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Ending on a High-Note

Revised parts and pianissimo falsetto are some of the challenges the New Dominion Chorale faces with "The Verdi Requiem."

As the former principal timpanist and a 48-year veteran with the National Symphony Orchestra, Freddy Begun has no problem with a little revisionist history — as long as it keeps his instrument in tune.

Such is the case for the finale of the New Dominion Chorale's 15th season, as Begun will play a revised version for the timpani during a performance of Verdi's famous and dramatic "Requiem."

WRITTEN BY GIUSEPPE VERDI in 1874, "The Verdi Requiem" is often considered the composer's most dramatic effort. But as Begun explains, Verdi often overlooked recording the notation of key changes for his instrument.

"The revisions are due to the fact that a lot of the times Verdi did not change the tuning for the timpani when it went to other keys," said Begun.

"If Verdi goes into [the key of] D, sometimes he did not make that revision."

Enter Richard Horowitz, principal timpanist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, who achieved great reception for revising the part by changing the pitch notes for the piece. By tightening and loosening the system of keys around the timpani, a delicate range of tone can be achieved. But as if tuning a percussion instrument isn't difficult enough on its own, Begun said that "you are doing this while the orchestra is playing so you have to know exactly where you are and allow enough time."

The on-stage multitasking might be exhausting but as Begun said, "The way Verdi wrote it is good to start with — but it's even better with the edits."

Although Verdi might have missed a few notes when penning his Requiem, Sharon Christman, acting chair of the music department at Catholic University calls the piece a "tour-de-force" for the orchestra and chorus.

"The first time I heard it I was just awe-stricken," she said. "I think the overall sound is magnificent — its amazing."

Christman will perform the soprano solo for the New Dominion Chorale's performance of "The Verdi Requiem", on Sunday, April 23 at Alexandria's Schlesinger Concert Hall. And much like Begun, there is nothing easy about performing this ambitious piece.

"There is a big range. It really is a challenge and the pianissimo singing is also a cappella," said Christman. "You have to keep your wits about you."

THOMAS BEVERIDGE, artistic director for the chorale is excited about presenting this piece as the finale for the organization's 15th season.

"Some critics have called it his greatest opera," he said. "Since its premiere about a 135 years ago it has created a sensation and has always been considered by many as their favorite."

Beveridge has the task of organizing this undertaking with a group of roughly 230 members in the chorale.

"The chorus rehearses a lot and we've been working since the middle of January," said Beveridge. "We rehearse once a week and sometimes on the weekend. It is a very difficult piece — very dramatic and very complex."

But where can a group of that size find the space to practice? "In a big room," joked Beveridge.

"We do have sectional rehearsals. Each section comes for an hour and I work with them for four hours straight through. Those are the best because you can address problems that each section is having." he said.

According to Beveridge, the chorus rehearses separately with the piano. It isn't until the days leading up to the performance that the chorus and orchestra first meet for their final rehearsals.

"We have the luxury of two rehearsals with the orchestra," said Beveridge. "That's one of the challenges — the sound is so different when sitting behind the orchestra."

ALSO DIFFERENT is the origin of the New Dominion Chorale. Originally part of the now-defunct McLean Chorale Society, Beveridge and others left the organization to form the New Dominion Chorale on the premise of equal ownership among all performers. The new group has grown into, what Beveridge believes is, the biggest chorale in the area.

"If you have people on your board that are prominent community leaders, or can write big checks, the direction sometimes does not come from the artistic director but the business community." he said.

The New Dominion Chorale, however, only allows singers in the chorale to sit on the board. There is no management and there are no offices.

"We call it a singers cooperative," said Beveridge. "It's gotten bigger. We used to perform one or two out of the four concerts a year with orchestra. Now we perform them all with orchestras. I think we are the only community chorus that always performs with professional musicians."

Beveridge says that it's expensive but because they aren't paying for managers or office space, there is more flexibility to use money for artistic gain.

BACKED BY A PROFESSIONAL orchestra complete with trumpeters on the balcony and four guest soloists, including Christman, John Cheek, Carmella Jones and Benjamin Warschawski, The New Dominion Chorale is set to end the night on a high-note.

"This is the end of our 15th season so we are really having a blowout," said Beveridge.