Texas Choral Consort

Double-barreled 'Requiem' concert brings back Brahms and resurrects more 'Undead' Mozart

Caroline Shaw
Caroline Shaw (Photo Courtesy of Caroline Shaw)

In music, Requiems naturally focus on the dead – their eternal rest, their forgiveness, their entry into paradise. But in Texas Choral Consort's upcoming program featuring a pair of Requiems, the living garner more of the attention. Credit much of that to the concert's centerpiece: the massive, majestic A German Requiem of Johannes Brahms, which breaks with tradition by speaking not to the Lord on behalf of the dearly departed but to those left behind, comforting them in their grief. There's also the bill's premiere of a Requiem movement by a composer who's still very much alive – indeed, who just recently became the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Caroline Shaw, whose Partita for 8 Voices scored the 2013 prize, will present her reinvention of the Recordare movement from Mozart's Requiem – her contribution to the Mozart Requiem Undead project, in which contemporary composers complete the score that Wolfgang Amadeus left unfinished when he died. This third sneak peek at the work from TCC – following premieres of one movement each by Undead co-creators and Golden Hornet Project frontmen Peter Stopschinski and Graham Reynolds – sets the stage for the performance of the fully reanimated Requiem (with movements by Wilco's Glenn Kotche, Bang on a Can's Todd Reynolds, Grupo Fantasma's Adrian Quesada, Gabriel Prokofiev, DJ Spooky aka Paul Miller, et al.) at Fusebox Festival next April.

Brahms' Requiem would seem a monumental enough venture just by itself – a fact that TCC Artistic Director Brent Baldwin readily acknowledges. "While the entire work is only about 70 minutes, Brahms asks so much of the musicians in terms of endurance, poetic interpretation, epic phrasing, dynamic shifting, and, well, the list goes on and on. Its immediate beauty falls so easily on the listener's ear, but it's really quite the physical – and emotional – feat for the performers. It also requires a large chorus, a sizable instrumental force, and highly virtuosic soloists. All that, and a lot of rehearsals."

Still, Baldwin sees a sense in performing Shaw's work alongside Brahms': "In pairing Caroline's lovely re-imagining of the Mozart Recordare with the Brahms Requiem, we get to experience two drastically different composers making bold and unpredictable choices. Caroline accomplishes this with her delightfully quirky string textures and vocal sound clouds. Brahms does so by throwing out the fire and brimstone, forgoing the traditional Latin texts, omitting any mention of a heavenly savior ... he basically flushes the Requiem rule book right down the toilet. Basically, we have two composers dealing with traditional forms in a new and highly individualistic way. They're quite different, no doubt, but I find they sound pretty terrific together!"

Shaw was drawn into the Mozart Requiem Undead project after Baldwin heard a piece of hers sung by Austin Critics Table Award-winning vocal ensemble Convergence. That group's artistic director, Cameron Beauchamp, who also sings with Shaw in the choral group Roomful of Teeth, was able to connect them. "Brent and I had a long phone conversation about many things, starting with our love of Mozart and branching out from there, and we knew it would be a good fit," she says by email.

That proved especially true when Shaw was allowed to rework the Recordare, a movement that she's performed many times as a violinist and says "might be my favorite movement of the Requiem. I am obsessed with this one aspect of it: a chain of suspensions that climb up in the opening vocal duet. I could listen to that cycle around for hours, or probably days. Maybe years. It's one of those perfect, understated moments of beauty that is for me the essence of Mozart. Brent gave me a lot of freedom. In my approach, I wasn't so much completing an unfinished section as I was filtering my memory of the Recordare through the weird prism of my own musical language and palette, which I'm just starting to get to know. Sometimes I think a lot about certain filmmakers when I write – their way of framing a story or memory in a particular way, with a certain timing and color saturation and sense of space. (Terrence Malick is a huge, huge, gigantic inspiration for me – he's from Austin, right?!) Anyway, I guess you could say that this Recordare is a bit like a cinematic remake of the original.

Austin Chronicle: Your Partita for 8 Voices takes inspiration from Bach. What different compositional muscles did you have to exercise working with Mozart?

Caroline Shaw: Restraint. :) And that particularly Mozartian balance of hilarious fun and sincere reverence.

Texas Choral Consort will perform the Brahms Requiem and Caroline Shaw's movement for the Mozart Requiem Undead Aug. 17-18, Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 3pm, at Northwest Hills United Methodist Church, 7050 Village Center Dr. Fore more information, visit www.txconsort.org.

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Texas Choral Consort, Austin classical music, Brent Baldwin, Caroline Shaw, Brahms, Mozart, Roomful of Teeth, Partita for 8 Voices

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