Music News & Reviews

Life and death take center stage at weekend classical music concerts

The notion of hope and joy is represented in Saturday afternoon’s Rising Star concert by the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, which will be a showcase for the young cellist Joy Yanai.
The notion of hope and joy is represented in Saturday afternoon’s Rising Star concert by the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, which will be a showcase for the young cellist Joy Yanai.

The concerts in Sacramento this weekend are matters of life and death, beginning with Saturday evening’s performance of the monumental “Ein deutsches Requiem” by Johannes Brahms, complete with English-language supertitles on the Convention Center Theater’s proscenium for the German-impaired.

Maestro Donald Kendrick will be at the helm for the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra’s rendition of the epic memorial ceremony for the dead, although Brahms dispensed with the liturgical elements of the traditional requiem mass and chose German rather than Latin. The soloists will be soprano Carrie Hennessey and baritone Trevor Scheunemann.

Scheunemann will also be the soloist for the Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams, settings for baritone and chorus of poems by Welsh-born poet George Herbert. The program will open with Edward Elgar’s Serenade in E Minor, an early work for strings in three movements.

The evening’s compositions share a common thread. “They are thematically connected with the theme of hope and resurrection. The texts are intertwined and complement each other perfectly,” said Kendrick.

The Brahms Requiem was an immediate success, with more than 20 performances in its debut year of 1869. Several elements contributed to its popularity in the German states.

“Brahms steers clear of the usual Latin liturgy, frightening and earth-shattering chaos, and reaches for comfort and reassurance instead,” Kendrick said.

He alluded to the composition’s masterful symmetry: “The piece is perfectly balanced classically, with the first and the seventh movement complementing each other, the second and the sixth, the third and the fifth movement, and the fourth as the fulcrum that balances the entire work.”

In the fifth movement the soprano sings the aria “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” (You now have sorrow), a message of solace that Hennessey finds especially moving.

“This music brings me such comfort and joy,” she said. “I cannot help but think of my beautiful mom when singing the aria. The lyricism and message remind me of my mother’s presence on this earth.”

Hennessey’s mother was a skilled accompanist and piano teacher, as well as the matriarch of a large musical family.

The notion of hope and joy is also represented in Sunday afternoon’s Rising Star concert by the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, which will be a showcase for the young cellist Joy Yanai.

Maestro Christian Baldini established the Rising Star series five years ago as a vehicle to promote the careers of upcoming musicians of extraordinary promise. Yanai will display her skills in three very different compositions, two in company with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra and one solo.

“Silent Woods” is a tranquil piece by Antonin Dvorak that the composer originally wrote for piano four-hands, but later arranged for cello and orchestra. “I am convinced that his Silent Woods is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for the cello,” said Yanai in conversation with Baldini.

The cellist will be on her own in Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite for Solo Cello, which Yanai characterizes as one of her favorite pieces.

“It always amazes me how versatile the cello itself can be with Cassadó’s imaginative extended techniques,” Yanai said.

The final showpiece on the concert’s program is the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saëns, a composition known for providing performers with generous opportunities to display their virtuosic skills. Yanai said that the concerto is replete with “so many different colors.”

Baldini explained that the repertory was chosen in close collaboration with the featured performer, and that Joy Yanai is a Rising Star he expects to rise to the occasion.

“It’s always a pleasure to conduct the Rising Star concert,” he said, “because it is especially tailored to showcase the strengths and extraordinary talent of a young musician at this particular moment in their lives.”

If You Go

Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23

Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street, Sacramento

Info: 916-536-9065; https://sacramentochoral.com/

Cost: $43 to $63

Camellia Symphony Orchestra: Rising Star Concert

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 24.

Where: C.K. McClatchy High School Auditorium, 3066 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento

Info: 916-929-6655; info@camelliasymphony.org

Cost: $8 to $30

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