Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is an organization that believes in presenting concerts on the grand scale, with performers of all ages from schools and ensembles throughout the country. Having attended many DCINY concerts, I have seen and felt the excitement that fills the hall in anticipation of their performances. Today was no exception, as over 200 singers filed onto the stage of Avery Fisher Hall with full orchestra; I was ready for a memorable concert. I was not disappointed.
The concert, entitled “Requiem X 2,” was just that, two Requiems. The first was the Requiem in D minor, K. 626 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the second (New York Premiere) was the Requiem of DCINY composer-in-residence René Clausen.
Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626 has a storied history. Commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg as a memorial to his late wife, it was unfinished by Mozart at the time of his death in 1791. His student Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed the work, using various sketches Mozart had left and his claim of being familiar with Mozart’s wishes about the composition. How much of the work is Mozart and how much is Süssmayr is still being debated to this day.
Conductor Vance George led with a steady and confident manner. The orchestra took his lead and played with precision, capturing both stormy despair and heavenly spirit in equal measure. Special mention must be made of the “Tuba Mirum”’s excellent trombone soloist, who played with amazing clarity and tone. I wish that DCINY would list the orchestra personnel in the programs so they could be credited! Soprano Jennifer Aylmer sang with a clear, soaring beauty, and Mezzo-soprano Holly Sorensen was radiant in the solo part written for Contralto. Tenor Young-Ha Kim sang with impressive projection, and Bass-Baritone David Salsbery Fry delivered a strong and committed performance. What was particularly striking was how well the four soloists balanced in ensemble sections; it is not unusual for one voice to overshadow the others, but there was no instance of that here. The chorus, consisting of five choirs from high schools in Arizona and Indiana, and choral groups from California and Massachusetts, lent powerful support to capture the full scale of this emotionally supercharged work.
René Clausen (b. 1953), currently Associate Professor of Music at Concordia College in Minnesota, possesses the ability to write music of substance that is still within the technical grasp of a wide range of performers. This quality has made Dr. Clausen a favorite composer of many choirs in the country. He writes of his Requiem that it was written to be “accessible and ‘user-friendly’ to singers, players, and the audience.” One could say with confidence that he has succeeded in his goal.
Conductor Bradley Ellingboe was an engaging, attentive, and fully involved conductor whose dedication any composer would be pleased to have. He bounded athletically from the wings onto the stage and jumped to the podium. One could feel the energy even before the first note was played. Once again, I must give kudos to excellent soloists, this time on the French horn and the oboe.
If one was expecting a more modern version of Mozart, that notion was quickly dispelled. Clausen’s overall conception is not dark and foreboding, but serene and hopeful. Clausen has written a work of great power, with moments of conflict, naturally enough the “Dies Irae” with its sinister pizzicato basses and angry brass declarations, but the work as a whole radiated beauty. Soprano Leslie Umphrey was angelic in the “Pie Jesu.” Tenor Sam Shepperson contributed his vocal mastery with refinement, and the indefatigable Bass-Baritone David Salsbery Fry was back and still strong. Four choirs from New Mexico made up the over 200 strong chorus. After the last measures of the ethereal “In Paradisum” quieted to pianissimo, then faded to complete silence, one could hear the collective exhalation of the audience. After what seemed to be an eternity, the audience exploded into applause, which became thunderous when Dr. Clausen came to the stage for a well-deserved bow. This is a work that can stand comparison to any other Requiem and I do hope that it will be recorded and made available to the public. Congratulations to Dr. Clausen and DCINY!
-Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review; New York, NY