In early October, “Requiem for Eagles” will briefly alight in Durango and Telluride.
At 7 pm. Saturday, David Lingle’s contemporary version of the ancient Latin Mass for the Dead will fill Durango’s Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College along with works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. At 3 p.m. Sunday, the program will be repeated in Telluride’s Michael Palm Theatre. The twin concerts mark the beginning of the San Juan Symphony’s 32nd season.
Thomas Heuser, music director of the symphony, said last week that he became interested in the Requiem when he was first being interviewed.
“Learning the story of this beloved Telluride composer and the work’s gestation, I was eager to perform it with the orchestra,” Heuser said. “The music has a powerful and positive message.”
Technically, the Requiem premiered two years ago in October 2015. Under Linda Mack Berven, director of the Durango Choral Society, twin performances in Durango and Telluride featured both choral groups, tenor soloist Curtis Storm, with a small chamber ensemble. As a result, it won a major award from Chorus America “for programming significant, recently composed music that expands the mission of the chorus.”
But the story begins in March 2012 with Lingle’s first iteration. He composed a seven-part requiem for a San Antonio, male chorus with simple piano accompaniment. Part of a larger program titled “Songs of Flight,” the work commemorated U.S. pilots who died in the Afghan War.
Then, 10 months later on Jan. 17, 2013, Lingle died of colon cancer. The Requiem manuscript and many others in process seemed lost.
“When David unexpectedly died, it was a shock to everyone,” said Telluride composer and colleague Dalen Stevens. “Those of us who knew him when he was our choral director didn’t know about his illness or his Requiem. We didn’t learn about it until his former wife, Jill, found the sketches.”
Telluride residents, headed by Stu and Ginny Fraser, marshaled forces and mounted a campaign to save the piece. They asked Stevens if he would expand the work for a mixed chorus and orchestra.
Since then, fundraising has continued. Stevens first estimated 650 hours for adapting Lingle’s original ideas, and noted the project has always felt like a collaboration with his friend. Now, he said, his original estimate has probably tripled – a labor of music and friendship. Now in print, the scores have needed attention for minute. Stevens involved Linda Mack Berven in the search. She’s choirmaster for the revived project, preparing Durango singers along with her Telluride colleague, Rhonda Muckerman.
The Requiem follows the traditional Latin Mass format with the following sections: Introit and Kyrie, a statement of belief (conventionally sung in Greek); Offertory, sung on behalf of the deceased; Sanctus, an exuberant hymn of praise; Pie Jesu, a prayer for mercy; Agnus Dei, a plea for intercession; Libera Me, a warning and a cry for reconciliation; and In Paradisum: the promise of peace eternal where the eagle becomes a metaphor for a spirit guide through death to another, more peaceful realm.
Besides sheer musical invention, what distinguishes the Lingle/Stevens Requiem from hundreds of predecessors is the final section, sung in English. It’s based on the American folk tune “The Lone Wild Bird.” You may recognize the melody, as many folk singers and choirs have recorded different renditions. Originally, it came from a Shape-Note Tunebook, compiled by William Walker in 1835. Like “Amazing Grace,” its tune book companion, the melody itself is memorable.
The text was added in 1925, and that’s what Lingle incorporated into his Requiem, integrating the idea of an eagle as a spirit guide along with certain sonic themes from Native American music.
In the translucent conclusion, In Paradisum, the music and text merge as if the spirit guide leads and soars higher and higher.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and will be participating in the performances.