Southeast Symphony Orchestra tackles Mozart's 'Requiem'

Friday, April 28, 2006
The Southeast Symphony Orchestra rehearsed Mozart's "Requiem" with the University Choral Union at Academic Hall. (Fred Lynch)

The Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestra is ready to give Cape Girardeau a rare treat in classical music this week.

For the first time in recent memory, audiences will get a chance to hear one of the greatest classical works ever written -- Mozart's "Requiem" -- in its entirety, just in time to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Mozart was actually born on Jan. 27 a quarter-millenium ago, but the Symphony Orchestra chose to save its performance of his masterwork as the cap to its 2005-2006 concert series at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Academic Hall.

And while every concert is a serious undertaking for the orchestra, this performance is even weightier.

The Symphony Orchestra will be joined by about 100 voices from the Choral Union and University Choir, all under the direction of music professor Dr. Steve Hendricks. The teaming of orchestra and choir happens twice every concert season, but not with a massive and sacred composition like "Requiem."

Why so challenging?

"It's hard," says Hendricks, laughing. "The real challenge is that it is lengthy -- about 50 minutes worth of singing. And it requires to singers to perform in Latin. Musically, even though it's very pleasant to listen to, to perform it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of effort to make this happen."

The difficulty shows through at rehearsals, under a sign in Academic Auditorium celebrating the Hall's 100th birthday, just an infant compared to Mozart.

The orchestra and singers go over sections again and again, while Hendricks alternates between rebuke and praise. He's not being mean to the choir, he just wants to get things right, especially with such an important piece.

The singers have been working on their part to "Requiem" since January, the month of Mozart's birth. Performing "Requiem" joins Cape Girardeau with the many cities around the world celebrating the great composer's year of birth this year.

But "Requiem" is a piece haunted by his death. Classical music lovers know it as Mozart's unfinished masterpiece -- still incomplete at the time of his early death, finished by the students who studied under him.

"It's wrought with that kind of emotional energy," said Hendricks. "That really contributes to the weight people feel in this piece."

The monster composition is extremely varied in the musical sense. At some points "Requiem" is peaceful, with floating strings and angelic voices. At other times it carries a deep, dark foreboding sound.

Symphony Orchestra director Dr. Sara Edgerton said it's that variety that should make "Requiem" an extremely enjoyable experience for audiences.

"Each section is so different, for audiences it won't sound like 40 minutes of the same thing," she said.

As artistic director of the Symphony Orchestra it fell upon Edgerton to choose this ambitious, monumental piece.

"This had been in the back of my mind as a piece I wanted to do for a number of years, and it's been a piece that students have requested we do at some point," Edgerton said. "When we realized that people have really been thinking of this as 'the Mozart year' ... it was a logical choice."

Amongst musicians it's an honor to perform a piece like "Requiem."

Edgerton calls it inspiring.

"Everybody is excited to sing the 'Requiem,'" said Hendricks.

Mozart won't be the only musical offering Tuesday. The program will open with a much shorter piece, "Romance for Orchestra and Violin" by Antonin Dvorak, known most for his "New World Symphony." Branden Christensen will be the featured soloist.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

Want to go?

What: Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestra season finale

* When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

* Where: Academic Hall Auditorium

* Info: 651-2265

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