Johannes Brahms wrote “Ein Deutsches Requiem” (”A German Requiem”) following his mother’s death in February 1865. The lyrics for the choral composition were chosen by Brahms from German-translated biblical texts. The requiem unfolds over seven movements, traveling through an emotional landscape that includes the somber, frightful, triumphant, angelic and glorious.
This season, the Taos Community Chorus (TCC), directed by guest conductor Erick Brunner, performs Brahms’ “Ein Deutsches Requiem.” The concerts will take place on Saturday (May 6) at First Presbyterian Church, Sunday (May 7) at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and Saturday and Sunday (May 13-14) at St. James Episcopal Church, all in Taos. All performances begin at 3 p.m.
The work will be performed in English, following a relatively recent translation by Lara Hoggard.
“This amazing edition of the score restores the original musical phrasing as it exists in German, thereby maintaining the gorgeous lines Brahms is so famous for,” reads a TCC press release. “In addition, although this work utilizes scriptural texts, it does so in a non-religious, more secular/spiritual manner and therefore is not a setting of the traditional Catholic requiem mass.”
Brahms originally wrote the requiem for piano and orchestral instrumental parts. Claire Detels, pianist and TCC assistant director, will perform on piano an arrangement that fulfills all of the instrumentation. She said that in preparation for performing the piece, she has had to think of the entire orchestra, to recognize in the musical reduction which part is the oboe and which part the cello and basses play.
“It’s exciting,” Detels said. “I love Brahms. I love the orchestral writing and I love his piano music, too. It’s just an exciting challenge.”
Detels explained that Brahms’ “Requiem” is also quite demanding for the chorus. “It’s very, very difficult. It makes enormous demands on the chorus in terms of range, with the lowest notes you ever see and the highest notes you ever see, for all the parts,” Detels noted. “The harmonies they have to sing with and against each other are extremely demanding – and the [contrapuntal] singing where everybody is doing something different at the same time – and you have to hold onto your part for dear life.”
The choral work has two soloist parts. The soprano is sung by Julie Greer, who is also the president of the board of the TCC, and the baritone is sung by Carlos Archuleta, who lives in Los Alamos and joins the TCC for the first time.
Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Greer began studying voice at age 12 with Margaret Burgoyne. She continued her studies at DePauw University with Thomas Fitzpatrick, where she sang female opera leads, including Lauretta in Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” Dinah in Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” and Johanna in Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s “Sweeney Todd.” She sang professionally with Chicago Light Opera Works, Basically Bach and Grant Park Symphony Chorus. After moving to Los Angeles, California, she fronted a pop-indie band for several years before settling in Taos, where she is an artist and composer. Greer recently released a CD of original songs, called “A Healing Heart.”
Greer’s solo occurs in the fifth movement. This movement was added by Brahms to the requiem after it had been written and performed once.
“It’s this ethereal floating — like a dove floating above – it’s so ethereal and so gorgeous,” Greer said.
Detels claims the piece was made for a voice like Greer’s. “It is this soaring, fabulous lyric soprano, which is her voice type, and this one is made to soar out over this lovely accompaniment and occasional interjections from the chorus. Erick [Brunner] is taking it at a very slow tempo, which makes it all the more challenging, but all the more beautiful,” Detels added.
Archuleta has sung with the Santa Fe Opera, the Washington National Opera, the New York City Opera, the Boston Lyric Opera and many others. As Escamillo in “Carmen,” he traveled to London and performed at the Royal Albert Hall. Archuleta has performed the solos for J.S. Bach’s cantata, “Ich habe genug,” with the American Festival of Microtonal Music (New York City) and for Carl Nielsen’s “Symphony No. 3” with the Minnesota Orchestra. He has also appeared in Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” and Bach’s “Magnificat.”
Archuleta recently toured with Debra Layers and Christian Martos around Northern New Mexico performing vocal music inspired by William Shakespeare, the English playwright. During the spring 2017 season, he performed as Tonio in “Pagliacci” with Opera Southwest.
Tickets for the Brahms concerts are $15 at the door on the day of performance, $12 in advance, $10 for seniors and free for youth 18 years old and under. Advance tickets can be purchased from TCC members or online at taoschorus.org.