Arts & Entertainment

Four choruses and an orchestra unite for Brahms’ German Requiem

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Directors from five Boulder and Jefferson County musical groups are wrestling with a pleasant logistical problem: how to arrange 180 musicians onstage for two performances of Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem in March.”

The 120-voice festival choir and 56-piece orchestra – all community musicians — will bring the “Requiem” to Longmont and Arvada March 11 and 12.

Performances are Saturday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Longmont United Church, 1500 9th Ave., and Sunday, March 12, at 4 p.m. at Arvada United Methodist Church, 6750 Carr St.

Singers from the Arvada Chorale, Jubilate Sacred Singers of Louisville, Longmont United Church and Arvada United Methodist Church will join Boulder-based Flatirons Community Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. J. Arturo Gonzalez. Soloists include soprano Linnette Mancuso of Arvada and baritone Timothy Kennedy of Westminster.

Brahms’ composition is a major challenge for the 180 volunteer musicians. But organizers hope that the Requiem’s powerful melodies, and its deep emotional message of comfort amid anxiety and loss, will be a healing experience for audiences and performers in this disquieted age.

“It’s a complicated piece to learn,” said Marla Wasson, director of the 68-voice Arvada Chorale. “But it’s an honor. We’re singing the ‘Requiem’ to honor our audiences and our fellow musicians.”

Gonzalez first heard the Requiem as a 13-year-old, at a memorial for victims of the catastrophic 1985 earthquake in Mexico City. The 8.1-magnitude quake in Gonzalez’s hometown killed an estimated 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. “A couple of my friends died,” he recalled.

While Gonzalez has conducted individual movements of the Brahms and sang the ‘Requiem’ with the Dallas Symphony Chorus as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University, this is the first time he has conducted the full work. “At the orchestra’s first reading, when I heard those first chords – it’s a very powerful memory,” he said.

While earlier requiem masses begin with prayers for the repose of the dead, Brahms’ work consoles the living. It opens with “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort,” and ends with a peaceful prayer that the dead “rest from their labors, and that their works follow after them.”

“It’s like a lullaby,” Wasson said.

It was a bold approach. Brahms deliberately avoided the conventional structure of the Latin mass, in favor of texts he chose from the Luther Bible. The lyrics convey the universal human experience of death and loss, along with the Christian message of redemption. Each movement repeats emotional themes of fear and sadness, and their resolution in comfort and joy.

Brahms composed most of “Ein Deutsches Requiem” in 1865, as he mourned the death of his mother. The full seven-movement work premiered in 1869.

Combining in the festival chorus are the Arvada Chorale, under the direction of Wasson, the Jubilate Sacred Singers, directed by Gonzalez, members of the Longmont United Church of Christ Choir, directed by Chris Tate, and members of the Arvada United Methodist Church Choir, directed by Kennedy.

Tickets are $15 in advance at www.arvadachorale.org or $18 at the door. Children under $12 are $1. Discounted pricing is available for groups of 10 or more. Information: 720-432-9341.

Free nursery care is available at the Arvada United Methodist Church performance, Sunday March 12, at 4 p.m.

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