‘My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The poetry is in the pity.”
The words where written by Wilfred Owen, a pacifist poet who died in combat, a much-decorated English army officer, just a week before the armistice that ended World War I.
Benjamin Britten, a pacifist of a later generation and one of the 20th century’s greatest composers, chose Owen’s poetry along with words of the Requiem Mass for his “War Requiem.” Many musicians and critics regard it as the greatest choral and orchestral masterpiece of the 20th century.
The Spokane Symphony and Chorale, along with the Spokane Area Children’s Chorus and soloists Julie Newell, Jon Garrison and Frank Hernandez, will close the symphony’s 1994-95 season with a performance of Britten’s “War Requiem” at the Opera House tonight. Fabio Mechetti and Peter Rubart will conduct.
Tonight’s concert commemorates the end of the Second World War with a performance of a work that comments on war’s horrors. Britten inserts passages of Owen’s trenchant anti-war poetry as commentary on the venerable Latin text of the Requiem. Britten wrote the “War Requiem” for the consecration of the new St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry in 1962.
The English market town of Coventry was best known, until Nov. 10, 1940, as the place where Lady Godiva made her famous ride. That November day in the early part of World War II changed things. The German Luftwaffe sent 450 planes to drop more than 40,000 firebombs on Coventry, destroying the town but creating a new wartime verb, “to coventry,” that is, to destroy a place completely. Even St. Michael’s, Coventry’s 14th-century cathedral, was reduced to a bombed-out hull.
After the war, Coventry bounced back. The symbol of that recovery came in 1962 with the consecration of the new St. Michael’s, a controversial modern edifice designed by Basil Spence, built next to the shell of its predecessor. Outside the new St. Michael’s stands Jacob Epstein’s huge bronze statue, “St. Michael Slaying the Dragon.” Inside is Graham Sutherland’s 70-foot-high altar tapestry. It was here that Britten’s “War Requiem” received its premiere on May 30, 1962.
The “War Requiem” calls for massive forces - three soloists, a large mixed chorus, a children’s chorus, full orchestra and chamber orchestra. Two conductors are required. Tonight’s performance uses 270 performers. Frank Hernandez, the baritone soloist for tonight’s performance, is a Spokane favorite. Born in Bellingham, Hernandez studied at Whitworth College. He has just completed the Artist Diploma program at Oberlin College. Hernandez has been a frequent soloist with the Spokane Symphony, with Uptown Opera and with the Northwest Bach Festival. He recently won both the Puccini Foundation Award and the George London Competition, both of which sponsor Hernandez in New York appearances.
The Puccini Foundation prize presents Hernandez in concert at Alice Tully Hall in September with the four other winners of the competition, while the George London Award presents him in an October recital at the Pierpoint Morgan Library with the celebrated soprano Renee Fleming.
Soprano soloist Julie Newell will make her second appearance with the Spokane Symphony. She sang the role of Liu here last season in the symphony’s production of “Turandot.” Newell has also performed with the Indianapolis Opera, Opera Memphis, the Buffalo Philharmonic and is a frequent performer with the Syracuse Symphony.
Tenor Jon Garrison makes his Spokane debut tonight. He has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, L’Opera de Montreal and with other orchestras and opera companies in Europe, England and the U.S. In addition to singing the standard tenor roles, Garrison recently created roles in three world premieres: Stewart Copeland’s “Holy Blood, Crescent Moon” with the Cleveland Opera, Jay Reise’s “Rasputin” at New York City Opera and Hugo Weisgall’s “The Garden’s of Adonis” with Opera Omaha.
Peter Rubart, who will conduct the chamber orchestra for tonight’s performance of the “War Requiem,” is in his second season as associate conductor of the Syracuse Symphony. Rubart studied conducting with Otto Werner-Mueller and Sixten Ehrling at the Juilliard School, where he was awarded the Bruno Walter Fellowship. He studied piano and conducting at the Vienna Academy of Music on a Fulbright scholarship.
All three of tonight’s soloists and both of tonight’s conductors performed Britten’s “War Requiem” two weeks ago with the Syracuse Symphony.
Randi Von Ellefson, director of the Spokane Symphony Chorale, will discuss Britten’s “War Requiem” in a pre-concert talk beginning at 7 p.m. in the Opera House auditorium.
The performance will be without intermission; those who arrive after the performance has started will have no opportunity to be seated.
MEMO: Spokane Symphony Orchestra and Chorale Location and time: Opera House, tonight, 8 Tickets: $11-$25, available at the Symphony ticket office, 624-1200, and G&B;