In recent months, the music world has seen the deaths of American composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. It also has marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Mozart.
Now the combined Kansas University Symphony Orchestra and choirs will honor all three composers in one concert, at 3:30 p.m. today in Hoch Auditorium.
"We started out planning an all-Mozart program," said James Ralston, a KU professor of choral music, who will be one of three conductors for the program. "Then, of course, Copland and Bernstein both died, and they were certainly two great American composers. We decided to combine three composers into a concert as a celebration of their music.''
The choral and orchestral concert will feature the "Vesperae Solennes de Confessore" by Mozart, conducted by Michael Bauer, a KU assistant professor of organ and choral music; the "Chichester Psalms" by Bernstein, conducted by Ralston; and an orchestral suite from the opera "The Tender Land" by Copland, conducted by Gregory Fried, an assistant professor of orchestra and conductor of the University Symphony Orchestra.
More than 135 KU choral students will perform with the 77-piece orchestra. The KU choral groups include the Chamber Choir, the Concert Choir, the University Singers, the Women's Chorale and the Men's Glee Club.
THE FULL opera version of "The Tender Land" today doesn't get very many productions, but the music has a strong connection with KU, Ralston said.
"We did `The Tender Land' when Copland was here in 1970," Ralston said. "Of course the music is quite beautiful, especially the choral parts. But I wasn't familiar with the orchestra suite until now.''
The suite occasionally is performed without the choral accompaniment, Fried said, and as a result he had to re-implant the voices in the score.
"We have to be very careful to introduce the appropriate entrances between the choral and the orchestra parts,'' he said.
THE SCORE provides a challenge to the orchestra and chorus, Fried said. Solos intermingle with the choral passages, with the music building into dramatic climaxes.
"I think it's not an easy piece," he said. "Our rehearsal time has been limited, and it requires a very high energy level. But the orchestra is very excited by the fact that we're doing two 20th-century pieces.''
The other 20th-century piece is the Bernstein "Psalms," written on a commission from church officials at the Chichester Cathedral in England.
"Bernstein was quoted as saying he wrote the piece on sabbatical from the New York Philharmonic," Ralston said. "He said he spent most of his time writing some very avant-garde pieces, but he ended up throwing them all away and writing these delightful pieces that are full of melody.''
UNLIKE OTHER settings of psalms, Bernstein used the original Hebrew in this choral piece. Ralston said that language didn't pose a barrier to the singers. He said it's not all that different from singing in Latin.
"The score comes with a short pronunciation guide, which helps us get a flavor for the langauge," he said. "The vowels and the consonants are actually fairly easy to grasp.''
In addition to the KU choirs, eight students from Lawrence elementary schools will take part as members of the Soli Singers.
The Mozart "Vesperae" opens the concert, and Bauer said it's a fine example of the composer's choral works.
"The piece has some of Mozart's most lyrical and most dramatic music," Bauer said. "It really allows the choirs and the orchestra and the solo quartet quite a few moments of lyricism. It's also very has some very exciting and dramatic changes.''
The orchestra has been rehearsing these musical works in shifts, with each conductor getting time at the podium.
"So far it's worked out fine," Fried said. "We've been enjoying it, and it really doesn't present any problems.''
One noticable feature of the program is it skips entirely 19th-century music. Fried said it's good to get away occasionally from the oft-heard masterpieces.
"It's good to get out of the 19th-century rut," he said. "The 20th century too often gets left out of the repertory.''