Because the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 80th anniversary this season, music director Charles Schneider wanted to give people something special. That’s why he asked the Octavo Singers and its director, Curtis Funk, to be part of Sunday’s concert.
“It’s been years and years since I’ve worked with Octavo Singers ... maybe the 1980s,” Schneider said. “That was when it was with George Moross. I’ve never worked with Curtis, but I’d heard wonderful things about him.”
Once Schneider met the group’s singers, he discovered he knew many of them.
“Over the years, I’ve worked with choruses like Albany Pro Musica and David Griggs-Janower. Many of Octavo’s singers worked with them,” he said. “And many had been in the choir at Glimmerglass Opera when I conducted there. So it was like old home week.”
Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and Octavo Singers
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $20, $12
MORE INFO: 346-6204, 372-2500, www.proctors.org, www.schenectadysymphony.org
Schneider’s invitation to Octavo is part of his ongoing desire to involve local groups in the orchestra’s concerts, which in itself also helps develop the audience, he said.
Funk said he and the chorus were thrilled to collaborate, especially when Schneider suggested he choose what pieces he wanted the chorus to sing.
“I’d looked through the Octavo library and found a score for Wentzel Muller’s ‘Mass in G,’ but there was no recording of it even online,” Funk said. “So I asked Charles about performing it, and he took to the idea. It’s a curious little piece.”
Muller (1767-1835) lived in Vienna during Mozart’s lifetime and was well known as a conductor and musical theater composer, Funk said. Why he would suddenly write a Mass was anyone’s guess, which is why there’s been so much confusion about the piece’s authenticity. Muller was known for writing hundreds of songs and was clearly out of his element writing a religious work.
“He wrote this one Mass and gave it to his publisher,” Funk said. “Somebody changed the composer’s name to Mozart — it is very Mozartian, with its spare lines and dainty ornamentation. For years the work was known as Mozart’s 12th Mass.”
But in the 1900s, people began having doubts the Mass was one of Mozart’s. Muller’s style was similar to Mozart’s — as were many other composers of that era — but one of the telltale signs the work was Muller’s was how he wrote his treble clef sign, Schneider said.
“That’s always a unique mark,” he said.
The piece, which includes the entire Mass, is about 25 minutes long and will be sung in Latin. Muller wrote well for the voice, but the ranges are a little high, Funk said. Schneider will use a chamber-size orchestra.
The Octavo Singers, which will number about 100 members, will also sing in the last movement of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2. The symphony was written in 1840 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the printing press. It is rarely done in its entirety because it takes about 110 minutes to perform, Schneider said. But the final movement is like a cantata with the use of the chorus.
“It’s a rare opportunity to hear,” Schneider said. “It’s a wonderful piece.”
The Octavo Singers performed the piece in 2002.
“It’s gorgeous. The text is mostly from Psalm 150 and will be sung in English,” Funk said. “It will be a huge wall of sound. It will sound phenomenal.”
The sopranos and altos will be challenged because, like the Muller, the range is high.
“We’ll be belting out high B-flats,” Funk said, laughing, “but we’ll be up to it.”
Soloists include soprano Irini Petrik, mezzo-soprano Heidi Skok, tenor Jon Fredric West and bass Eric Johnson.
To provide a kind of sorbet to all this serious stuff, Schneider chose Edward Green’s “Once Upon a Time.”
“He wrote the trumpet concerto we did a few seasons ago, and I liked his writing, and I like to do new music,” Schneider said. “It will hold the audience’s attention. Green is all about melody and exact writing.”
Green, who is celebrating more than 25 years on the Manhattan School of Music composition faculty, has had his works performed internationally and been nominated for a Grammy Award. This piece originally was part of the score for an animated film.
“I performed it with the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, and the audiences loved it,” Schneider said.
Now that the two men have met, they have nothing but praise for each other.
“Curtis is a wonderful guy to work with,” Schneider said. “He’s a great spirit. And I love his rehearsal techniques.”
Funk said he loved working with the full orchestra, many of whose members work in the pickup orchestras he uses for Octavo Singers gigs.
“And I love Charles’ conducting. He’s such a great conductor,” Funk said. “I was trained instrumentally and ended up with vocal gigs by default. But I love watching conductors. I steal their stuff.”
This concert will be the first in the Octavo Singers’ schedule, which includes a Dec. 15 performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Schneider and Green will give a pre-concert talk at 2 p.m., and a reception follows the concert — both at Proctors.