Deliver me, Oh Lord, from eternal death on that fateful day.” Spine chilling!

OrchHallSingersOur partners, Edina Chorale and Two Rivers Chorale, have been rehearsing for months. This is no walk in the park for singers. The Sanctus and Libera Me movements include masterful fugues that challenge the very finest of choirs. Their diction will have to be highly rhythmic in order to cut through the texture so that everything can be heard.

Everyone will be challenged by the extreme dynamic range which goes from f f f f to ppppp! One rarely sees five pianos in any score.

For Verdi, who was not religious, this work speaks about the fear of death in very human terms. He does not shy away from the thought that death and the afterlife might not be a pleasant experience. That fear of uncertainty is no more palpable than in the Dies Irae where the solo instrument is the bass drum. It is bone-crunching, terrifying music complete with 8 trumpets placed antiphonally, proclaiming the approaching day of judgment when all sins will be revealed.

This is dramatic music at its best and with Orchestra Hall as our venue, the electrifying energy in the music will be magnified onstage.

Carmina Burana

Marlene’s Musings
February, 2013

The fickleness of fate,
The treacherous territories of greed, lust and gluttony
The joy of spring
Love songs

220px-CarminaBurana_wheelThese are the age-old, timeless themes of Carl Orff’s amazing secular cantata, Carmina Burana. All of the texts were written during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Orff selected only 24 poems and writings from a huge and beautifully bound volume of 254 poems discovered in 1803 when the monastery, Benediktbeuern, was secularized. The title, literally translated, means Songs of Beuern.

I find the backstory of every piece of music fascinating but this one has special intrigue. Who were the poets? The texts are NOT AT ALL religious. In fact, some are bawdy and lascivious.

WHO WROTE THE TEXTS?

Probably travelling minstrels, defrocked priests, students satirizing the Catholic Church and many, scholars think, were written by the Goliards.

The Goliards were known for their rioting, gambling and intemperance rather than their scholarship. They were often erroneously supposed to have been a religious order, an idea that arises from their satiric order of St. Golias, the fictitious patron saint of debauchery. The actual word goliard may derive from the Old French and means “big mouth.”

You’ve heard of the troubadours, right? Well, the Goliards were to the Troubadours what John Belushi was to Sir Lawrence Olivier. Both the Troubadours and the Goliards earned food, drink and lodging from their songs and poetry. The audience for the troubadours was the high and mighty, so they created sophisticated songs for connoisseurs of music and poetry. The audience for the Goliards was the middle and lower classes, so the Goliards, who tended to be rebellious and irreverent, created witty songs for the connoisseurs of cynicism and raunch. Although the goliards were initially tolerated and protected, their multiplying numbers eventually turned into a plague of beggars and their irreverence provoked an increasingly conservative church hierarchy, which began suppressing the movement.

The texts are in three different languages – Old Provencal French, Middle German and Medieval Latin. This fact has caused quite a bit of angst for our fabulous singers. These are unfamiliar languages to all of them and to me. Making sure that every syllable is correctly pronounced has been quite a task. Since languages continue evolving, you can imagine the changes and morphing that has taken place since the texts were written 900 years ago! Is the “v” pronounced as a “v” or an “f?” Is “que” pronounced “kvay” or “kvee” or “quay” or “quee?” You get the idea.

THE MUSIC

170px-Carl_OrffEven if you don’t think you’ve heard the piece, I’m quite certain you will recognize the opening lines of “O Fortuna.” It has been used in movies, trailers, advertisements and commercials. Even at the 2013 Superbowl, when San Francisco rallied and it looked like they just might trump the Ravens, I heard the main theme. The text at that point speaks about never being too cocky about your good fortune. The goddess, Fortuna, whose wheel continues to turn, will elevate you and then debase you on a whim. It appears there is no escaping that inevitable part of human existence.

Musically speaking, there is almost no polyphony in the work. Rather, rhythm is the central feature. The piece is easy to listen to but far from pabulum. Even without motivic development or harmonic complexity, the texts are fascinating and the music riveting in its energetic and driven pace.

Carmina Burana is one of those pieces you’ll never forget – from the opening and most famous, “O Fortuna” to the greatest drinking song of all time, “In the Tavern,” to the rapturous high D in the soprano aria, “Oh, Sweetest One.”

A favorite of the soloist arias is “O Trutina.” The music is so glorious and tender as it accompanies such an internal struggle between virtue and desire.

With more than 200 people on stage this will be quite an event!

Everyone is working so hard. When the music is great, hard work is the gift we give ourselves in order to experience the powerful transformative feelings that only music can give. A reward in extremely valuable currency!

2012-13 New Season!

Marlene’s Musings
August, 2012

MarleneWithClarinetI am excited about another WSO season, having been fueled by a wonderful summer of conducting and playing. For 25 years I have spent summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming performing as part of the Grand Teton Music Festival. It’s a place where superb music making and majestic mountains inspire me to feel gratitude for the life I have. Musicians come from all over the country – New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Detroit, Milwaukee, Colorado, just to name a few – to make music with life-long friends and to hike up arduous paths to crystalline mountain lakes. Donald Runnicles, in my opinion, one of the world’s great conductors, leads the orchestra. Each week is a different program, but a stand out for me this summer was a concert version of Wagner’s Die Walkure with soloists from the Met and Berlin Opera. Spellbinding!

In mid-July I flew home to conduct the showcase concert for The Young Artist World Piano Festival. A competition is held to choose winners to play with the orchestra. There are two categories: under 12-years-old and over 12-years-old. This year, the winner of the younger division was William Yang, the wunderkind who played with WSO in February 2012. He performed the 2nd and 3rd movements of Mozart’s most difficult concerto, K. 466. It was INCREDIBLE! The winner of the older division performed the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto in c minor (same brooding key as his 5th symphony, Coriolan Overture and Pathetique Sonata). The cadenza under the adroit musicianship of Evren Ozell had us all tearing up.

Then it was off to Brainerd for the Lakes Area Music Festival. This was my third year, the first two as clarinetist and this one as conductor and clarinetist. Unlike other festivals around the country this one pairs professional players from the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago Symphonies with freshly graduated musicians from Juilliard, Eastman School and Music, Rice University and others. It is somewhat similar to the Teton Festival in that musicians are brought to a gorgeous area and housed in lovely abodes, but this festival provides mentoring for the young and some humble pie for the old! You can imagine how delightful it is to conduct an orchestra made up of both.

Now I’m ready to tackle the huge amount of study required for the WSO’s fourth season.

mannylaureanowebresCheck out this line up of guest artists:

  • Manny Laureano, principal trumpet, MN Orchestra
  • ANCIA Saxohpone Quartet, Selmer and VanDoren sponsored soloists
  • Kaleena Miller, tap dancer extraordinaire whose group, Rhythmic Circus, will be performing in New York City for a couple months this season
  • Edina Chorale, Minnesota BoyChoir, Karin Wolverton, Gabriel Pressier – for our performance of Carmina Burana in Feb and March 2013

 

There will be a lot of familiar repertoire, some rarely performed jewels and a premiere or two.

I look forward to sharing the incomparable WSO experience with you.

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