Monday, September 14, 2015

A Masterful Performance of 9/11 Remembrance from DSO & Mastersingers of Wilmington

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

Mozart’s Requiem took on an added poignancy as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra opened its 2015-16 season — the “Season of the Bells” — with a tribute to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The deeply human drama of the Requiem was a perfect choice for the concert, titled Remembrance and Redemption.

Musicologists often argue about what the work might have sounded like had Mozart lived to complete it, demonstrating what his pupil Franz Xaver Sussmayr did to make the work performable.

DSO Music Director David Amado took a different tack. In his pre-concert lecture, he maintained that whatever the weaknesses and differences in Sussmayr’s work, he did at least know Mozart and his version has endured for more than two centuries.

Whether by sheer artistry or the suggestive power of the occasion — I like to think a bit of both 
 the musicians and singers seemed at their best in the intimate sections of the Requiem.

The soloists soprano Brenda Harris (who traveled last-minute from Connecticut to fill in for the ailing Mary Wilson), mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Brian Downen and baritone Grant Youngblood drew the pathos and solace from the Recordare and the Tuba mirum, the latter graced by a lyrical trombone solo.

The Mastersingers of Wilmington sang with force and assurance, executing complex vocal lines with ease and applying judicious phrasing.

This concert was the first in the five-concert Classics series to feature the Bells of Remembrance, Brother David Schlatter’s poignant memorial to those who lost their lives at Ground Zero including his friend, mentor and fellow Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, the first to die in the terrorist attacks. Amado chose Cesar Franck’s symphonic poem, “Le Chasseur maudit” (The Accursed Hunter) for the bells’ season debut, quipping that he was giving the rarely performed work its Delaware premiere just as he gave it its St. Louis premiere during his tenure with that city’s orchestra. Based on the poem “Der wilde Jager” by Gottfried Burger, the story is a classic tale of disobedience and damnation: a miscreant count chooses hunting over church one Sunday and is condemned to be chased by demons for all eternity.

The horns were resplendent; the call to the hunt in the opening bars was arresting. The alternation between solemn hymns and frantic hunt was powerfully executed. The orchestra’s principal players, especially the winds, provided subtly colored solos. The tolling of the church bells — this time with real bells — was a dramatic and somewhat sinister harbinger of what was to come.

But it was the waves of sound from each section of the orchestra that drove the action, culminating in a massive G minor thwack from the deity.

The concert opened with George Tsontakis’ Laconika (2010), with the composer in attendance. The title is a pun on the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s name (LACO) as well as a nod to the native New Yorker’s Greek heritage, as he explained.

The title also represents the composer’s intent on writing something laconic or Spartan rather than the larger movements he typically favors. As a result, the 15-minute score divides into five, short pop-song sized pieces: Alarming, Lacomotion, Mercurial, Laconicrimosa and Twilight.

This is hardly groundbreaking music — the ear catches more than a few clichés 
 but Tsontakis somehow manages to keep it sounding fresh and authentic, and the DSO obliges. Apropos this concert, Laconicrimosa, which was written when the composer’s mother was ill, makes reference to the Lacrimosa of Mozart’s Requiem.

The tone for the evening was set with a solemn arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner by Otto Werner Mueller, professor of conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and Amado’s teacher.

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