EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mount Vernon Orchestra and the NOVA Community Chorus joined forces for a concert at West Potomac High School on Sunday evening which will be repeated next Sunday at the Schlesinger Concert Hall on the Alexandria Campus of Northern Virginia Community College on North Beauregard Street.
The concert featured Brahms' German Requiem and Schnitke's Concerto Grosso with violinists Marc Rameriz and Olivia Hajioff. Gazette music/theater reviewer, Brad Hathaway, serves as the annotator for the orchestra, preparing program notes for the concerts. Reprinted below are the notes he prepared for this concert.
VOICE! NOT JUST THE HUMAN VOICE, but the unique qualities of the sound that any musical instrument can generate. It isn't just tone. It isn't just volume or pitch or timbre or articulation or any of the more esoteric aspects of sound such as decay rate, vibrato or harmonic interactions. It is all of the above and more. It is what lets you instantly recognize a violin or a timpani or an operatic soprano. It can be so subtle that it is what lets you recognize which operatic soprano is singing, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Renate Tibaldi, or follow the individual elements of a duet or larger combination of sources.
Brahm's German Requiem is, of course, a piece that features the human voice, a full choir as well as soloists in the Soprano and Baritone ranges. But part of the reason for its acceptance as a masterpiece is its command of all the voices of the orchestra as well as the sounds emanating from human throats.
There is mastery in the mixture of sounds in this massive work. It was written over a period of about a year and a half from 1865 to 1866 but it uses material that Brahm's originally sketched out as early as 1857 and was revised as late as 1868 by the addition of a fifth movement. The fact that the work began in early 1865 is important to a full appreciation of the emotional impact of the requiem, for Brahms' mother died that January. A "requiem" is a Catholic High Mass ("high" meaning sung as opposed to spoken) for the dead. The term comes from the opening words in Latin "requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine" ("Give them eternal rest, Lord.") But Brahms entire background is steeped not in Roman Catholicism but in German Lutheranism and his "A German Requiem" isn't Catholic, it isn't a mass and isn't in Latin.
It actually is much closer to an oratorio which Webster's defines as an "extended, more or less dramatic composition for vocal solos and chorus, with accompaniment by orchestra and/or organ, and sung without stage play or scenery." That fits nicely here. Frequently, oratorios have biblical passages as their text. So it is here, with the text being in Brahms' native tongue, German. The text draws from the Lutheran Bible's translations of Psalms Isaiah, Matthew, John, James and Peter 1 as well as material from the Wisdom of Solomon from the Apocrapha.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN a Catholic High Requiem Mass with its frequent inclusion of "Dies Irae" ("Day of wrath") and this Lutheran Liturgy text can be seen in the translations of the movement titles which come from the first lines of each quotation.
Such concentration on the warmth, reassurance and comfort which the bereaved can draw from religion was the strength Brahms seems to have sought and which his music seems to capture and transmit to future generations. The music has become its own form of immortality.
The blending of instrumental as well as choral textures Brahms achieves make this more than a choral work and more than a symphonic work. It is a sonic environment conducive to contemplation while, at the same time, rewarding careful attention to its musical progression.
The jump from Brahms' 1860s to Alfred Schnittke's 1980s seems like more than 120 years in musical terms. His Concerto Grosso #3 sounds like it would be perfectly at home in a one of Brahms' concerts or even one of Bach's for about the first 40 seconds. Then, to the sound of a chime, the music deconstructs and spirals down into a pool of fragments.
Deconstruction is precisely what Russian-born Schnittke was about as he composed this work in 1985 as part of the observance of the tricentennial of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti; they all were born in the same year and Schnittke points out that it was also the bicentennial of Berg and the quatracentennial of Saxon sacred music composer Schnittke.
Schnittke strings together fragments of musical themes, styles and effects from the rich history of western music, inverts them and places them in strange and heretofore unheard juxtapositions to create a musical mosaic where no one element seems to be able to stand on its own. Instead, each is held up to the light of examination and takes on a new impact as a result of its relationship with the other forms. Just as you begin to feel comfortable with one element he switches to another or combines two or more simultaneously. Eventually, the assembly deconstructs into a swirling mass that might seem a statement of chaos if it weren't so tightly controlled.
Finally, after the sound of that same chime, all is resolved into silence.
Ulysses S. James, Music Director and Conductor, said, "Most would agree that the German Requiem is one of the world's greatest choral masterpieces - and Director/Conductor Mark Whitmire, the NOVA Chorus and Mount Vernon Orchestra create a presentation that is convincingly beautiful. The Requiem is juxtaposed by Alfred Schnittke's haunting, remarkable Concerto Grosso. It is an extraordinary metaphor in music that contrasts a seemingly more certain and stable past with an evolving uncertain, searching present condition. The soloists, Mark Rameriz and Olivia Hajioff (known as "marcolivia") give an intense, strong, honest performance. For those who can hear and are brave enough to engage this music, it will be an unforgettable experience."
MVO SPONSORS COMPETITON
Saturday, March 27, was a special day for qualified students who participated in the 2004 Metropolitan Washington Music Scholarship Competition. Sponsored by Mount Vernon Orchestra Association, the competition took place at the Episcopal High School Ainslee Arts Center Auditorium in Alexandria, Virginia.
Students applied for positions in three (3) divisions: piano, strings and winds. Ul James, conductor of the Mount Vernon Orchestra, said that they had selected as eight finalists: four violinists, two wind players and four pianists. The first place pianist was Emily Phelps from Frederick, Maryland; wind player was Alexander White from Lake Braddock Secondary School; and first place violinist was Brendan Shea from Landon.
"We pick two from each category, with a first place winner in each category. All first place winners are eligible to play with the orchestra; all three may be selected or just one," said James.
Awards were presented at a reception immediately following the competition. First place winners in each division received $500, while Certificates of Honorable Mention were presented to runners-up in each division.