Orchestra (CCO), led by music director Cornelia Laemmli Orth, will be joined by the Cornell University Glee Club and Chorus—prepared by the university’s choral director Robert Isaacs—and soloists soprano Tamara Acosta and baritone Sidney Outback in a performance of the great choral masterwork “Ein deutsches Requiem” by Johannes Brahms. The concert takes place on Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Bailey Hall on the Cornell campus.
Both Laemmli Orth and Isaacs spoke of their excitement in presenting this monumental work and the collaboration between their ensembles. It provides an awe-inspiring close to the CCO’s orchestral season, plus an outstanding experience in the Glee Club’s 150th anniversary celebrations. The two have talked about scheduling the concert for several years and recently have been in touch frequently to discuss details of tempos and acoustics, plus their personal views of the work. Orth got to hear the chorus rehearsing a few weeks ago, and admired their sound and excellent mastery of the German text. Both directors emphasized the Requiem’s remarkable symmetry and structure.
The Requiem is in seven movements. Instead of the traditional liturgical Latin of the Catholic mass for the dead, Brahms compiled his own text from Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible.
The words and special sweep of the music of this humanistic work create feelings of hope and consolation, a concern with comforting the living, while offering gentle prayers for the souls of the departed, for they too will be comforted, and their works will live after them.
For Cornelia, this is her third time with the Requiem, the first being 10 years ago. “You never feel you are mature enough to do it,” she told me, but on the podium “you forget the anxiety and the work takes you along.” There are dark moments but then the “darkness turns to light.” She spoke too of the arc of the music and of the structure, how the first and last movements are a frame (much of the same material in Movement 1 reappears in Movement 7), the funeral march and big sound of Movement 2 is balanced by the trumpet call of death in Movement 6; the fugues in Movements 3 and 6 are contrasted by the lovely, gentle, almost pastoral Movement 4 plus the quiet prayer for the dead—probably inspired by the recent death of Brahms’s mother—in Movement 5 at the top of the arc.
As for Robert Isaacs, he said that this German Requiem is on the top-five list of every choral singer, and although the soloists are important, the chorus plays the principal vocal role throughout.
“Every movement is satisfying and the chorus is propelled by the orchestra,” often with an infectious rhythmic quality. “The students absolutely love this work.” And the Glee Club, he added, gave its first concert in January 1869, just two weeks before the first performance of this Requiem. It’s a “fitting way for them to end their 150th anniversary year.”
Soprano Tamara Acosta, on the voice faculty at IC and well known to Ithaca audiences—she sang with the CCO just last spring—recently performed the Requiem with Cornelia’s Symphony of the Mountains in Tennessee.
“It will be a treat to be onstage with a friend,” Cornelia said.
Baritone Sidney Outlaw from North Carolina, acclaimed for his deep, rich, and versatile baritone voice, comes “highly recommended,” Robert said. While here, he will provide a master class.
The enthusiasm of both musical leaders is contagious. “This is such an accessible concert,” Robert said, at just 70 minutes with no intermission. For Cornelia, this is “my first time with the Cornell University Chorus, my first time in Bailey Hall.” It’s such powerful music, with an energy and excitement in the air.
“You need to be in the concert hall to hear it,” she said.