The Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra’s next concert draws on the idea that the city’s new performing arts center can bring the community together.
That’s true from the obvious standpoint of performers and audience members gathering in Pablo Center at the Confluence, but the major piece on the Saturday program in Pablo Center’s RCU Theatre has required a sizable crowd just counting the ensemble.
For Carl Orff’s room-shaking “Carmina Burana,” the orchestra will be joined by the newly formed Chippewa Valley Festival Chorus, which has 80 singers. In total, it’s a group that wouldn’t fit on a local concert stage until Pablo Center opened.
“The reason we didn’t do it until this year is because you need a really big stage,” said Nobuyoshi Yasuda, the CVSO’s music director.
But Yasuda also likes the idea of the venue serving as a point of reference for the region’s performers and arts appreciators.
“I believe Pablo Center is the place that will connect people,” he said, then adding specifically in this case, “bring people from many different choirs.”
Yasuda is well aware of the Chippewa Valley’s proud choral tradition. “I know so many wonderful choirs in Eau Claire,” he said.
So he hoped to help form an independent choir to perform not just regularly with the orchestra but on its own as well. To help with that he recruited Jerry Hui, director of choral activities at UW-Stout.
Yasuda had not previously met Hui, but he soon realized he appeared to be the right leader for the job.
“My instinct was just right; more than right,” Yasuda said. “He had this incredibly positive attitude. … He generated the fun, the joy of rehearsal. After the rehearsal, many people said, ‘Oh, this is fun.’”
That matches Yasuda’s desire to combine fun for his players as well as leading a high-level performance.
“We don’t just ask people, ‘You do this’ (or) just train them to do something,” he said. “No, no, no! We want to have many, many people participate in this wonderful project, but we want them to enjoy it.”
Hui said he also follows that philosophy.
“First and foremost, for me music making, especially in a choir situation, is really all about the communal experience, and I would certainly hope that we are providing a communal experience that is actually fun, positive and enjoyable instead of dark, angry and miserable,” he said with a laugh.
Hui acknowledged that in previous generations choral and orchestral maestros often had the reputation of being fearsome taskmasters, but he doesn’t believe in leading by intimidation.
“Life is short,” he said. “Why not make music and have fun at the same time?”
Hui brings to his role experience as a composer, conductor and performer. Besides leading the UW-Stout choirs, Hui serves as conductor of the Menomonie Singers, assistant conductor at the Madison Early Music Festival, and artistic director of the Eau Claire-based Schola Cantorum, a 12-voice a cappella choir that performs music of the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods.
Rising to the challenge
In listing the challenges of “Carmina Burana,” Hui said the language requires special attention. Orff put together the text from various manuscripts from the 13th century — mostly written in Latin with a few old German pieces mixed in.
“The problem is, even if you speak German, in fact, especially if you speak modern day German, the language would look very obscure because the spelling is different or (the section has) alternate words,” Hui said. “It’s probably written in some dialect so even that is tricky.”
Even singers comfortable with singing church music in Latin will find themselves tested.
“We are going for what is called a German-Latin pronunciation,” he said. “Mostly because, just so that we can respect the origin of the text but also the composer himself, Carl Orff, was German and there’s a pretty specific and different way how Latin would be pronounced in Germany, even to this day.”
Plus, he added, if it’s not sung that way, “it makes no musical sense.”
The rewards, Hui said, come from the fact that the music contains abundant memorable tunes, including the famous section called “O Fortuna.” But even other passages stand out.
“For the rest of the piece they still provide endless amounts of very simple, very fun to sing melodies on repeat,” he said, while acknowledging those melodies accompany large clusters of words sung rapidly.
But Hui complimented the group’s progress so far.
“The chorus sound is really good, and they’re learning things really fast,” he said.
“Carmina Burana,” which premiered in 1937, may or may not be recognizable to particular audience members by its name, but it should strike a chord of familiarity upon hearing it. That’s because the music has been borrowed for the soundtrack of films such as “Glory” and “The Hunt for Red October” and in television shows and commercials as well.
In fact, Yasuda said, when he first brought up the title, some seemed unfamiliar with it.
“When we played one chord they said, ‘Oh, that one. We want to sing that. Of course.’”
Yasuda also is delighted to be performing “Carmina Burana” because it has been on the wish list of Mel Breed, who with his wife, Leann, is a strong supporter of the CVSO.
“Mel told me that the thing is, you feel I’m giving you financial support, but you actually are making my dream come true,” he said.
Breed said in a phone interview that he and Leann had seen the work performed by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra when their son attended Augustana College in that area.
“We were just smitten by the whole piece,” he said.
Among the reasons Breed hoped for a performance of the work in Eau Claire was that it could be the impetus for creating a symphony choir. So when it appeared Pablo Center at the Confluence was on track, he said, he made the suggestion.
“Nobu was very receptive,” he said. “He knew the piece, thought it would be exciting.”
The other selections also help close the CVSO’s season on a dynamic note.
Besides “Carmina Burana,” which Yasuda described as “mighty and powerful,” they will present Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, a piece Yasuda said has a “victorious spirit,” and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with its “grand and majestic and positive” sound — and cannon blasts.
It should be noted, Yasuda was quick to add, they won’t be using actual cannons in the performance.
“We don’t want to destroy Pablo Center,” he said with a grin.
The orchestra’s 2019-20 season, while not officially announced yet, will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Yasuda said. As that piece also calls for a large choir, the hope is again to feature the Festival Chorus, and Hui said he also is hoping to lead the group, although some planning details remain to be worked out.
Thus, it appears the orchestra and Pablo Center will continue to make high level connections.