Imagine the sight of over 300 musicians on stage at Davies Symphony Hall. It’s quite a thought, and that’s what the San Francisco Symphony has in store for audiences this week, as Charles Dutoit conducts Berlioz’s magnificent Requiem – the Grande Messe des morts – in a series of performances which opened this evening.
The San Francisco Symphony is joined by tenor Paul Groves, the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, directed by Susan McMane, the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus under the direction of Joseph Piazza, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, directed by Ragnar Bohlin.
This towering work by Berlioz, written in 1837, quite evidently held a special place in his heart, for – in a letter to his friend Humbert Ferrand – he wrote: “If I were threatened with the destruction of all my works but one, I should beg mercy for the Requiem” (James M Keller, SF Symphony program annotator). Berlioz didn’t seem to suffer from writer’s block – or the composer’s equivalent – either, judging by his description of the process: “My head seemed ready to burst with the pressure of my seething thoughts. No sooner was one piece sketched than another presented itself. Finding it impossible to write fast enough, I adopted a sort of shorthand, which helped me greatly, especially in the Lacrymosa”.
Maestro Dutoit has long been a welcome guest in San Francisco. He made his debut at Davies Symphony Hall with the Montreal Symphony in 1981, and returned four years later to make the first of many appearances with the San Francisco Symphony. As part of the Symphony’s Great Performers Series, Charles Dutoit led the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Orchestre National de France, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Currently Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Maestro Dutoit is also Conductor Laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with whom he has been associated for the past thirty years, as chief conductor, and music director of the Orchestra’s series at the Mann Music Center and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. He was music director of the Orchestre National de France, and has also served as principal conductor and music director of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, of which he is now Music Director Emeritus. The name of Charles Dutoit will forever be linked with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, which rose to international fame during his twenty-five year tenure as artistic director.
With a keen interest in mentoring young musicians, Charles Dutoit has served as music director of the Sapporo Pacific Music Festival and Miyazaki International Music Festival in Japan, as well as the Canton International Summer Music Academy in Guangzhou. In 2009, he became Music Director of the Verbier Festival Orchestra, considered one of the best training orchestras in the world.
Paul Groves, guest soloist in these performances of the Berlioz Requiem, made his debut in this work with Charles Dutoit and the New York Philharmonic, in 2003. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions in 1991, and a graduate of the Met Opera’s Young Artists Development Program, he made his debut with the Company in 1992 as the Steuermann in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, and has since sung roles at the Met which include Camille de Rosillon in The Merry Widow, opposite Placido Domingo and Frederica von Stade; Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte; Tom Rakewell in The Rake’s Progress; Lysander in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail; and Don Ottavio in nationally-televised performances of Don Giovanni opposite Bryn Terfel and Renee Fleming. Mr Groves’ current season opened with a role debut – as Alessandro Cesare in Cavalli’s Eliogabalo – with the Opéra national de Paris. He has returned to his native New Orleans to sing the title role in Faust with the New Orleans Opera, appeared in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphony, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone with the Oregon Symphony.
Ragnar Bohlin, director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus since 2007, is regarded as one of the world’s leading choral conductors. He has led the Chorus in works such as J S Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and B minor Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Faure’s Requiem, and Orff’s Carmina burana, and has had his work recognized with three Grammy Awards – for Mahler’s Symphony No 8 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Mr Bohlin is the founding Artistic Director of the professional chamber choir Cappella SF, and currently teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
The widely acclaimed San Francisco Symphony Chorus has received Grammy awards – for Best Performance of a Choral Work – for Orff’s Carmina burana, Brahms’s German Requiem, and Mahler’s Symphony No 8 – and Best Classical Album – for a collection of Stravinsky’s music including Perséphone, The Firebird, and Le Sacre du printemps – and also for Mahler’s Symphonies Nos 3 and 8.
The Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, founded by Artistic and Executive Director Susan McMane, has performed on the San Francisco Opera stage with Jake Heggie and Frederica von Stade; at Cal Performances with the Kronos Quartet and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London; and has toured both nationally and internationally. In 2014, YWC won the American Prize in Choral Performance and the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America and American Composers Forum.
Joseph Piazza was appointed Music Director of the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus in 2010, since when the chorus has appeared at international and state choral festivals, released recordings of newly commissioned works, partnered with community arts organizations, and performed throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Charles Dutoit leads two more performances of the Berlioz Requiem at Davies Symphony Hall – on May 5 and 6. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.