This past weekend I attended a powerful, moving performance of Street Requiem, which was rather uniquely composed in 2014 by a “team” of three gifted individual musicians in Australia: Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne and Jonathon Welch. Beloved opera superstar and humanitarian Frederica von Stade has participated in several performances of the Requiem (Dallas, SF, etc) as mezzo soloist, but this was her first time singing it together with the always-impeccable Choral Project (under its founder/director Daniel Hughes) for two performances, in San Jose and Santa Cruz.
In a nice programming touch, “Flicka” opened the concert with two short, beautifully rendered songs (Finding Home by Ricky Gordon and Primary Colors by Jake Heggie) that perfectly led into the mood and tone of the Requiem that followed.
I had been invited by a friend who instinctively knew that I “must” be there. My heart and soul were touched – deeply. What follows is my experience of hearing this music for the first time, that afternoon.
All of us participating in the live audience for the Street Requiem intimately “journeyed with all those who have died innocently on the streets”. For me there is nothing like the effect that music has on my heart and soul. I was transported to another place. The mesmerizing sounds of the tremendously professional Choral Project singers and SJCO players wooed my senses and lifted me into a place where I entered the souls and walked in the shoes of other suffering human persons. At the start of the performance we were called to that place by a somber intonation (on a didjeridoo!) and an acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples who have gone before us on our land, along with the homeless, all being honored in this presentation. It was both a dark and “uplifting” sound, all in one. Each subsequent movement of the Requiem’s music that followed – in a mixture of many different cultures, styles, sounds, rhythms, chants, beats, and vocal repetitions – appealed to the very basic human part of me. I was transported to a meditative, reflective depth that only music is able to create for me.
I wanted to close my eyes, and I did, but I had to open them also, to watch the faces of the vocalists who begged me to join them in their similar experiences of the music. The intentional juxtaposition of a variety of instrumental sounds, cross-cultural percussion rhythms and the inspired blended harmony of the vocalists created for me a visual introspection of the reality and inspiration behind this superb work. Juanita Harris’ vocal power, commanding presence and unique timbre added greatly to the Gloria and Summer Latimer’s deceptively simple evocation of the Lacrimosa made its Irish folk style intensely personal and moving. Choral Project singers Mike Fotinakis and William Mathews both did wonderful jobs in their very different solo roles. The “Dies Irae” felt like the first intense “climax point” of the Requiem and from there onwards through the work, the spiritual and musical intensity seemed to build, its emotions washing over us and also through us, completely beyond (or without) our control.
I am a lover of heroes. The afternoon was about that for me – from those heroes who sadly lived the street experience to those heroes who, through their instruments, allowed us to enter into the sad plights, to those heroes who lifted their voices in beauty and solidarity.
The absolute inspiration of the writers and their genius has sent waves of glorious and sensitive sound into the universe and those sounds will not be stopped. We are all better for this performance having happened. All of us cried together during and at the conclusion of the program. For me there was a very strong sense of ‘there go I but for the mercy of God’ mixed with a celebration of the unique human spirit and a call to respond and act. I have been changed; it will not be taken from me.
Catherine Heck for LFL Reviews