As the roller coaster of weather continues this month across the Kawarthas, the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is preparing a thrilling and dramatic end to the winter season on March 24th with Requiem, a concert at Emmanuel United Church East in Peterborough.
Sponsored by Scotiabank, Requiem will feature the 58 musicians of the PS0 performing the music of German composer Johannes Brahms along with the 100 voices of the Peterborough Singers, baritone Alexander Dobson, and soprano Leslie Fagan, conducted by PSO Music Director Michael Newnham.
The PSO is pleased to be joined by these extraordinary guest artists to present the moving choral composition A German Requiem, to Words of the Holy Scriptures, Op. 45. Brahms wrote the work between 1865 and 1868, following the deaths of his friend and fellow composer Robert Schumann and Brahms’ mother.
Rather than creating a requiem in the Roman Catholic tradition to mourn the dead, the Protestant-raised Brahms wrote his composition with a focus on humanity, to bring comfort to the living.
A German Requiem is an ambitious and profound piece. It is Brahms’ largest composition, and one which has found renewed popularity in today’s society. Last year, the New York concert season featured several performances of it programmed with commissions and other works meant to offer hope and reflection on today’s social, political, and environmental conflicts.
James R. Oestreich, music critic with The New York Times, wrote that the German Requiem “has become something of an anthem for our time”.
Indeed, the themes of the large-scale work completed 150 years ago have a powerful, ageless appeal. Maestro Newnham explains that the composition “is about bringing comfort to all, helping us understand where we fit in the greater scheme of things
“This is the piece which made Brahms famous, still as a young man. Its style is the perfect combination of romanticism, classicism and music from the 16th and 17th centuries. It is timeless.”
Requiem marks the first time in over a decade that the PSO will perform with the full Peterborough Singers. This season the highly regarded vocal ensemble celebrates its 25th anniversary.
“The Peterborough Singers are one of the defining elements of musical life in our city,” Maestro Newnham says.
“Syd Birrell has built not only a very fine choir, but a huge family. Their joy of music making and sense of being in the moment is tangible whenever I see them. I am very grateful to Syd and the choir for the opportunity of joining with the PSO to perform Brahms’ German Requiem, one of the greatest works for choir and orchestra ever written.”
Also joining the PSO on March 24th are soprano Leslie Fagan, who was recently appointed to the Order of Ontario, and the acclaimed baritone Alexander Dobson, who will be performing with the PSO for the first time.
“Leslie Fagan and Alexander Dobson are at the forefront of operatic and oratorio singers in and outside of Canada,” Maestro Newnham says. “Both are very well-known in Peterborough and well-loved by the PSO musicians and our audiences. This is a dream team for Brahms’ German Requiem.”
Alexander explains that his connection with the German Requiem is intense, as he is singing it three times this season.
“The first being in Peterborough, then on to Edmonton and finally in Charleston, South Carolina at the Spoleto Festival,” he explains. “I had the great joy to sing it with the Orchestre Metropolitain and Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting a few years back.”
That connection is also an emotional one for Alexander.
“It is a piece that is dear to my heart,” he says. “Not only from the sheer beauty of the music but also the scale of it. It is challenging for all involved and after putting all the pieces together it becomes extremely satisfying to perform.
“I am really looking forward to making my Peterborough Symphony debut with this piece especially, and to work for the first time with Maestro Michael Newnham. I have always been so impressed with his energy on the podium and the orchestra loves to play with him.”
The Requiem concert program also includes Joseph Haydn’s theatrical “La passione” symphony and excerpts from J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no. 2.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Emmanuel United Church East (534 George St. N, Peterborough, formerly known as George Street United Church), but ticket holders are invited to attend Meet the Maestro, a popular pre-concert chat with Maestro Newnham, in the church at 6:40 p.m. Doors into the main seating areas of the church are scheduled to open at 6:30 p.m..
VIDEO: ‘A German Requiem’ performed by Berlin Philharmonic and Berlin Radio Choir
Although Requiem takes place at Emmanuel United Church East, single concert tickets are only available from the box office at Showplace Performance Centre (290 George St. N., Peterborough). Tickets are priced at $38.50 for adults and $10 for students. Visit the box office in-person, online at www.showplace.org, or call 705-742-7469 to buy tickets.
Seating at Emmanuel United Church East is general admission, but there will be sections of seats reserved for PSO season subscribers. Volunteers will be on hand at the church to assist audience members, including those who require use of the elevator to access the main floor of the church. The elevator entrance is located outside of the church, to the left of the main entrance on George Street.