SANTA FE, N.M. — Voices will be lifted in divine praise when the Santa Fe Community Orchestra presents its biennial Choral Extravaganza! Sunday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.
Some 180 singers will take part in the event, although they will split into two separate groups: one taking on Zoltán Kodály’s “Te Deum” and the other tackling Mozart’s incomparable “Great Mass in C Minor.”
The “Te Deum” singers are combined from choirs hailing from Santa Fe High School, St. John’s College and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
SFCO Music Director Oliver Prezant explained that the choirs practice separately at their schools, under their separate conductors (Andy Kingston at St. John’s, Marilyn Barnes at Santa Fe High and Steven Paxton at SFUAD). But Prezant drops in at those practices and confers regularly with the conductors so that the singers are all on the same page when they come together for the final rehearsals.
The SFCO Community Chorus will take over the vocal duties for Mozart’s Mass. That group includes members “who have been singing with us over many years,” Prezant said, with some coming from church choirs or from the Santa Fe Symphony Chorus. Some drive in regularly for practice from as far away as Las Vegas, N.M., and Albuquerque.
Soloists for both pieces will be sopranos Cecilia Leitner and Christina Martos, tenor Tjett Gerdom and baritone Carlos Archuleta.
“The writing is so beautiful,” Prezant said of the “Great Mass,” noting that it’s one of Mozart’s more mature works. “It stands with the ‘Requiem’ as a worthy choral work by Mozart.”
Composed during 1782-83, the piece was created in honor of his wife Constanze, who sang a section of it at its premiere in Salzburg. It’s actually an unfinished piece, with some of the portions of the Mass done only in part. It’s a mystery why it wasn’t finished, as well as how it was first performed, Prezant said.
Generally, music for Masses was written to be performed with the Roman Catholic ritual and not as a general concert piece to be performed outside the church, he said. Scholars argue about whether the piece actually was completed, but certain parts lost, or whether Mozart subbed in portions of his previous compositions to fill in the blanks in performance of the “Great Mass.”
Prezant added that the choir will perform only the portions of the piece known to have been completed by Mozart, such as the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus. “It makes for a satisfying performance,” he said.
“Some parts of it really feel like the style of Mozart and some harken back to a Baroque treatment, with a very independent bass line and a lot of counterpoint,” Prezant said. “In a lot of parts, the chorus is divided in two, singing against each other.”
Kodály’s “Te Deum” is more recent, first performed in 1936. A hymn of joy and thanksgiving, it “covers a lot of ground in terms of devotion and imagery,” according to Prezant.
A modernist composer, Kodály also brings in touches of traditional folk music from his native Hungary, he said. Although the text is Latin, this composition gives it Hungarian speech rhythms, Prezant added.
“You’ve got a wonderful combination of some traditions of liturgical music combined with some elements of Hungarian style, and on top of that a modernist treatment in some sections,” he said. “It has a definite European flavor.”
Pulling together to present this music to the public, the musicians and singers are all volunteers, Prezant noted, expressing his gratitude for their time and effort.
“It’s a wonderful experience of music-making to be able to work with everyone,” he said.