Thursday’s LACO Discover performance at Ambassador auditorium in Pasadena was unlike any other I’ve been to. When I arrived I plopped down in my seat and mentally prepared myself to hear some combination of a 20-30 minute classical composition paired with a bizarre/jangly modern piece before intermission. As usual the orchestra all came out but then the lights suddenly went dim, almost like a guest rock band was going to come out. There was a scuffle of movement in the dark. A spot light finally lit up a small part of the stage revealing two men in black shirts and pants sitting at an ornate wooden table with silver goblets in front of them.
They began to perform a skit! One of the men played Mozart and the other was Mozart’s composer “friend” Salieri. As Mozart explained the unusual origin of his Requiem to Salieri, I couldn’t believe this was really happening. Salieri then secretly “poisons” Mozart’s goblet and the orchestra and a full choir began to play a Mozart composition as the “poison” takes effect. Salieri leaves the “dying” Mozart on the wooden table as the orchestra and choir really get going. As a huge fan of unexpected theatrics I was overjoyed and couldn’t believe how long this was going on for. The Mozart actor stayed “dead” on the table for awhile but sadly the music ended and the lights came back on. Conductor Jeffery Kahane appeared and explained that the skit was actually part of a play by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. JK went on and began a fascinating lecture that explained some of the history, tragedy and plain wackiness associated with Mozart’s Requiem. Among my favorite facts: Mozart wrote the majority of the Requiem in just five weeks! It was unfinished but brilliant. Kind of reminds me of procrastinating in college…except in this case Mozart died and I passed my classes with flying colors. #humblebrag
- After parts of Mozart’s Requiem were called into question Beethoven responded by calling Mozart out with this quote: “Oh you Arch-Donkey!”
- One movement in Requiem is called “Tuba Mirum” (which is actually kind of funny, more on this later) BUT at the time of the writing the tuba, the hilarious instrument we all know and love today, did not exist and tuba meant trumpet at the time.
- Mozart only used the trombone, another (arguably) hilarious instrument, during parts he considered sacred and holy.
- Finally, here’s a wonderful quote JK shared. It’s Mozart from a letter to his father about his feelings on death: “I never lie down at night without thinking that (young as I am) I may be no more before the next morning dawns. And yet not one of all those who know me can say that I ever was morose or melancholy in my intercourse with them. I daily thank my Creator for such a happy frame of mind, and wish from my heart that every one of my fellow-creatures may enjoy the same.”
After an intermission, the actual performance of Mozart’s Requiem began. As I mentioned early, there were an impressive array of performers along with JK and the Orchestra. There was also a huge choir and four solo vocalists. My favorite soloist was probably Aubrey Allicock because of his performance on a movement I mentioned earlier “Tuba Mirum”. The beginning of the movement has Allicock in a super deep voice singing: “Tubaaaaaaaaaaa”. It sounded like a deep ballad to the (arguably) silly looking musical instrument, which made me happy. The actual translation of that part according to the program notes are “The trumpet scattering its wondrous sound throughout the sepulchral regions”. As I mentioned early, Mozart found the trombone to be sacred so perhaps he also really loves trumpets. Or maybe he was terrified of them because it seems like most of this piece is a reference to Judgment day? Yikes.
As a whole Mozart’s Requiem is one my favorite pieces of music that LACO has played in the almost 3 seasons I’ve seen. It was cool to have the evening just focused on the one piece of music. And the sound of Requiem is so epic and captivating. This is in large part thanks to the vast array of vocals from the soloists and choir. It almost feels like the darkest Christmas carol ever which I mean as a high compliment.