The Brown University Chorus opens its fall season Saturday evening with a hauntingly beautiful performance of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Vespers" at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Director Louis Frederick Jodry described "Vespers" as extravagant and exciting — and the piece is just that. Rachmaninoff's music weaves together moments of peaceful meditation with triumphant crescendos that leave listeners enraptured, hanging onto every perfectly performed note in anticipation of what is to come next.
"What I love about this piece is that it calls for the extreme," Jodry said of the piece's ability to flow from very quiet, tender moments to victorious heights.
Hearing this stunning piece in the cathedral only heightens the experience. As Jodry said, the church has "opulent acoustics" that resonate the notes back to the audience in an amazing fashion, enriching the already plush harmonies and textures of the music.
The music is "as intricate as this ceiling," Jodry said, referring to the gorgeous ceilings of the cathedral, with its gold filigree, stone work and red and blue hues. Beyond the acoustics, the setting is beautiful. The decor and sheer size of the cathedral create an atmosphere of awe. Jodry said that when Rachmaninoff composed the piece, this is the setting he would have envisioned.
The performance provides "a little glimpse of the eternal," Jodry said.
The chorus as a whole is spectacular, coming together in perfect synchronicity to relate the powerful emotions Rachmaninoff's piece conveys to the audience.
Two soloists are featured in the concert — Olivia Harding '12 and Andrew Wong '11 — who each deliver wonderful, though very different, performances.
Wong's meditative solo is beautiful in its softness and peacefulness, while Harding's rich, deep voice is strong and vibrant. "Rachmaninoff understood that some women have very low voices," Harding said. Her wonderfully haunting voice compliments the intensity of the Russian text extremely well.
The piece was written in Old Church Slavonic — a variation on Russian that is used in the Orthodox Church. Lynne deBenedette, chorus member and senior lecturer in Slavic studies, has helped the chorus learn the correct pronunciation of the hour-long choral text.
The chorus has been begging Jodry to direct Rachmaninoff's Vespers for about two years, said chorus member Ellen Shadburn '12. They had performed snippets of the piece two years ago as part of a performance with Providence College, Jodry said, and since then have been petitioning him to put on the piece in its entirety.
"This stuff is so brooding and emotive," said chorus member Ethan Reed '12. "And Russian is so much fun."
The concert is free for Brown students, but Jodry said he hopes that the public comes out to see it as well, as all funds will be put towards the chorus's next trip abroad.
The combination of compelling music, a gorgeous setting and pitch perfection from the chorus promises to make the chorus's first fall concert a unique and memorable performance.
"If there was a choral concert to go to, this would be it," Shadburn said.
The Brown University Chorus will perform Rachmaninoff's "Vespers" at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul and 4 p.m. Sunday at St. George's School in Middletown, R.I. Admission is free for Brown students.