On Sunday evening at Fort Lewis College, the Community Concert Hall stage has its work cut out for it: Roughly 55 orchestra musicians, 95 singers and conductor Guillermo Figueroa will squeeze onto the risers and floor space for a one-of-a-kind performance.
On tap: Carl Orff’s inimitable “Carmina Burana,” a celebrated cantata based on 24 poems written by medieval monks around the 13th century. On Sunday, “Carmina” will be performed through a special partnership as Durango Choral Society singers join the Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra.
It’s an ambitious endeavor that has been two years in the making. “Carmina” is sung in Latin, medieval French and medieval German, and takes about an hour to perform. But Durango Choral Society Artistic Director Linda Mack Berven promises a memorable pairing of voices and orchestra.
“It’s big, it’s a wall of sound,” Mack Berven said. “There are movements in ‘Carmina Burana’ that will make your hair stand straight up.”
The Durango Choral Society has teamed up with Music in the Mountains in the past, most recently in 2008, when singers performed Verdi’s “Requiem” with the orchestra. Since then, Mack Berven and Music in the Mountains Artistic Director Greg Hustis have been talking about what the next big choral collaboration could be. They came up with “Carmina” two years ago.
“We have never done ‘Carmina Burana’ at Music in the Mountains,” Hustis said. “I thought it would be a good year to do it. I’m excited about it because it’s one of those pieces that the audience always loves.”
“Carmina” also comes with a rich history lesson. Written by medieval monks, the texts cover topics that range from the caprice of fortune to the pleasures of drinking, the return of spring, gambling, young love and lust. Many are bawdy and irreverent.
“These monks were students, and they, like many students, like to write poetry about stuff they couldn’t do,” Mack Berven said.
The collection was discovered about 200 years ago in a Bavarian monastery. When Orff, a German composer, learned about the texts in the 1930s, he decided to set them to music. His “Carmina Burana,” which is rooted in the idea of the inexorable turning of the wheel of fortune, was to become his best known work.
“It became very popular all over the world,” Mack Berven said.
Of course, it’s one thing for the Choral Society and Music in the Mountains to decide to mount such an ambitious musical work; it’s another to piece together the logistics required to make it happen. Organizers had to find a space big enough to hold all the musicians, pick out soloists, rent the music, find rehearsal space and then help the singers perfect the difficult music.
“There are so many words,” Mack Berven said. “The biggest challenge for the choir is all the words.”
But when it all unfolds, she said, it’ll be well worth the work.
“How often do you get to hear that many people on the stage doing a piece like that, that is so powerful?” she said. “Even if you don’t think you like classical music, this one is over the top.”
Indeed, a peek into a Choral Society rehearsal at Roshong Recital Hall this week offered a glimpse into a wide-ranging show that has singers bellowing wild verses one minute and singing soft mincing melodies the next.
“Can you give me a little more marcato, do you think?” Mack Berven asked the singers at one point.
They nodded, and when the music started up again, the room flooded with sound.
Hustis noted that the first half of Sunday’s concert, a Festival Orchestra performance of Hadyn’s “Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat,” should not be overlooked.
“It’s also a terrific piece,” he said. “It’s a terrific foil for the Orff. It’s completely different, and it’ll set the table nicely.”