Lee Erickson on Mozart’s Requiem
When Mozart died, on Dec. 5, 1791, he left his Requiem incomplete.
It fell to his student and occasional assistant, Franz Xavier Süssmayr, to complete the score and enable Mozart’s widow, Constanze, to collect the second half of the commission from Count Franz von Walsegg, the eccentric nobleman who had commissioned it anonymously for his wife’s funeral. Süssmayr finished the job, and his version became the de facto standard.
That’s what we’ve heard at the MSO, and that’s what the MSO Chorus knew. But this time around, Edo de Waart went for a new reconstruction by Harvard University professor, keyboard virtuoso and musicologist Robert D. Levin.
“It’s different,” said Lee Erickson, the MSO’s long-time chorus master. “Skrowaczeski did this edition once, at the Pabst Theater back in the 1990s, when Uihlein Hall was being re-done. It turned out he wasn’t that fond of it. When I heard Edo wanted to do it again, I had ask, ‘Are you sure?’
“The biggest difference is that Levin adds this whole difficult and complex fugue on the Amen of the Lacrimosa. (You know the Lacrimosa. It goes like this.) Süssmayr ends it with two chords, G minor and D major. (What you heard in the linked Nike commercial.) In his preface, Levin said that Mozart described intricate counterpoint with voice crossings and dissonances. I think Süssmayr was just trying to stay out of Mozart’s way. Levin takes Mozart head-on. I do sometimes wonder if it might stand out a little too much.”
“The other big changes are an elaborate violin obbligato in the Sanctus, and a greatly expanded Hosanna,” Erickson said. “Also, the orchestration is a bit lighter.”
As of Wednesday morning, the chorus and orchestra had not rehearsed together. Erickson is as curious as anyone to hear how the whole thing will come together, especially in the curious acoustic, with its very long decay, of the Basilica.
“With the Basilica, I’ve learned to stop worrying and let it happen,” Erickson said. “It used to be, no one could ever hear anyone else, and you do have to sing by sight (watching the conductor) more than listening to everyone else. But the last time we were in there, we moved everyone back and to the upper level, and that made all the difference. I couldn’t believe it. Whatever fears I used to have about that place are gone.”
Erickson has his ideas about this music, but his job is to prepare the 160-voice MSO Chorus technically to the point that it’s ready to absorb the ideas of Edo de Waart. He is the music director, the conductor of this program, and Erickson’s boss. Erickson doesn’t try to anticipate what de Waart might prefer. Instead, he tries to build in flexibility during rehearsal, by running the chorus through different sorts of phrasing, tempos and dynamics during rehearsal. He wants his singers ready for anything the maestro might throw at them.
“He led the piano rehearsal last (Tuesday) night, and everything was pretty much what he wanted,” Erickson said. “I’m very happy with this group.”
NOTE: All Three Concerts are sold out, as of Friday afternoon.
Concert times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 15-17) at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, 2333 S. 6th St. Tickets are $35-$50; call the MSO ticket line, 414-291-7605 or visit the MSO website. The program: Edo de Waart will lead the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and soloists Tamara Wilson (soprano), Jamie Barton (mezzo), Russell Thomas (tenor) and Kevin Langan (bass) in Mozart’s Requiem; Principal clarinetist Todd Levy will be the soloist in Mozart’s Concerto in A for Clarinet.