Washington Classical Review » Blog Archive » ‘Requiem’, IN series’ amalgamation of love and death, strikes a surreal note of remembrance

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(Left to right) Aryssa Leigh Burrs, Daniel J. Smith, Oliver Mercer and Jarrod Lee in Requiem, presented by IN Series on Friday night at Hand Chapel. Photo: Bayou Elom

IN Series returned Friday night to the Hand Chapel on the Mount Vernon College campus for the opening of a quirky new mash-up of Mozart’s Requiem with music from Claude Vivier and Lili Boulanger. The venue was the longtime home of IN Series, under its founding director, Carla Hübner, until a change in university administration forced the company to seek new homes elsewhere. .

Artistic director Timothy Nelson, who helmed this production, took the opportunity to mark the series’ 40th anniversary with a bold statement. The Requiem, which IN Series has never performed before, will be the company’s ‘farewell to Mozart, as we look forward to the open space for others it allows’. Nelson confirmed in an email the company’s public intention to invest in underrepresented composers by no longer performing Mozart’s music.

“What you’re about to see,” as Nelson said in his spoken introduction to the hour-long performance, “is bizarre.” When Nelson, whose productions have provoked and intrigued viewers over the years, says this, viewers should be warned. But for those willing to tolerate his experimental approach, the narrative of Nelson’s death and transcendence can be powerful, especially in November, a month set aside for commemorating the dead in Catholic tradition.

The evening opened with Claude Vivier jesus erbarme dich (Aie pitié de moi, Jésus), piece for soprano and choir, composed just before the composer returned to his native Quebec after studying in Europe. An ensemble of seven singers, initially seated among the audience on the pews, gathered in the central space of the chapel, covered in silver fabric framed with lights, complete this remarkably dissonant and enigmatic piece.

The singers appeared to be standing on a subway platform, reading books and looking at their phones, until a train arrived. They entered the “train”, represented by a stationary box surrounded by bars and containing brightly colored seats, and quickly appeared to be involved in some sort of accident. What happened next was perhaps the fever dream they experienced after they died.

For most of the performance, sections of Mozart’s Requiem were interspersed with parts of Vivier Love songs, a score written to accompany a ballet created in 1977 by the Quebec dance ensemble Le Groupe de la Place Royale. Since the dancers had to sing the music as they danced, Vivier used a simplified form of notation, indicating relative pitches and leaving plenty of rhythmic detail and texture to improvisation.

Nelson, musical director Emily Baltzer, and David E. Chavez accompanied Mozart’s movements on three synthesizers from the balcony overlooking the sanctuary, with Chavez credited for the musical arrangement. These canned sounds of strings and winds were given emphatic punctuation by percussionist Michael Barranco, brandishing bells, drums and cymbals. A small choir of five singers reinforced the scenic ensemble in the movements of the Requiem, creating an enveloping sound effect.

Vocal and instrumental strengths weren’t perfectly suited to the demands of Mozart’s Requiem, held together by Baltzer’s emphatic direction, but this famous score toned down the quirks of Vivier’s music, making it more digestible than it looks. would be on its own. The seven singers have done an extraordinary job of bringing it to life in sound and movement, especially in the dizzying variety of lyrics, drawn from Wagner’s work Tristan and Isoldaby Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet, the Requiem Mass in Latin (an appropriate connection) and in the languages ​​invented by Vivier. Adding to the macaronic jumble of languages, Mozart’s Requiem was sung in a mix of the original Latin and English translation.

The eccentricities of Vivier’s work felt like a piece with Hand Chapel itself, also built in the 1970s and much of its time. Vocalizations combined with whistles, finger-assisted lip trills and other curious effects, adding to the sense of children’s games the ensemble played. This childlike regression of the characters contrasted with the weighty pleas for God’s merciful judgment, especially in Mozart’s extended staging of the “Dies Irae” sequence.

It made perfect sense to end the Requiem with the “Lacrimosa” movement, stopping after eight bars, at the point where Mozart died, leaving the work unfinished. At this point, most of the singers left the stage, climbing the stairs to the balcony to join the choir there. Although Love songs is a complete work, Nelson drew another parallel with Mozart’s Requiem by concluding the evening with Vivier Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?), a work left unfinished by Vivier during his horrific murder in Paris.

Tenor Oliver Mercer took the lead vocals, singing with impressive strength and subtlety. The text of a narrator, pronounced by someone on the balcony, relates a semi-autobiographical and violent episode of the Paris metro. Vivier wrote the piece for three synthesizers and glockenspiel accompanying twelve voices, the unusual instrumentation which determined the forces throughout the evening.

Soprano Teresa Ferrara stood out with her solo part in the last piece of the evening, Jesus Pie, composed by Lili Boulanger just before she succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 24, the youngest of this trio of composers who all died far too young. Perhaps the start of Lili’s own requiem mass, this final verse of the chant “Dies Irae” served as the perfect postscript. The deceased singers returned to the stage as the play drew to a close, then resumed their place among the audience.

Requiem runs until November 20, in five different locations. inseries.org

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