Wow, talk about a moving experience! Sunday night, the Grammy Award-winning The Washington Chorus performed Missa Solemnis by Ludwig van Beethoven to a sold-out and appreciative crowd at The Kennedy Center.
The Washington Chorus and Orchestra were lead by Conductor Julian Wachner and Chorus Master Geoffrey Silver and were joined by soloists Soprano Julia Sophie Wagner, Mezzo Soprano Daniela Mack, Tenor Vale Rideout, and last minute replacement Bass Kevin Thompson. All sang gloriously.
The performance gave me chills and produced a few tears with its sheer beauty. Fascinatingly enough, Beethoven wrote this while he was deaf. Beethoven’s masterpiece was an epic undertaking that is also one of the more challenging pieces to sing. In July 1882 Musical Times said of the piece, “The work is impossible. No human lungs can endure the strain imposed by it.” Indeed, the constant soaring of the masterpiece reminded me of what a beautiful instrument the voice is and what it is capable of.
The performers filled out the entire stage. The four soloists stood on either side of the conductor, while the choir graced the stage in the rafters above the stage. The stage was completely lit up to clearly see the performers.
Missa Solemnis is a mass comprised of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Beethoven wrote this for Rudolph Johannes Joseph Rainier von Hasburg-Lotharigen, the Archduke of Austria who was installed as Archbishop of Olmutz. Beethoven missed the deadline because he was embroiled in a personal dispute and the masterpiece was a huge undertaking. The music is marked by a lot of tension and release and the use of fugues. The soaring and complexity of the music brings prickles to the skin.
I talked with one of the singers of The Washington Chorus, Anna Doorenbos. She shared they practiced once a week since September to prepare for the performance. The preparation clearly showed in their magnificent performance. Beethoven would have been proud!
The soloists brought great depth to the music and The Washington Chorus powerfully and exquisitely knitted the whole masterpiece together. I especially loved watching several male choir members who were in the middle. They were enthusiastically singing with gusto with their whole body moving to the music. I loved the conductor’s energy as he moved his hands and his body leading the performers. The simple set belied the complexity of the performance and the performers brought the house down with three standing ovations.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Missa Solemnis played Saturday, November 17, 2014 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For information on The Washington Chorus’ 2014-2015 season, go to their website.