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Symphony mixes Pärt, Bach, Brahms

Conducted by Preu, Classics series’ third installment hits Fox this weekend

Donivan Johnson Correspondent

The Spokane Symphony Orchestra and Chorale will perform blessed music by Arvo Pärt, Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms this weekend at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.

The third concert in this season’s Classics series will include Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten,” Bach’s Cantata No. 192 (“Now Thank We All Our God”) and Brahms’ “A German Requiem.” Music Director Eckart Preu conducts.

Pärt’s Cantus, composed in 1977 following Britten’s death, is representative of his style of bell-like sounds called “tintinabuli.” The string orchestra has five layers of melody from highest (first violins) to lowest (double bass), each beginning at different times and at twice the duration of the previous section.

All through this “measured canon” a single funereal chime rings out at fixed intervals. The “melody” played by all five sections of the string orchestra is simply a descending minor scale; the chime rings one last time and dissolves into silence.

The Symphony Chorale, directed by Julián Gómez Giraldo, will join the orchestra and two vocal soloists – Rachel Rosales, soprano, and Philip Cutlip, baritone – for the Bach cantata. This work is a setting of the three verses of the familiar hymn by Martin Rinckert that is still found in most hymnbooks today.

The first and third stanzas are choral fantasias that incorporate the well-known hymn tune in long notes by the sopranos. The middle stanza is a duet for soprano and baritone. The dance-like quality of the outer movements suggests this cantata may have been composed for a wedding or other social setting but not necessarily for church use.

Brahms’ masterpiece Requiem will conclude the performance. This monumental work, his statement of personal faith, is radically different from the traditional settings of the Requiem based on Latin texts dating from the Middle Ages.

Brahms selected texts from the Luther translation of the Bible and set each of the seven movements with music that is transcendent. There are extended “Bachian” fugues that conclude three of the movements; Brahms knew Bach’s music, especially the cantatas, very well and learned a great deal from them.

When the “Human” Requiem was premiered in 1867 it made Brahms internationally famous. The work is dedicated to the composer/critic Robert Schumann and to Brahms’ late mother.

The first and last chorales each begin with the words “Blessed are they that mourn” and “Blessed are the dead.” Movements three and six are for baritone solo and chorus; movement five is for soprano solo and chorus.

The second and longest movement begins as a funeral march which sets the text “Behold, all flesh is as the grass.” The central fourth movement, on the joy of eternal life, is a lullaby-like setting of verses from Psalm 84: “ How lovely is thy dwelling place.” This is the Requiem’s best-known section and is often sung as an individual anthem.

Soprano Rosales has an extensive background in opera and concert performance. She is on the faculties of Bennington College and Vassar College and maintains a private studio in New York.

Baritone Cutlip has performed with great acclaim in North America and Europe. He is actively involved in new music, dance companies and avant-garde ensembles.

Instead of the usual pre-concert talk, the audience may experience an organ recital by John Bodinger, music director for Manito Presbyterian Church, one hour before each performance.

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