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“Bernstein, Barber, and Brahms:” An Evening of Music History

Thursday, October 18, 7:30 p.m.
Mortensen Hall, Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford

The Hartford Chorale opens its 2018-2019 season with a concert that promises to be an evening of rich music-making in a multi-faceted celebration of three genius composers, in the observance of some significant anniversaries, and as a recognition of several important historic observances. Called Bernstein, Barber, and Brahms, the musical fare includes a tribute to Leonard Bernstein at the 100th anniversary of his birth and within four days of the observance of his death in 1990. One of the greatest composers, pianists, and conductors, of the 20th century, Bernstein wrote his dynamic Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971.  The Chorale’s concert opens with a brief, unaccompanied excerpt, “Almighty Father,” which not only pays homage to Bernstein but serves as a choral invocation in anticipation of what lies ahead.

An American composer of equal renown is Samuel Barber, who, at the age of twenty-five, composed a string quartet whose second movement became, by the end of World War II, the most frequently performed concert work by an American composer throughout the world.  His “Adagio for Strings” is an elegy of profound solemnity, filled with raw emotion from start to finish. It seems that the intention of the piece is to make us cry! Performed often at times of national and international commemorations and memorials, the piece was also heard in the films Platoon, Elephant Man, and Lorenzo’s Oil.  Philanthropist George Soros once observed, “I cannot explain, but when I hear this music it reminds me there is a God.”

The Bernstein and Barber pieces set up mightily and perfectly the monumental German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, included in our concert not only for its unparalleled power as a stunning symphonic choral work but because it was first performed 150 years ago, representing another of the celebrations this concert heralds. The words of this requiem, unlike those of the more traditional Latin Masses, were selected by Brahms himself from his well-worn Lutheran Bible and are words of comfort, cheer, and jubilation. Famed conductor Robert Shaw observed, “Is there a piece in our repertoire which is so enlivening to sing? Rarely do music and text meet on the same high level, but in Brahms they do.”

On stage with the Chorale on October 18 are The Manchester High School Roundtable Singers and Alumni as they celebrate their 80th anniversary. Directed by Edward Tyler, the Singers are a highly regarded and distinguished high-school choral ensemble. Their collaboration with us is a fine example of the Chorale’s well-known engagements in education and outreach.

As always, the Chorale is honored to have on stage with us the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, one our most beloved performance partners. We are particularly thrilled to make use of Mortensen Hall’s magnificent Austin organ. Its powerful roar and gentle purr will provide the crowning touch to Brahms’ stunning masterpiece.

We know that this celebration of Bernstein, Barber, and Brahms will bring enrichment, excitement, inspiration, and joy to all.

Richard Coffey is Music Director of Hartford Chorale.

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