By David J. Craig
The last time the Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus performed Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, they were conducted by the greatest figure in 20th-century choral music. Seven years ago at Boston’s Symphony Hall the late Robert Shaw (1916–1999) led the BU musicians and singers through the challenging piece with his characteristic ultraprecision, achieving what Ann Howard Jones describes as “an enormously powerful spiritual experience.”
Jones, a CFA professor of music and director of choral activities at
the school of music, will conduct the Symphonic Chorus and Orchestra in
the Brahms Requiem, again at Symphony Hall, on Monday, April 7, at 8 p.m.
And if comparisons are made to the previous Shaw-led concert, Jones will
be pleased indeed.
The concert is the second held by the BU Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus at Symphony Hall this academic year. The Requiem, which is Brahms’ most famous work for voice and orchestra, will feature as soloists soprano Georgia Jarman (CFA’96) and baritone David Evitts. Jarman, who studied with CFA Music Associate Professor Phyllis Hoffman, is a rising operatic star who appeared most recently as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the New York City Opera.
Ein deutsches Requiem is unique for a requiem, Jones says, in that it emphasizes comfort and hope for the living, rather than themes of death and judgment. Written in Vienna, it is believed to commemorate the death of Brahms’ mother, and uses texts selected by the composer from Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible, rather than traditional Latin text, hence its German title.
It is a challenging piece for choral performers, according to Jones, because the chorus sings throughout most of its roughly 70 minutes. “It requires great physical endurance because the chorus gets very few breaks,” she says. “It also is an extremely difficult piece to bring together, because while it has traditional tonal harmonies, the voice parts are very virtuosic. For instance, one little phrase might start on low G and very quickly end up on high D. There are those sorts of difficulties in every single voice part, which makes it tough to manage, especially when you need to be very clear in order to compete with the volume of the orchestra.”
In addition, performing in a space with world-class acoustics such as
Symphony Hall can prove disorienting initially for a young chorus, Jones
says, especially when they rehearse in the hall only once prior to the
performance. BU’s Symphonic Chorus consists mostly of undergraduate
CFA music majors, with about 30 percent of the approximately 180 members
nonmusic majors or adult members of the BU community.
“On the other hand, one of the terrific things about working with amateurs is that they’re always so in awe of the music and the whole experience of performing,” she continues. “They’re so willing to give every inch of themselves emotionally, spiritually, and physically, whereas the occasional professional often has the attitude that it’s just another gig.”
George Case (CFA’05), a voice major who sings tenor in the Symphonic Chorus, says the group will not be short on inspiration April 7. He points to the war in Iraq and to the recent disappearance of CFA Music Professor John Daverio as events that will lend the performance extra emotional intensity.
“I think for everyone involved, the chorus is something we pour out a lot of our energy and emotions into, and that’s really made the music jump off the page lately, with all the trouble and consternation going on around us,” he says. “And when you sing for someone like Dr. Jones, you always put something extra into it anyway, because when you see someone put as much of themselves into a performance as she does, that draws so much more out of you.”
Tickets to the concert are $35, $20, and $10, and $5 for BU students,
and can be purchased at the GSU Link or by calling Symphony Charge at
617-266-1200. For further information about this and other CFA events,