Great music, done well

My shorthand version of Chorale’s mission statement is, “Great music, done well.” That’s why the group was founded: to give local singers who had a high level of expectation on both fronts, an opportunity to live out those expectations in real time. Such a mission can be a tough sell: good performances cost money; and why should anyone but our closest friends be interested in hearing us live out our expectations? Chorale struggles with this puzzle all the time. I constantly remind myself, and those with whom I work, to remember this mission, to believe in it, to keep it fresh, to forge ahead with it, to take great risks in keeping it alive. I personally would become bored and disheartened if Chorale ever lost this; I believe many of our members, and the core of our audience, would react similarly. Commerce is important; mission is why we exist at all. So I am thrilled with our current preparation, Mozart’s Mass in C minor, which we will perform with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, under the baton of Nicholas Kraemer, at Orchestra Hall, November 24. All demands of the mission are satisfied: great composer, great work, wonderful orchestra, noted conductor. Chorale’s happy task is to live up to the standard set by our partners-- what an inspiring challenge!

I have sung in numerous performances of this work in the past, in three different versions (Mozart left the work unfinished, and various scholars have either “completed,” or tidied up, what Mozart left, producing editions for public performance, all of them differing in details). I have been thrilled by the music, and have wanted to perform it with Chorale—but the cost of the orchestra, especially given Mozart’s extensive use of winds, is simply beyond Chorale’s means. I expected never to perform it, until this opportunity with Civic came up. In character, this Mass is very unlike the smaller masses with which Mozart preceded it: the brilliant orchestration, the virtuosic solo writing for soprano (composed specifically for Mozart’s wife, Constanze, and her sister), the varied, richly-textured choral writing (the fragment includes movements for four and five parts, two movements for double chorus, and a major fugue), and the pervasive emotional expressiveness, unusual during that period, far exceed the writing in his other masses. Clearly, this work was very important to Mozart at the time he was composing it, and he poured a good deal more of himself into it than was considered necessary in a liturgical mass.

I met with Maestro Kraemer this week, and we discussed various aspects of the work, along with his ideas and preferences. One thing he said, which really sticks with me: this is not a tragic work. Yes, it is grand, and reaches very far; Mozart had discovered J.S. Bach, and knew of the B Minor Mass, by this time, and clearly was inspired to compose a work which in its own way would be as transcendent as Bach’s. But he was young, hopeful, recently married, striking out on a successful career; he was not weighed down with debt, illness, fear of death, as he was when he composed his Requiem. Maestro Kramer was particularly concerned that the Kyrie movement not be too slow and ponderous; and he insisted that each movement, no matter the tempo, be clear, light, and dance-like.

Chorale is working hard to perform the in the style, and at the level, Maestro Kraemer expects. I am confident that all aspects of the performance will contribute to the growth of our technique, to our understanding of the style and genre, to our appreciation of the composer and a new understanding of the esteem in which he has been held ever since his own lifetime; and I expect the audience will be thrilled and changed, to share so deeply in this experience. Beyond that—I know this will be a wonderful concert, as much a treat for the listeners, as it will be for the musicians participating in it.

Free tickets are available through the Symphony Center box office; don’t miss this opportunity, to experience this wonderful music!