Missoula Symphony Orchestra and Chorale started its 2021-22 season last September with a great deal of uncertainty. It will perform its last Masterworks concert with a more celebratory feel, said music director Julia Tai.
“We’re able to have so many people on stage — with the chorale and the orchestra, we’ll have over 120 people," Tai said. "We have four soloists, we are doing a concerto, the big choral/orchestral masterwork. It feels like a great way to end a season.”
The chorale is back on stage, without masks. The last time it was able to do that during a Masterworks concert was in February 2020 for Mozart’s Requiem.
That said, the theme “Spirit, Song and Remembrance” isn’t looking away from the recent struggles. Instead it invites a time and space to consider them.
Tai hopes people come and “celebrate the spring and remember those people that are dear to us, and everyone who has suffered hardships and loss throughout the last couple of years. This will be a great occasion to come and remember, being together with the music.”
Frank, ‘Elegía Andina’
Gabriela Lena Frank wrote this piece in 2000 as an elegy for her brother, which gives it a thematic with the other music on the program. It presents a different musical palette, though, as Frank had a multicultural upbringing that she explores in the music. Her mother is Chinese, Peruvian and Spanish; her father is Lithuanian and Jewish.
“This piece has worlds of sounds and colors, and I always like to put pieces like that in front of people to kind of open up all the different colors we have in the orchestra,” Tai said.
The older works in this concert are rooted in the style particular to their country or era, while this piece by a contemporary composer, working within a kaleidoscopic style, can “open up all of your senses and imagination” at the start of a concert, Tai said.
Doppler, Concerto in D minor
This piece, composed by flute virtuoso Franz Doppler, calls for two flutes. Double concertos aren’t that common, Tai said, and double concertos for flute are even more rare. The collaboration was made possible since the Montana Flute Festival is happening this weekend, and this felt like just the piece to showcase the instrument.
The soloists are Bonita Boyd, a longtime professor at the Eastman School of Music, and her former student, Jeffrey Barker, and now the associate principal flute in the Seattle Symphony.
Doppler and his brother would perform flute pieces together and he wrote opera. Tai said this particular work is a “very operatic piece, and really fun to listen to, and I assume, play, too, because the flute players get to show off what they can do.” That means rapid unison lines and shifts in register, much like you’d expect to hear from an opera singer.
Maurice Duruflé, a French composer and organist, composed the closing piece, which draws on his love of Gregorian chant and his study of modern harmonies, Tai said.
Tai said it bears a very interesting combination of styles. Duruflé grew up singing in choirs, then departed for Paris to study the modern harmony of Debussy and other 20th-century Impressionists.
While a requiem felt appropriate “given what we’ve been through the last two years,” Tai said this one stood out for a few reasons. It’s not as well-known as those by Mozart, Brahms or Verdi, and is a “very gentle requiem,” Tai said, as the voices seem to float because of the shifting meters.
The guest soloists, Sarah Mattox (mezzo soprano) and Charles Robert Stephens (baritone), will be joined by the chorale.
They last performed on stage with the orchestra during Holiday Pops in December, but they had to wear large singers’ masks. Now, thanks to the low COVID case levels and adjusted rules, they can sing on stage with personal protective equipment. Concert staff are, however, testing everyone twice before the concerts.
They have around 58 singers, said chorale conductor Dean Peterson, and have navigated the difficulties of a reduced rehearsal schedule due to omicron.
Peterson said the singers “really appreciate the efforts of the current people in the chorale who have stuck with it, and have accepted the masking and the distancing and the hard work we’ve had to do.”
They’re dedicating the piece to longtime chorale members, alums and overall supporters who died recently, including John Talbot, Laura Patterson and Peter Heyler.
He added that Duruflé dedicated the Requiem to his own father. While the word “requiem” might imply a certain mood, “it’s also meant to uplift and to comfort,” and after the past two years it’s “a good time to have music that does uplift and comfort.”
Tai shares that interpretation. Instead of any “terror of the last day of judgment,” it’s a comforting piece that closes with a “beautiful, angelic choir,” that seems to be “floating, signifying paradise.”