Musicians take on Mozart’s ‘Requiem’


By JOHN BURNETT

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Kanilehua Chorale and the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Kapili Choir will team up for two performances of Mozart’s “Requiem” this weekend at the Palace Theater, Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.

Mozart’s final work, which was unfinished when he died in 1791, was completed by Austrian composer Franz Xaver Süssmayr. A performance by the Kapili Choir was originally scheduled for last fall, but was cancelled when conductor Matthew Howell fell ill.

Pedro Ka‘awaloa will conduct the combined choral group, which he said will be “about 30” voices. There are four featured vocal soloists: Amy Horst, soprano; Gerdine Markus, alto; Kaweo Kanoho, tenor; and Barry Brandes, bass.

“The material is very complex,” said Ka‘awaloa. “It was originally scheduled to be done in October, and it didn’t pan out then, but the Kanilehua members who were in (the Kapili Choir) wanted to do it, and they wanted to take it on as a project for us. I said, ‘Sure, that’s great.’ And it’s totally been a ride.”

Ka‘awaloa said the Palace, a downtown art deco theater built in 1929, may be a “more fitting” venue for “Requiem” than the university’s larger, more modern and institutional theater.

“It feels a bit more antiquated and more of an opera-style setting. So I think the Palace is a great place for it,” he said.

The piece was originally scored for an orchestra of two basset horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, violins, viola and basso continuo (cello, double bass and organ).

The orchestra will be replaced by three accompanists: Cheryl “Quack” Moore, piano; Walter Greenwood, organ continuo (sustained bass lines); and Nathan Vargas, timpani.

Moore quipped it may be “the most novel orchestration ever, but this is Hilo.”

“It’s an incredibly interesting, glorious piece, and I have played the harpsichord part before with a large orchestra,” she said. “The choral part was mostly finished. It was the instrumental part that wasn’t fleshed out. Mozart put in what’s called a figured bass, which is common in Baroque music. There’s a shorthand for Baroque and there is some flexibility in how that’s interpreted. And the orchestra part, I’d say 80 percent of the time, follows closely what the choral parts are doing. We’re playing, essentially, all the choral parts with a bass continuo line.”

Ka‘awaloa is a music teacher and band director at Hilo High School and Vargas is a senior in the school’s band.

“He’s a passionate, dedicated student. He really loves all types of music,” Ka‘awaloa said. “He’s our section leader for percussion and he’s very excited about this project. He’s great to work with and brings a lot of his own ideas and creativity to the table, but he’s also very responsive to the other musicians. That’s why I asked him to do the project. I knew he would be excited about it, and also able to lock in on it quickly and easily.”

Ka‘awaloa said that “Requiem” is “in many ways outside the norm of what we expect of Mozart” and that his challenge is to “not overthink this.”

“We have to feel this music and pay homage to Mozart and to the music that it is and bring it to life,” he said. “I’ve got to be thinking, because this music isn’t easy. I’ve got to pay attention as a conductor. But I want, as much as possible, for everybody to be feeling the music and the emotion, because that’s the story.”

“Requiem” is the second part of the program. The first part features pieces by Brahms, Liszt and Fauré performed by the Kanilehua Chorale.

Admission is $15 general, $5 students with ID. Tickets are on sale at the Palace box office and Basically Books in downtown Hilo.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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