“If I were threatened with seeing the destruction of all of my works, save for one score, it is the “Requiem” for which I would ask mercy.”

Paul Wong
Tenor soloist Stanford Olsen.<br><br>Courtesy of UMS

These are the words of Hector Berlioz, believed to be one of the most gifted Romantic French composers of all time, given in regards to his crowning achievement, “Requiem, Op. 5.”

“Requiem” is only performed once in a generation. Incidentally, it has not been performed in Ann Arbor since 1978. Dr. Thomas Sheets, Musical Conductor of the University Musical Society Choral Union, believes that now is the opportune time for the second coming of Requiem, considered by many to be one of the greatest musical masterpieces of all time. “Its excitement completely engulfs you with sound, and when it”s over it usually leaves you in suspense,” Sheets said.

As Berlioz preferred large-scale compositions, he set a precedent for future composers with the necessary recruitment of 150 singers, four brass choirs positioned in four corners of the performance space, 16 tympanis and a full orchestra. Evidently, Sheets has had his work cut out for him in maintaining Berlioz”s tradition of composition in the University”s production of his “Requiem.”

In keeping with Berlioz”s tradition of grandiose performances, The Greater Lansing Symphony Orchestra will join the UMS Choral Union. The Choral Union, which is in its 122nd season, consists of area residents, as well as University faculty, staff and students, and regularly performs and occasionally records with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. To accommodate the necessary amount of performers, stage extensions have been added to the left and the right of the stage at Hill Auditorium. Additionally, there will be four additional brass orchestras, two of which will be on stage as regular orchestras.

Naturally, Sheets has high expectations for the performance. He said, “(The) audience will encounter a piece that despite its age is still absolutely astonishing to the ear and also to the eye, because the eye will see instruments at each corner of the room and will perceive a spatial dimension not usually present. In addition, the sounds that are made are a revelation which is beyond anything that they expect to hear, which produces that “aha!” quality.”

In writing “Requiem,” Berlioz wanted to embody the spirit of the time, which was less restricted than the preceding era specifically, it was more conducive to scientific thought. Latin was the chosen medium for “Requiem,” because the pious scribes of the Catholic Church were not far removed from the time of the apostles and they believed that Latin was a holy language, for the simple reason that it did not allow the introduction of colloquial language.

“Berlioz”s Requiem is the musical equivalent to the Royal Shakespeare Company as these orchestras will warrant the same type of world-class performance that people have come to expect from the University Musical Society. Sheets said, “I feel very fortunate to be able to conduct this piece, as it will end up as a testament to the human spirit, making one reconsider human capability. The performance is sure to leave the audience with an awe that lasts days and even weeks.”

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