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‘War Requiem’ a colossal undertaking

November 9, 2018

Colossal.

That’s the word Andrew Constantine repeatedly uses to describe “War Requiem,” which the Fort Wayne Philharmonic will present Saturday, nearly 100 years after the end of World War I.

Colossal in effort, colossal in meaning and : certainly : colossal in scale. The performance at Embassy Theatre includes the Philharmonic, Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus, Purdue Fort Wayne University Singers, Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, Battle Creek Community Chorus out of Michigan, Albion College Concert Choir also out of Michigan and members of Cantate Chicago. It also features three vocal soloists.

“If people are interested in performance art, you should experience this at least once in your life,” says Constantine, the Philharmonic’s music director.

He has been planning the production since 2015. The previous year, he had seen several groups performing “War Requiem” to commemorate the start of WWI, but he thought it was more appropriate to mark the end of the war. Armistice Day is Sunday.

Benjamin Britten composed “War Requiem” in 1961 for the dedication of Coventry Cathedral in England. The original cathedral had been destroyed during a bombing raid in WWII.

″(Britten) was an ardent and passionate pacifist, and he really intended this work to shock people,” Constantine says.

The composer combined the text for a Latin Mass with poetry written by soldier Wilfred Owen in the trenches of WWI. Owen was killed a week before the Armistice, and his poetry talks about the futility of war.

Two male soloists, baritone Daniel Scofield and tenor Thomas Cooley, represent an English and a German solider who sing Owen’s poetry. Soprano Twyla Robinson performs what Constantine refers to as an angelic role.

The piece alternates between full orchestra and chorus in Latin and the more intimate chamber orchestra working with the male soloists.

The children’s choir will be offstage.

“They’re supposed to be in the distance, which is just as well because we don’t have room for them onstage,” Constantine says with a laugh.

He will serve as conductor for “War Requiem,” a position held by Meredith Davies along with Britten in the original performance in the early ’60s. Davies would later be Constantine’s high school music teacher.

Constantine calls “War Requiem” a summation of the working life of a great composer, both Britten’s musical skills and his personal beliefs. It hopefully sends the audience away calmer and better people.

Constantine says he has been overwhelmed by audience members telling him that recent Masterworks performances are the best concerts they have seen from the orchestra. He says the orchestra is on a real high at the moment with projects such as the recent recording of Walter Bricht’s work bringing the Philharmonic to a global audience during its 75th anniversary season.

“It’s one thing to plan a major event like ‘War Requiem,’ it’s another to actually have the wherewithal to achieve a convincing and compelling performance,” he says.

cmcmaken@jg.net

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