Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Cecilia Chorus of New York - Jabri & Brahms - 05/06/17

Conductor/Music Director: Mark Shapiro 
Zaid Jabri: A Garden Among the Flames 
Sidney Outlaw: Baritone 
Chelsea Shepard: Soprano 
Every Voice Children’s Choir 
Johannes Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 
Sidney Outlaw: Baritone 
Chelsea Shepard: Soprano 

Some days are decidedly busier than others, and last Saturday was definitely a busy one, in the best possible way. After doing my political French thing at the voting booth in the morning and my cultural French thing at the Met in the afternoon, I quickly regrouped and then walked down Broadway again while getting mentally prepared for a universally relevant, time-transcending, multi-lingual thing at Carnegie Hall in the evening.
That’s where I met my friend Steve for Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem that would be performed by the highly regarded Cecilia Chorus of New York conducted by their no less highly regarded music director Mark Shapiro. Being both unconditional fans of the magnificent work ─ Although Steve is admittedly way ahead of me in that regard since he has actually sung it more than once ─ this was an opportunity we simply could not miss, busy day notwithstanding. So there we were.

 The evening started with the world premiere of Zaid Jabri's "A Garden Among the Flames", a brand new work commissioned by the Cecilia Chorus to be paired with Brahms' Requiem and its unyielding focus on mankind. Adroitly combining Ibn' Arabï's classic Sufi poem "A Garden Among the Flames" extolling the virtues of tolerance, a contemporary English poem by Yvette Christiansë describing the on-going refugee crisis, and the Beati pacifici from the Latin Bible praising the peacemakers, the thought-provoking composition turned out to be a far-reaching hymn to the human race not only for our troubled times, but for all other times as well.
As a music buff and a language nerd, I could not help but be excited by the imaginative use of those two components. The exotic nature of the Arabic and the solemnity of the Latin ingeniously contrasted with the immediate impact of the English and the lyrical-with-an-edge instrumental music was readily accessible, which resulted in a work that persuasively emphasized the apparent differences and ultimate sameness of all human beings. The Cecilia Chorus and the soloists gave an engaging performance, but the final word had to be the universal message of peace vividly conveyed by the young singers of the Every Voice Children’s Choir. May it be heard and, most importantly, heeded far and wide.
Going back to where "A Garden among the Flames" had picked up, we found ourselves ready to bask in one of the most fundamentally humanist masterpieces in the classical music repertoire, not to mention beloved familiar territory. Uncharacteristically based on the Lutheran Bible and the Apocrypha, partly motivated by the death of Brahms’ close friend Robert Schumann and if his mother, Ein deutsches Requiem progressively moved from choral piece to cantata to a deeply spiritual Requiem meant to console the ones left behind instead of conjuring up highly debatable Christian beliefs regarding a hypothetical after-life.
From the blessing of the bereaved to the blessing of the dead, the Cecilia Chorus sang whole-heartedly and expressively, the orchestra played with total commitment, and baritone Sidney Outlaw fulfilled his part with elegantly burnished dark tones. However, the shining star of this Requiem ended up being soprano Chelsea Shepard who, during her few minutes in the spotlight, delivered a stunningly beautiful rendition of “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit”. My two favorite parts, the starkly haunting “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” and the ferociously victorious “Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg”, came out intense and powerful. Death surely did not win that round, but some gloriously life-affirming music did.

No comments: