Tuesday, March 27, 2007

'American Classical Music Composer Christopher Rouse Has Given Us The First Great Traditional American Requiem:' Critic Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

"Christopher Rouse's Requiem begins beyond emotion. For the first few minutes of the premiere of this extraordinary 90-minute score, Sunday night by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, baritone Sanford Sylvan stood alone on a darkened Walt Disney Concert Hall stage. Unaccompanied, he intoned a cheerless lyric by Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

The song lies somewhere between chant and chantey. Sadness is presented as an offering, prayerful yet oddly matter-of-fact. Each exquisitely enunciated word, delivered by Sylvan in haunting rounded tones, was like a bomb gift-wrapped. A 4-year-old has died.

The chorus, also a cappella, follows with a somber madrigal. Rouse sets "Requiem aeternam" ("Eternal rest") with slightly sour chromatic harmonies. Sopranos, altos, tenors and finally basses come in. The dynamics are quiet with a couple of modest crescendos, as if the music must sneak around frightful death. But before long, all hell breaks loose. Rouse requires that the orchestra include seven hard-working, uninhibited percussionists. Later — with the help of a rousing large chorus, children's chorus and orchestra in full bloom — all heaven breaks loose.

Rouse's is the first great traditional American Requiem. Ours is not a heritage rich in settings of the Latin Mass for the dead. For public mourning, European masterworks — the requiems of Mozart and Faur– — suffice. The overpoweringly theatrical requiems of Verdi and Berlioz are entertainment. When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, the New York Philharmonic could easily pull out Brahms' dour "German Requiem." Roger Sessions' Requiem-like "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" or Philip Glass' massive interfaith choral Fifth Symphony ("Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya") should mean more to New Yorkers but are less conventional and far removed from the orchestra's core repertory." ...

Mark Swed "Rouse's Requiem: From death's fury to hope
The Los Angeles Master Chorale showcases the explosive racket and magnificent lyricism of the 90-minute score" Los Angeles Times March 27, 2007


America, and its classical culture, did not in fact escape unscathed from history.

Photo credit: Ben's Guide. United States Printing Office. bensguide.gpo.gov. With thanks.


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