Carmina Lures You In

Kathryn Miller on April 13, 2009
Ragnar Bohlin
During a season otherwise filled with the iconic works of Beethoven, Mahler, and Handel, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under the baton of Ragnar Bohlin will explore its eclectic side on April 19. The program features Carl Orff’s hugely popular work Carmina Burana, but will also introduce listeners to the work of Lars Johan Werle, Eric Whitacre, Joseph Rheinberger, and Veljo Tormis.

Audience favorite Carmina Burana, arranged for choir, two pianos, and percussion by Wilhelm Kilmayer, earned a Grammy for the San Francisco Symphony in 1993. This time, it will feature soloists Chester Pidduck, Brian Leerhuber, and Ji Young Yang (described by San Francisco Classical Voice as having a “bright and stunningly agile” voice), as well as the Lower School Choir of Berkeley’s Crowden School.

While Carmina Burana will lure audiences, the works of the four lesser-known composers will be arguably more interesting. Joseph Rheinberger, born in Lichtenstein, wrote at the end of the 19th century, and is known primarily as an organist and composer of organ music. His Drei Geistliche Gesänge brings to mind the motets of Rheinberger’s contemporary Anton Bruckner in their densely romantic style.

The selections by Eric Whitacre (I thank you, God) and Lars-Johan Werle (trees) are both settings of e.e. cummings poems. Werle uses short, percussive phrases reminiscent of the quirky poet. I Thank You, God, on the other hand, is tuneful and sweeping. The Symphony Chorus will surely make great use of Whitacre’s soaring phrases and gestures.

Known for his large-scale choral works, Veljo Tormis often draws inspiration from Estonian folk traditions. Rather than simply setting folk tunes for chorus, however, the inspiration is more likely to come from a small phrase or gesture in a song, or even a textual reference. His extended 1972 work A Curse Upon Iron uses voices in a very orchestral manner, with speechlike phrases emerging from the thick texture. The work uses influences from shamanistic tradition to comment on what he called the “evil of war.”