Mourning, Happily, at SLSO

I had a fantastic night at the St. Louis Symphony last night – one of the best and most inspiring I’ve experienced in the past few years. SLSO’s own David Robertson conducted a program titled “Mourning.” It featured the all-choral and perfectly pretty Nymphes des bois (Lament on the Death of Ockeghem) by Josquin Des Prez (1440-1521); the difficult, often discordant, deeply rewarding Stele by Gyorgy Kurtag (b. 1926); and the exultant hour-long Requiem by Mozart (1756 - 1791). The 100-person chorus and the violinists contributing to the last were terrific. Soprano Christine Brewer was a treat as well. Many in the audience were reading along with the Requiem’s translated lyrics – helpfully included in the program – but I spent most of the hour leaning very far forward in my chair, most words of any language far from my mind. If you’re not up for reading the program notes, here’s a brief quote from Robertson (taken from the 2005-06 season brochure) about the three pieces:

We deal with themes of loss, lamentation, grief – these elemental human experiences that connect us throughout time. We hear Josquin’s grief for his musical mentor – still palpable after 500 years – in Nymphes des bois. Kurtagg’s Stele is contemporary, yet contains songs from a very old Hungarian folk-music canon. Kurtag returns to these old melodies to lament the loss of a fellow musician and countryman. The spirit beneath all of this material, which is so much what Mozart’s Requiem is about, is reminiscent of the scene from War and Peace, where a fallen soldier lays in the field – the butchery of battle all around him – and he watches the movement of the clouds. Death is always all around us, yet there is space for contemplation, for beauty.

Props to the blog-publishing SLSO for continuing to present challenging modern works in the midst of the Mozarts, wonderful as they are.