International Choir Festival InCanto Mediterraneo

Big work. Little choir. Putting on Verdi's Requiem.

  • There might be readers of this blog who want to mount a really big work with a relatively small choir. In which case I thought I’d share some thoughts on our current project to perform Verdi’s Messa di Requiem in Guildford on November 24th 2012. 


    I’ve been musical director of Leatherhead Choral Society for over 10 years, and as we’ve grown in numbers from around 25 members to around 65 our programmes have got more and more ambitious. We’ve done a few large-scale works, and each time we try something big it generates so much excitement and buzz that we can’t wait to repeat the experience. Well I say “we” - I’m not convinced the treasurer always shares my enthusiasm for big expensive concerts but so far we’ve only really lost money once due to unexpectedly poor ticket sales. (Yes, Rossini’s Petite Messe, I’m looking at you.) 


    But Verdi’s Messa di Requiem, one of the most popular choral works with both choirs and audiences, and one of the greatest, seemed destined to remain out of our reach. The sheer scale of it seems so daunting and the financial equation so inevitably ruinous: massive orchestra = massive choir = massive venue = massive loss.


    But then rather unexpectedly the wonderful, wonderful Leatherhead committee led by its wonderful, wonderful chairman said “What the hell. Let’s do it anyhow.” Now that’s the sort of committee a musical director likes. Really it all started with a very generous anonymous donation from a member of the choir who had heard me dropping hints and wanted to show their support for the idea. 


    And then the rest of the pieces started to fall into place.


    At first there didn’t seem to be anywhere locally where we could perform such a big piece. And then, unexpectedly, Guildford Borough Council built us the perfect venue. Showing imagination and vision (words one doesn’t always associate with the phrase “Borough Council”) they knocked down the decrepit old Civic Hall and replaced it with the new (if naffly-named) GLive, a beautiful 1000-seater auditorium with a large stage and superb acoustics that seems to have been designed specifically with us in mind. 


    Then, with surprising ease, we constructed a choir. We knew Leatherhead couldn’t pull this off on its own so we approached another conductor who has worked with us in the past, Val Beynon, MD of both Oxshott and Horsley choral societies. She was immediately excited and enthusiastic about the project and communicated that enthusiasm to the committees of both the choirs and, to cut a long story short, they came on board. The icing on the cake is that my other choir, Concordia Singers in Crawley came in too, which brings us up to around 220 voices.


    Even so, we still had to cut the orchestra down to size a bit. Nowadays there are various alternatives to the original orchestration depending on the scale of the performance: in my researches I came across at least three reduced orchestration versions. Each one takes a different approach, but the one we selected as best for our purposes is a brand new one by Ian Bauers which keeps faith with Verdi’s original but cuts down on the number of wind players needed. Just what we were looking for.


    And then we lined up four terrific soloists and it looks like we’ve got ourselves a project. We’ve still got to sell tickets of course. Lots and lots of them. It could still all go horribly wrong financially - but if we do go down we’ll go down fighting. 


    So that’s the current posish. If you would like to see how we get on as the concert date draws nearer then by all means check out my blog. And do feel free to comment. 

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