Like hundreds of other people, last Friday night we were at St. Theresa’s Co-Cathedral attending a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble, Masterworks Festival Chorus, and members of the Hawaii Symphony. I couldn’t help but think that it was due to our ground-breaking performances of the Monteverdi Vespers that St. Theresa’s was chosen as a concert venue. I just now went back and re-read my post on this beautiful building “Spacious St. Theresa’s Co-Cathedral,” which Carl proclaimed as “the best acoustical space in all of Honolulu.” Conductor Tim Carney in fact used Carl’s quote about the stunning acoustics on his FaceBook wall to encourage people to come. Oh, and what a sound was created by those 100 choristers and 35-piece orchestra in that reverberant space!
The star of the show, hands down, was tenor Les Ceballos who was a last-minute substitution for Kip Wilborn who became ill. (In case you don’t remember, for many years Les sang all the tenor arias in our Bach cantata performances at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, as well as the St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion and Mass in B-Minor.) Tim Carney in fact called Les at 10 pm the night before the performance when it became clear that Kip would not be able to recover in time for the concert. So that means Les sang the concert with absolutely no rehearsal with the orchestra and had exactly 18 hours to prepare the solos. As everyone agreed, Les “hit it out of the ballpark” with his stunning performance and absolutely nailed all the high notes.
I researched the first performance of Verdi’s Requiem and found out it took place at San Marco — a church in Milan — on May 22, 1874. We have heard this dramatic work live several times, but always at Blaisdell Concert Hall — this was the first time we heard it in a church and I believe that a performance in a sacred setting, especially with the huge crucifix in front of you and cathedral acoustics made more of an impact on the audience.
I said the same thing when LCH performed the St. Matthew Passion — with the person who sang Jesus wearing an alb instead of a tuxedo — and it made the drama and the music come alive ever so much more.
It reminded me about the time we heard the Mozart Requiem in the Petrikirche in Leipzig which turned out to be one of the most memorable performances we ever experienced. As I wrote in the post called “Mostly Mozart,” we were surprised to see that the church still bore scars of World War II bombing with windows boarded up. We noticed that the audience was extremely quiet as they entered the building, and then the conductor came out and lit the Paschal candle. Interspersed between the movements of Mozart’s Requiem were readings and chants, and I remember especially how beautiful the choral singing and orchestral playing sounded in the reverberant building. At the end, no one clapped, but instead, the bells in the tower started ringing for several minutes. Then the choir and orchestra sang Mozart’s Ave Verum, which was not listed in the program, so it was almost used as an encore, except there was no applause preceding it. The piece never sounded so beautiful in these rather rundown surroundings. We found out later that this was a concert to honor AIDS victims.
At the end of the Verdi Requiem, Tim described an “incredible long silence after the last chord died away, followed by an immediate standing ovation for the performers. The concert was so moving and touched so many people in profound ways.”
I happen to think that being in that incredible, sacred space had something to do with it.
We have to thank Tim Carney for having the vision to bring this monumental work to fruition. What a gift he gave to the people of Honolulu!