Schermerhorn Hall | May 12-13
By Joseph E. Morgan
This weekend, May 12 and 13, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra will be giving a rare live performance of John Harbison’s Requiem for soloists, chorus, and orchestra in a live recording project at Schermerhorn Hall. When released, this recording, which is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, will be the first available of this influential piece from one of our country’s most prominent composers.
According to Harbison, the first sketches for the music that would become the Requiem were composed in 1985, after which the piece then went through fifteen years of composition and revision. The events of the attacks on 9/11 caused him to reflect on the composition and its purposes. As he states in his program note: “But the events of that fall made my purposes clearer. I wanted my piece to have a sense of the inexorability of the passage of time, for good and ill, of the commonality of love and loss. I wanted to open up an aural space where this could be acknowledged.”
As a genre, the requiem is based on the liturgical service of the Roman Catholic Church that is offered for the repose of the soul of the recently deceased. Overall, the piece is organized in two parts which include the standard Requiem texts and movements, which Harbison sees as “An accidental collection of words about mortality (part I) and continuity (part II), to be shaped into a purposeful collection of sounds.” Thus he only pauses “…once, to use a rather small orchestra to present my Day of Judgment in the most frugal musical materials – instinct under the cloak of rationality. To offer the consolation of one so fortunate as to be able to track, for so long, a train of thought, in apparent safety, to a conclusion.” The Requiem, which had its premiere at Tanglewood in 2003, received accolades from the critics; with the only reproach given to its “severe difficulty” in some of its choral parts.
Tucker Biddlecombe, the incumbent Director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus, feels that they are up to the task. He has been working with his all-volunteer choir for over a year on this project and is excited for the performance and its documentation. “This is an important work, reflective of a critical time in our history, and we are honored to be documenting it for posterity,” said Biddlecombe. “It has all the elements of the great pieces of music we all love, from Brahms-like fugues coupled with complicated and exciting harmonies, to the Dies Irae movement that hearkens to the great music of Verdi and Mozart describing the final judgement day.” On stage, the Symphony and Chorus will be joined by four world-class vocal soloists: soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens, tenor Nicholas Phan and baritone Kelly Markgraf.
Also on the program is Robert Schumann’s First Symphony, known as the “Spring Symphony.” Written in January 1841, the Symphony celebrates the emergence of spring and will prove a nice contrast to the darker expressions of Harbison’s gravitas. The performance begins on Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 PM with a free classical conversation to take place one hour before in the Balcony Lobby.