Evaluate: Stutzmann dedicates ASO’s intense Mozart Requiem to Ukraine victims

With orchestras and opera corporations around the globe protesting Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, it was time for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra so as to add its personal voice. An insert in Thursday’s program printed the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag, with the phrases to the long-besieged nation’s nationwide anthem, “Ukraine’s Glory Has Not Perished.”  

Along with her purring and heat contralto talking voice, conductor Nathalie Stutzmann spoke to the viewers about this “mindless struggle of aggression.” She talked about being deeply moved by the social-media video of a musician in Ukraine who, brushing apart bomb particles from her piano, performed the instrument one final time earlier than evacuating.  

“We’re simply musicians,” Stutzmann mentioned. “We’ve got no weapons. However we should do what we are able to, and we provide what we may give: our music.” The ASO’s music director-designate devoted the efficiency of the Mozart Requiem to victims in Ukraine, with “hope for goodness and humanity to rise above all of it.” 

The viewers solemnly stood. The ASO Refrain, nearly 200 voices robust, sang the anthem in Ukrainian. Written within the 1860s, banned for many of the twentieth century, it returned solely after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. With music by Mykhailo Verbytsky, the anthem evokes earthy, heartbroken Slavic people music (a vocabulary that was additionally picked up by Mussorgsky). That is music of struggling and dedication.    

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra music director-designate Nathalie Stutzmann places hand to coronary heart to acknowledge an ovation.

Not surprisingly, the Mozart Requiem that adopted held all its common energy and sorrow, and far more. Stutzmann’s studying was unusually swift and intense, sooner than I’ve ever heard in efficiency and sure a lot sooner than this orchestra and refrain has ever skilled — the place gravitas is usually expressed by way of gathered weight and the place slower tempos counsel a deeper exploration.

However right here one thing curious occurred: As an alternative of diminishing the anticipated profundities, Stutzmann operated by a distinct set of efficiency requirements. Some conductors, in an try and de-romanticize a piece, will take a “traditionally knowledgeable” strategy, getting the orchestra and choir to make the music leaner, swifter, brighter and extra crisp in articulation. 

Stutzmann, as an early-music contralto, comes out of that world. However right here she opted for the grandeur of the total ASO Refrain (not the smaller, Classical-era Chamber Refrain), and whereas she scaled again the scale of the orchestra, it was nonetheless sturdy sufficient to counterbalance and associate with the massive mass of singers behind the stage. By way of all of it, her grand conception — maybe we must always name it Stutzmann’s private strategy — enhanced the work’s which means. 

After a moderately historically paced opening motion, Requiem aeternam, the second motion, Kyrie eleison, zipped alongside at high pace, the place every overlapping fugal line barely had time to register. Lord have mercy, the waves had been crashing in, nearly abruptly.  

The Dies Irae, a battering-ram of music for Judgment Day, was additionally super-fast, which stored the performers on the sting of their seats. However the readability and focus of the refrain, ready to such exacting requirements by Norman Mackenzie, stays a marvel to listen to.

The quartet of operatic vocal soloists had been stationed mid-stage, in entrance of the refrain and behind the orchestra. This setup seems and feels acceptable, the place the person singers aren’t the celebrities of the present up entrance however, moderately, embedded within the tapestry of the Requiem. Sadly, this setup sounds horrible, as if the singers had been in a distinct room. Any nuance of their voice evaporates in Symphony Corridor’s muddled acoustics and beneath the loud whoosh of the air conditioner.

Nonetheless, the 4 singers had robust voices. Bass Burak Bilgili, who has sung an enthralling Don Pasquale at Atlanta Opera, right here supplied the Requiem’s Tuba mirum with highly effective tones. Tenor Kenneth Tarver was shiny and tangy in tone. The ladies got here off a bit higher. Soprano Martina Janková and mezzo Sara Mingardo, two attractive voices, sang their elements like they had been characters in The Magic Flute, filled with character and a focus to the texts.

The opening sections of this Requiem had been gradual to fuse collectively — comprehensible with an unfamiliar conductor on the podium and with an usually excessive interpretation. The refrain got here along with the Rex tremendae motion, the place the phrases “Rex” after which “salva me” had been so gentle, on a pillow of air. Breathtakingly lovely.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra live performance will likely be carried out once more on March 18 at 8 p.m. and March 20 at 3 p.m.

They had been likewise very good for the heaven-and-hellfire pictures of the Confutatis maledictis, backed by an exquisite trio of trombones, led by Nathan Zgonc, the three of them standing for menacing impact. 

This was the ASO’s first post-Covid rules live performance. With pandemic protocols lifted in Symphony Corridor, everybody might carry out with out masks. For the refrain, that meant uninhibited vocalizations and readability of projection. For the orchestra, no masks meant no extra open-collar, all-black apparel, for consolation. They returned to conventional white-tie-and-tails formal put on. 

The night opened with a touching scene. As Stutzmann arrived on stage, the group gave her a hearty standing ovation. Maybe as a result of she’s comparatively new to this conducting enterprise, or as a result of it truly is her character, however she appeared stunned and touched by the help. Not like too many maestros, who could be glorious conductors however by no means appear to narrate to their viewers, Stutzmann put her hand to her coronary heart and also you believed she was honest.

Richard Strauss’ Loss of life and Transfiguration was the one different music on the formal program, a celestial, big-orchestra tone poem on the concern of demise and making peace with one’s personal life, then slipping away into non secular launch and blissful demise. The cascading melodies, hyper agitation and wonderful woodwind solos have lengthy performed to the ASO’s strengths beneath Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles. Stutzmann, as with the whole lot, brings her personal imaginative and prescient to this acquainted music and has everybody listening to it anew.   


Pierre Ruhe was the founding government director and editor of ArtsATL. He’s been a critic and cultural reporter for the Washington Submit, London’s Monetary Occasions and the Atlanta Journal-Structure, and was director of creative planning for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He’s publications director of Early Music America.

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