Sanctuary Choir Concert
Sunday, March 26, 3 PM, SANCTUARY
Symphony No. 1 “Jeremiah”
Requiem, op. 9
Mitzi Westra, mezzo-soprano
Samuel Spade, baritone
Sanctuary Choir and Festival Orchestra
Michelle Louer, Conductor
Leonard Bernstein was one of the most well known and influential musical figures of the twentieth century. As a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, author and television personality, he brought classical music to more people in more ways than anyone before.
Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 in Lowell, MA, to Samuel and Jennie Bernstein. Reared in a devoutly Jewish home, he began piano lessons at age ten. His education continued at Harvard University, the Curtis Institute and the Berkshire Music Center.
Throughout his life, Bernstein struggled to balance his desire to compose with his career as a conductor. While leading orchestras all over the world, Bernstein wrote three symphonies, ballets, choral and vocal works, film scores, Candide, Mass, and of course, the Broadway hit West Side Story.
Bernstein’s first Symphony, subtitled “Jeremiah”, was his first large-scale work. Written when he was 24 years old, the Symphony is dedicated to his father and has three movements: I—Prophesy, II—Profanation, and III—Lamentation. The composer insisted that there was no literal representation of the prophet in the music, only the emotional quality. However, it is not hard to envision Jeremiah pleading with the people to repent or face dire consequences while hearing a dissonant, pulsating rhythm in the strings and timpani in the first movement.
In the second movement, we hear the sounds and style we associate as distinctly Bernstein as exotic dance rhythms depicting the foreign influences corrupting the priesthood and the people are introduced. The third movement opens with solo mezzo-soprano, starkly depicting the desolated streets of Jerusalem.
While the work opens with a crisis of faith – faith that has been shattered by those who professed to have it and did not live it – the final movement ends on a note of consolation. Musical ideas from Jewish liturgical chant are interwoven organically throughout the work, interlocking music and faith in transcendent ways.
The influence of liturgical music of the church dominates Maurice Duruflé’s exquisite Requiem. It is entirely composed on the Gregorian chant themes of the Mass for the Dead, which provide the vocal and instrumental lines with fluidity, nuance and movement. Aside from a few dramatic moments in the text, tranquility and peace and embedded in the harmony and melodic lines. But as Duruflé himself writes, it is a work of great vulnerability.
“This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from earthly worries. It reflects, in the immutable form of the Christian prayer, the agony of man faced with the mystery of his ultimate end. It is often dramatic, or filled with resignation, or hope, or terror, just as the words of the Scripture themselves which are used in the liturgy. It tends to translate human feelings before their terrifying, unexplainable or consoling destiny. It represents the idea of peace, of Faith, and of Hope.”
For both Bernstein and Duruflé, music and faith were inextricably linked. Neither were sentimental endeavors, but rather, for each composer, were matters undertaken with intentionality for a lifetime spiritual journey.
by Karl Snider & Michelle Louer