Focusing on high classical music, Handel Society to play Mozart

by Andrea Nease | 5/14/14 2:45pm

The Handel Society will perform Mozart’s Mass in C Minor (K. 427) this weekend. The 100-voice choir will be joined by tenor Dann Coakwell, baritone David McFerrin and sopranos Julia Steinbok and Janinah Burnett.

Music professor Robert Duff, the choir’s conductor and director, said he chose Mozart for this term’s performance because he wanted to bring students through the major periods of classical and contemporary music. This year, the choir is focusing on high classical music.

Mozart never finished composing his Mass in C Minor, but Harvard scholar and musicologist Robert Levin took up the task, completing it in 2005.

Duff said he wants the audience to experience both Mozart and the nature of Levin’s attempt at Mozartian style and composition.

“I want the audience to understand the pathos of Mozart and his more mature style in writing,” Duff said. “I would want them to have a clear understanding of when Mozart puts down the pen and when Levin picks up the pen.”

Duff noted that Mozart’s “varied” writing has many “high points.”

Countertenor Jonathan May ’14 said that the piece contains a large number of fugues, repetitions of a single subject or theme at different pitches and sung by different voice types.

“That’s pretty challenging for the chorus to master,” May said, “because to do it successfully you have to not only be flexible in terms of technique and in terms of getting all the notes right and getting the pitches correctly, but you also have to listen more to the other voice parts and interact with them.”

Writing fugues is challenging, May said, because the composer has limited material to work with. He said that as a result, singing fugues well can prove gratifying.

“You have to employ what you have to work with in very clever ways to make it work and to make it sound interesting at the same time,” May said.

Performance preparation started this winter and spanned 20 weeks, with approximately two and a half hours of practice each week. The four soloists joining the Handel Society will practice with the choir for the first time today.

Duff said the soloists’ arrival will energize the rehearsal.

McFerrin said that for soloists, the preparation process varies by piece and how extensive each part is. Depending on a solo’s length and difficulty, performers may pursue options ranging from solitary practice to personal voice coaching.

Though he is not extremely familiar with it, McFerrin said he is excited to perform a piece that some say epitomizes Mozart’s work.

In addition to the rehearsal, members of the Handel Society were invited to attend a master class on Wednesday with two of the soloists, Coakwell and Steinbok. May, one of four undergraduates selected to sing with the soloists during the class, said he appreciates that Duff and the music department provide students with access to professional singers.

“I think it’s a really good experience to have feedback from professional artists who are working in the field, to get a fresh perspective from someone with whom you don’t work usually,” May said.

During one of countertenor Reginald Mobley’s visits to Dartmouth, May said he had the opportunity to rehearse with him.

The choir’s performances will take place on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.

This article was originally published online under the headline 'Handel Society concerts will feature professional musicians.'