Music Preview: NSO Chorus marks its 50th anniversary with Brahms Requiem

brahmsThe Nashville Symphony Orchestra Chorus has been celebrating its 50th anniversary in high style this season.

In October, the 200-plus choristers helped music director Giancarlo Guerrero usher in the season with a memorable performance of Vaughan Williams’ seldom heard (in these parts) A Sea Symphony. And earlier this month, the group and its newly minted director, Kelly Corcoran, traveled to Ohio to perform Mahler’s mighty Symphony of a Thousand at the Cincinnati May Festival.

The ensemble will cap its remarkable season this weekend when it performs Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Brahms’ A German Requiem with Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Thursday’s performance will be serve as a kind of double celebration. Before the performance, State Sen. Thelma Harper will join NSO president and CEO Alan Valentine onstage to honor veteran choristers, including Richard Hatfield, who has sung with the chorus since its inception. Hatfield will receive a framed copy of Senate Joint Resolution 814, which recognizes his exceptional accomplishment.

The recognition is certainly deserved, given the amount of work the chorus’ performances entail. “It’s important to remember these singers are all volunteers,” says Corcoran. “They come from all walks of life – doctors, lawyers, teachers – and they spend hundreds of hours of their own time learning and rehearsing this music.”

The singers had to put in extra time with Bernstein’s magnificent Chichester Psalms. Composed in 1965, this work sets to music five of the composer’s favorite psalms, which he kept in the original Hebrew. Nashville Symphony choristers worked with Tracy Fishbein, cantor of the Temple in Nashville, to fine-tune their performances.

Completed in 1868, A German Requiem was the central work of Brahms’ career, since it combined his two passions – vocal and symphonic music. Brahms was steeped in the same North German Protestantism that was so dear to Bach. But unlike his Baroque predecessor, Brahms was unconvinced in the afterlife, so he wrote his Requiem more to console the living than to pray for the dead.

“It’s no accident that Brahms used German instead of the traditional  Latin of the mass,” says Corcoran. “Brahms wanted his Requiem to have a message and appeal that would be universal.”

This weekend’s program also includes Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a heart-felt work for soprano and orchestra that sets to music a prose-poem by James Agee. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy will solo.

IF YOU GO

Nashville Orchestra and Chorus perform Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Brahms’ A German Requiem. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy also performs Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Performances are 7 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Tickets are $23 to $138 and are available here

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.