Giuseppe Verdi was not known for being a very devout Catholic, but he fervently believed in his art.
He drew on all of his dramatic genius, so manifest in his operas, to create one of the greatest sacred musical masterpieces ever written.
The Kansas City Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Michael Stern will perform Verdi’s monumental Requiem this Friday, Saturday and June 1 in Helzberg Hall.
“I think we are going to be sold out,” Stern said, “although some people always return their seats for one reason or another, so people who would still like to come should absolutely call the box office.
“A live performance of the Verdi is really something special. I say that sometimes about certain pieces, not every piece, but the Verdi Requiem is a massive undertaking and such a transcendental moment in music. If people want to try to hear it live, it’s really worth it.”
Verdi’s Requiem always generates audience enthusiasm and sells out, and for good reason. It’s a powerfully cathartic work that takes the listeners through the many emotions surrounding death and ends with quiet acceptance.
“It was written not long after Brahms wrote his German Requiem,” Stern said, “and both composers understood that requiems are not for the dead but the living who are left behind.
“The Verdi Requiem obviously has the religious underpinnings of the Mass, but for all of the moments of terror — and there are real moments of terror, in the ‘Dies Irae’ the earth trembles on the Day of Judgment — it’s those searing moments of incredible beauty and intimacy that really stick with you.
“The way the piece begins with this hushed whisper and the last ‘Libera Me’ echoes at the very end say more in those suspended moments than in all of the earth-stomping terror and carrying-on of the ‘Dies Irae.’”
The nucleus of Verdi’s Requiem is the ‘Libera Me,’ which was Verdi’s contribution to what was to be a requiem written by 13 Italian composers to honor Gioachino Rossini after his death in 1868.
That project never came to fruition, but Verdi was inspired to write a complete requiem on his own when author Alessandro Manzoni died in 1873.
Verdi greatly admired Manzoni, and Verdi poured his heart and soul into his requiem, which was first performed in the church of San Marco in Milan on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death on May 22, 1874.
“Sacred works often have a sense of ritual or ceremony,” Stern said. “This one is emotionally direct and overwhelming on an intensely human level. It’s the powerful quiet acceptance of the Requiem that really transcends the piece into something else. It’s not an opera in the traditional sense of the word, but the dramatic narrative that Verdi imparts to the liturgy is genius.”
Indeed, after that first performance in the church of San Marco, Verdi’s Requiem has rarely been performed in a church as part of a liturgy. It has become a work of the concert hall, a performance that continues to thrill, frighten and console listeners.
“The Requiem is unabashedly theatrical,” Stern said. “That doesn’t make it less profound, it doesn’t make it less meaningful and it doesn’t make it less good music.
“It can make it more entertaining, but it also makes it more touching and more affecting. It’s remarkable because of the technical demands which are there, but anything you put into it gives back in spades. It’s one of those works that are just amazing.”
Tickets for Verdi’s Requiem are becoming extremely limited. In case of a sellout, call the Symphony box office to be put on a waiting list.
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. June 1. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Limited ticket availability. 816-471-0400 or www.kcsymphony.org.
Free Celebration at the Station
The solstice may not be for a few weeks, but summer begins for Kansas City on Sunday with Celebration at the Station.
Michael Stern will conduct the Kansas City Symphony in the free Memorial Day weekend concert at 8 p.m. in front of Union Station. Fireworks conclude the concert.
“This has become one of our favorite things in the calendar,” Stern said, “and it’s become an iconic event for the entire city. Fifty thousand people come together with friends and family for a great day of picnicking and fun, and we bring music to that mix, using music and words in a really meaningful way to underline the real spirit and real intent of the holiday.
“Each year we manage to connect with the fun but also with the deep intent of what the holiday should be, and that makes us very happy.”
This year the symphony will be joined by the Texas Tenors, who bring a touch of Grand Ole Opry to grand opera. Jim Birdsall will narrate and host the event and patriotic spectacle will be provided by various area color guards.
You’re invited to come early to enjoy a picnic and preconcert entertainment provided by the A La Mode Quintet, Vine Street Rumble Jazz Orchestra and the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America Brass Ensemble. The concert will be filmed by KCPT Channel 19 and will be broadcast on the Fourth of July weekend.
Wylliams/Henry dance company
The Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company will present its spring program, “What is Old is New Again” on Friday and Saturday at White Recital Hall.
Presented by the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, the program will include revivals of Wylliams/Henry favorites from choreographers Leni Wylliams, Winifred Harris and DeeAnna Hiett, as well as new works by Ming Xia and Mary Pat Henry.
Friday and Saturday. White Recital Hall, 4949 Cherry St. $10-$24. 816-235-6222 or http://wylliams-henry.org.
Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit
William Baker is expanding his Festival Singers franchise.
In addition to the William Baker Festival Singers and the Summer Singers, both of which focus on Kansas City proper, Baker is now giving suburbanites an opportunity to sing top-drawer choral music with the Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit.
The choir is open to adults and youths and no audition is required. The group will rehearse Thursday nights in June and July. On July 27 the group will perform works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn in a concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lee’s Summit.
Patrick Neas is program director for RadioBach.com and a freelance writer. You can reach him at email@example.com.