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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Scholz conducts powerful 'Requiem'

By Cate Grochala
Staff Writer

Friday, April 29, 2005

Sunday evening’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” marked a powerful, final concert for Chapel Choir director and Professor of Music Robert Scholz ‘61.

The St. Olaf Choir, Chapel Choir, St. Olaf Orchestra, Northfield Youth Choirs and Professor of Organ Music John Ferguson joined together with soloists Professor of Music Dan Dressen, Instructor in Music Voice Tracey Gorman ‘93 and Associate Professor of Music James McKeel in Boe Chapel.

Scholz was joined as conductor by his wife, Cora Scholz, who directed the Children’s Choir and by Professor of Music and director of the St. Olaf Orchestra Steve Amundson.

The “Requiem” was this year’s oratorio, a concert which each spring combines several campus music organizations to perform a large orchestral piece.

When asked to compare this concert with other choir concerts and past oratorios, Rylan Gibbens ’05, a member of the St. Olaf Choir, said, “Being able to do a joint piece and work together with the choirs and the orchestra is always great. Last year it was nice to have the opportunity to work with the well-known Helmut Rilling; this year was special because Dr. Bob conducted and we got to be a part of his last concert as a director here at St. Olaf.”

The “War Requiem” was written by Benjamin Britten in 1962 to commemorate the re-opening of England’s Coventry Cathedral. The cathedral had been destroyed by bombs during World War II. The “Requiem” juxtaposes the poetry of Wilfrid Owen, a soldier who died during World War I, with the traditional Latin Mass for the dead. The lyrics of Owen express the terror of war, while the Latin Requiem Mass describes the final judgment day, along with the hope that the dead will rest in peace.

The vocal soloists sang Owens poetry, while the children and choirs sang the Latin requiem. The musical dissonance and drama evoked the themes of pride, final judgment, searching for help, death and an uncertain future.

Overall, the piece elicited feelings of great sorrow for the horrors created by war which permeate people and generations.

When asked about the difficulty of conducting a piece that is both technically and emotionally demanding, Dr. Scholz said, “When you’re truly committed to something, it gives you energy. It also helps that you don’t perform a piece like this alone; you see the performers and you’re inspired to do your best. ”

An unusually large audience was present for the “Requiem” performance. The audience filled every pew in Boe Chapel and the balcony was opened to accommodate the overflow of people. The orchestra effectively conveyed the frenzy and fear of war in its crescendos and frantic accelerandos.

The soloists captivated the audience as they sang Owen’s poetry, interweaving it with the Latin Requiem Mass of the choirs. The combination of Chapel and St. Olaf choirs sounded formidable and reminded the audience that Britten’s work applies to society at large. Britten crafted the piece to end with the children’s choir singing a hauntingly dissonant finale, representing the uncertainty of the future.

Dr. Scholz slowly put down his baton after the final notes of the piece, creating nearly a minute of silence for the audience to contemplate what they had heard. When he turned to acknowledge the audience, he was greeted with a standing ovation.

“I’ve never been to a concert like this before,” Matt Divertie ’08 said. “I have nothing to compare this with. All I know is that I’m completely blown away. Its really given me a lot to think about.”

In an interview following the dress rehearsal, Dr. Scholz said. “I’m grate

ful for the commitment there has been to do this. A lot of schools aren’t able to perform a piece like this. There’s been a lot of goodwill between the different music organizations to come together and make this happen.”

With respectful silence and thunderous applause in turn, the Northfield and St. Olaf community showed that they were grateful for Dr. Scholz and for the chance to hear Britten’s “War Requiem.”

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