VBSO plays Schubert & Cherubini


VBSO's Messiah Sing-along Creates a Wonderful Sense of Community

      Just two days before Christmas about one-thousand people gathered at Thalia-Lynn Baptist Church to be part of the twenty-third annual event with David S. Kunkel as music director and conductor and Mark Hudgins as chorus master. We participated in the complete Christmas portion of George Frederick Handel's Messiah, ending with the Hallelujah! Chorus, then repeated it as the encore since we did such a great job and didn't want to part company just yet.

      The crowd gave enthusiastic applause to each soloist in turn: Soprano Kimberly Smith Markham, alto Merri Hanson King, tenor Daniel Markham and bass Walter Swan. The listeners responded with redoubled enthusiasm to Dr. Swan who has a large voice, superb control and a legato that is both sweet and smooth. Dr. Swan is planning a full recital in early April.

      Since the Pavilion Theatre on 19th street was demolished this summer to make way for the new convention center, the Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra is homeless until the new theatre at Town Center in the Pembroke area is complete. We drove by there and saw that construction has begun. The VBSO's next program, the Seventh Annual Lollipop Concert for Children, It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Mozart! will be at the Salem Middle School Auditorium, 2380 Lynnhaven Parkway, on January 28 at 3 pm.

Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra Plays Schubert and Cherubini

      David Kunkel, Music Director and Conductor of the Virginia Beach Symphony enjoys bringing neglected repertory to his audience. On Sunday, February 26, 2006 at Regent University's Communication and Performing Arts Center we heard Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) Symphony No. 9 in C, D. 944 (The Great) and Luigi Cherubini's (1760-1842) Requiem in C minor with the Symphony Chorus, Deborah Carr, Chorusmaster.

      The Schubert Symphony No. 9 was dated March, 1828, a few months before he died but there is evidence that the composition was begun in 1825. Because of the symphony's one-hour length and the challenge for players, Schubert never heard it performed. Ten years after Schubert's death Robert Schumann discovered the symphony in a stack of manuscripts while he was helping Schubert's brother Ferdinand sort out his music. The program notes tell us that Schumann "realized that he had in his hands something of surpassing beauty, perhaps Schubert's greatest work". Schumann had a copy made and sent it to Felix Mendelssohn, then Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and three months later he conducted the first performance.

      There is an elegantly quiet opening with melody played on French horns, the timpani comes in later and draws out a heightened intensity that gradually builds. Brass and woodwinds add interesting color throughout the piece. The orchestra's accurate playing sounded really fine in the excellent Regent Theater and gave Maestro Kunkel an inspired performance.

      My love affair with the human voice usually motivates me to attend symphony performances only when they include singing. The Cherubini Requiem in C minor, written in 1816, was the lure. The opening music reminds me of Berlioz but his Requiem (1837) comes much later. It might be fair to say that Cherubini concentrates on creating depth and power within Classically stylistic polish. He wrote no solo parts, often using the orchestra sparingly to focus our attention on the chorus.

      According to the program notes, "Beethoven declared to Cherubini that if he himself ever wrote a requiem, this would be his model." Schumann praised this mass as "without equal in the world." The mass was commissioned by King Louis XVIII of France to commemorate the execution of Louis XVI.

      In the Graduale movement the lower strings and chorus create a reverent beauty of great restraint. The agitated music of the Dies irae used drums and strings to underpin the voice. Musical textures were carefully used to create satisfying emotional experiences. In the Pie Jesu women's voices and woodwinds open, men's voices and lower strings follow and then all voices join together. The volume and intensity increases as all voices and instruments converge in Agnus Dei to create a powerful ending. Once again the human voices with instruments have made magic and leave me feeling secure and content. The performers did an excellent job and we look forward to Maestro Kunkel's choice for the VBSO's choral concert next season.

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