Boulder Chamber Orchestra returns to Mozart’s Requium with Boulder Chorale

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Keith Bobo

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra are returning to old territory and making new discoveries.

Saless and the BCO will be performing the Mozart Requiem, which they first performed in 2011. But there will be a number of differences from that earlier performance: then, they performed with Ars Nova singers, now they will perform with the Boulder Chorale Chamber Choir under Vicki Burrichter. Then, they had about 50 singers, now they will have 40 singers and a smaller orchestra.

Then, Saless left the choral preparation and the coaching of the soloists entirely to Ars Nova’s conductor, Thomas Edward Morgan; now he is taking a larger role in both. And, he says, the performance will be more transparent and more polished.

He almost makes it sound like a different piece. But it’s not the piece that has changed; it’s Saless, who admits to having been intimidated by the work the first time.

“I was just in awe of the whole piece” in 2011, he says. “In so many ways I had no idea what I was doing. But now, I look at my score and it’s much more familiar and much more part of me. We’re going to have a much more diligent performance in the sense that now I have more experience. This should be a much more fine-tuned performance.”

Channeling the conductor Simon Rattle and the playwright Samuel Beckett, he adds, “I failed once. Now I’m going to fail better.”

One way Saless believes it will be better is having fewer performers. “I wanted to make it a little more chamber-like,” he explains. “With a smaller choir and smaller forces in the orchestra, you have the opportunity to make it more transparent and more interesting with all the counterpoint.”

Saless and the BCO decided to take up the Requiem again because it was a project they could do with the Boulder Chorale, with whom they performed Beethoven’s Ninth last year in Macky Auditorium. “We really enjoyed our work with the Boulder Chorale,” he says. “We thought that (the Requiem) would be another good collaboration with them.”

Now that he is more involved with the singers, Saless finds that he particularly enjoys working with Burrichter. “She’s really great to work with,” he says. “She is very open and a great taskmaster with the choir.”

Of all the principals in the performance, Burrichter is the one person that you will not see onstage. For works for chorus and orchestra, chorus masters generally do their work behind the scenes and the orchestra conductor takes over for the performances.

“The reason there are separate chorus and orchestra preparers is that for most orchestra people, that’s their specialty,” she explains. “And the same for choral people. The chorus master’s job is to work with the chorus over a period of eight to 10 rehearsals, to train them.”

The chorus master checks with the orchestra conductor for important details, including dynamics, phrasing and tempos. For some technical matters of singing, however, the chorus master may make her own decision. One of these would be the pronunciation of the text.

Sacred texts in Latin were pronounced differently in different parts of Europe, particularly in German-speaking countries, including Austria. But Burrichter thought it would be better to use the classical Italianate pronunciation that is standard for most choral works.

“I researched it, and Mozart would have been surrounded by Italian church musicians in Vienna,” she explains. “Although there are some wonderful recordings of that pronunciation, I chose to go with the more Italianate Latin.”

As carefully as Burrichter and Saless have collaborated, there are always complications in any large performance. “The challenge for the chorus is always to go with whatever the orchestra conductor is going to give them,” Burrichter says.

“One of the biggest jobs of the chorus master is to prepare the chorus for anything. I tell them where they have to memorize so that they can look at the conductor. I change up the tempos on them all the time in spots where I know they’re not looking at me. At the end of a movement, where there’s very often a ritard, I will take that ritard at five different tempos, and they have to get used to paying attention and following no matter what happens.”

Finally, there is one more way that Saless says he has changed that will affect the performance: He’s seven years older. “As I’m getting older, death doesn’t seem such an awful thing,” he says. “I’m playing (the Requiem) slightly more jubilantly. The tempos are little bit more lively and the orchestra a little lighter.

“Last time it was really sad. This time it’s a little bit happier.”

On the Bill: Mozart: Requiem, Boulder Chamber Orchestra
and Boulder Chorale — with
conductor Bahman Saless;
soprano Ekaterina Kotcherguina; mezzo-soprano Clea Huston;
tenor James Baumgardner;
and bass Malcolm Ulbrick.

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 30, Broomfield Auditorium,
3 Community Park Road, Broomfield.

8 p.m. Saturday, March 31, Seventh-Day Adventist Church,
345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder.

Tickets: www.boulderchamber
orchestra.com/2017-2018-season