David Rossi, director of the Mohawk Valley Chorus, wanted to be sure there would be no surprises when the chorus performs Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” on Sunday. So, he began working them on the piece at their weekly rehearsals in January.
“We started slowly at each rehearsal, as well as (rehearsing) the music for our March concert,” he said. “Usually, we do our classics concert in March, but because of Carmina, we made that a pops concert.”
Although Rossi has sung the almost two-hour piece before — he’s a tenor — this will be his first time as conductor. And the work is new for most of the 70-member chorus, except for those who might have sung with the chorus 10 years ago, when it was last performed.
Also singing on the Orff will be 15 singers from the Clifton Park Community Chorus, which Rossi also conducts, 10 singers from the MVC’s Youth Chorale and the Schenectady High Singers, along with three soloists: soprano Christina Pizzino-Catalano, baritone Michael Lotano and tenor Eric Christopher Perry. Alfred Fedak and Dian Dippold will play pianos, and there will be six percussionists.
Opening the concert will be Emily Rosoff, a senior at Saratoga Springs High School, who won the Mohawk Valley Chorus’ $500 scholarship. She will sing Amy Beach’s “Take Oh, Take Those Lips Away” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”
The scholarship, which is given to a junior or senior intending to pursue music study, is given annually. Rosoff plans to attend Westminster Choir College.
Rite of passage
For some choruses, performing “Carmina Burana” is almost a rite of passage. Written in 1936 by a then 41-year old composer in Munich who had developed a style of repeating simple rhythmic patterns over short melodic combinations, the work challenges singers on several levels, Rossi said.
“It’s high for the sopranos and tenors. It’s rough,” he said. “And to get the chorus to sing quietly — well, they’re managing.”
The text, in Latin and German, is based on secular and often profane poems on love, spring, fortune and the joys of drink written by itinerant scholars and monks and collected into a 13th century manuscript. For the Mohawk Valley Chorus, having to sing in Latin or German is a rare event.
“The hardest part is the languages,” Rossi said. “Most are not comfortable with them, so there is a challenge.”
Many of the choral sections are famous for their earthy, rhythmic pounding, which have been used in everything from advertisements to horror movies, but what the work needs is a great baritone who can act in the huge section called “In the Tavern.” Fortunately, Lotano, a music teacher at Shenendehowa Central School, is as much at home in musical theater as in opera, having performed with such companies as the Schenectady Light Opera Company and the Park Playhouse, Rossi said.
Another technique Orff used, which is new for the chorus, is how he split the chorus up. Instead of having everyone always sing together, Orff sometimes has only the sopranos and tenors sing together, or just the male chorus, or only a small group of singers.
Technical, practical issues
Meanwhile, Rossi has his own challenges.
“It’s the longest work I’ve ever conducted, and the meter is always changing. That’s hard,” he said. “There are even some meters I’ve never seen that I had to figure out how to count.”
To prepare himself, he listened to many recordings with his score in hand.
“I have a ton of writing in the score,” he said, laughing. “Some are markings about the beat or the translation. Conducting vs. being in the chorus is a different perspective. There’s more to worry about now.”
Beyond the technical issues, Rossi said his main concern is that everyone becomes comfortable with the piece and has the best experience. On a more practical note, however, he worries about the length of time his singers will have to stand.
“We’ve done other big works before, like the Duruflé ‘Requiem’ and Rutter’s ‘Gloria,’ but never something so long, so chairs may need to be provided,” he said.
As to the idea of giving a second performance after having worked so hard, Rossi was equally pragmatic.
“It was discussed, “ he said, “but the costs and the work being so vocally demanding, it was thought better to do just one.”
He also hopes no one gets cold feet. “They better show up for that day,” Rossi said with another laugh. “We have 700 seats to fill.”