Last Tuesday, she handed off her singers to the man who would take them to the finish line Sunday.
Linda Mack Berven, director of the Durango Choral Society, passed the baton to Guillermo Figueroa, artistic director of Music in the Mountains Summer Festival. Like the third runner in a 4x100 Olympic relay team, Mack Berven trusts the go-to guy on the team to bring it all home.
At 5:30 p.m. Sunday in the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, Figueroa, the Festival Orchestra and 75 singers from the combined choirs of the Durango Choral Society and the Telluride Singers will fill the stage and present the biggest concert of the summer.
“Voices of Destiny” will feature three big works and an emotional range that spans a wide spectrum. from exuberance through doubt, turbulence and acceptance,
The program will open with Bach’s Magnificat in D for orchestra, chorus and soloists; it’s a celebratory exploration in Latin of Mary’s reaction to the annunciation – or to put it in simple, contemporary terms, the moment when a young woman can’t wait to tell her favorite cousin she’s pregnant.
In contrast, the orchestra and chorus will follow with a lush Romantic meditation on fate. Johannes Brahms’ “Schicksalslied” (“Song of Destiny”) opens in a state of heavenly bliss, moves through a turbulent section that represents the realities of life and comes to rest in a state of final calm. The work captures the essence of the Romantic point of view and stands in stark contrast to the joyous, super positive Magnificat.
After intermission, Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, will be performed by the orchestra and soloist Vadim Gluzman. Filled with nostalgia and warm melodious writing, the work begins as a meditation and courses through to an exciting ending. Bruch incorporates Hungarian dance motifs and concludes with a high-energy roustabout.
All in all for sheer emotional range, this concert, which begins in an explosion of Baroque joy and ends on a Romantic high, may well express what it means to be human. As I’ve said in these pages before, sometimes one concert is better than six months of therapy.
As a singer, preparing for the summer choral concert is a rare experience. Mack Berven loves teaching difficult music, and she’s a taskmaster. She hand picks a balanced choir and provides everyone with an internet path to individual study. We’re all expected to work on our own to learn the music.
But that doesn’t mean Tuesday night rehearsals consist of drills, repetition or nit-picking – although Mack Berven is known for a love of high polish. Rehearsals are definitely for heavy musical lifting, but they are often laugh-out-loud fun.
One Tuesday, Mack Berven unwrapped her new Bach wig and proceeded to conduct the Magnificat in her shiny, white Baroque beehive. Another night, we sang the entire piece on nonsense syllables – ba-ba-baah, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-baah ba ba.
Mack Berven regularly reminds the sopranos not to fall in love with their own voices. Some sing unintended solos – holding a high note after a cutoff. With a fond, understanding smile, Mack Berven won’t tolerate divadom. She’ll stare at the offenders as a cutoff approaches and give a thowmping cutoff.
The basses are dear to Mack Berven’s heart. When the men do well, she lavishes praise. If they, too, fail to honor a cutoff, she threatens dire measures. Because she’s playing the harpsichord with the orchestra for the Bach, her most colorful threat has been: If you basses do that in the concert, I will collapse on stage, fall off the bench and take the harpsichord with me.”
In rehearsal, that’s considered a high-stakes admonition. And magically, it’s always delivered with a glimmer of affection.
Mack Berven also has an ongoing love-in with the tenors. And she can’t say enough about the altos’ warm, butter-cream entrance in the Brahms.
In fact, she adapts her conducting style to clarify exactly what she wants from the singers – every measure along the way. You can’t miss her “hot-stove flick” for the fastest Bach movements or her “dreamy-creamy” arm motions for the honeyed sections of the Brahms.
We’ve been preparing for Sunday’sconcert since early June. This summer, Mack Berven has made the journey challenging, interesting and fun. If you come to the concert, be sure to read the program notes and then give yourself over to the music.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.