Robinson’s Brahms concert draws on grand scale

• Major production involves 180 Kenai Peninsula musicians
By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Performing all seven movements of Johannes Brahms German Requiem poses sufficient challenge to even skilled musicians that many don’t try it.
Not all critics responded favorably to the work when it was first performed in 1869. George Bernard Shaw wrote that “it could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker.”
The requiem nonetheless established Brahms’ reputation as genius. No doubt the German composer would be proud if he could meet Concert Director Mark Robinson who wasn’t sufficiently intimidated.
“The essence of good teaching is that students or individuals in general will rise to whatever bar you set for them,” Robinson said. “This is one of the great mysteries of working with a small town.”

HOMER TRIBUNE/Sean Pearson The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, Homer High School Choir and the Kenai Peninsula Chorus teamed up to perform Brahms' Requieum, Opus 45.

Robinson gathered a considerably and equally complicated group of 180 choral singers and orchestra members to rehearsing for nine months.
The Kenai Peninsula Community Chorus joins with the Homer High School Concert Choir and members of the Kenai Orchestra to bring Brahms’ Requiem Opus 45 to Homer and Kenai audiences. A group of 65 met regularly in Homer to practice. Ninilchik was the central designation for the Kenai-area and Homer orchestra, and in Soldotna another 15 met for community chorus rehearsal.
Robinson, in his first year of retirement after a 27-year career as music teacher for Homer Middle and High Schools, spent six months in California for winter. His musicians and singers met and practiced in the smaller groups.
“In September we had several practices to lay the foundation. When I returned in March we met in small group practice tracks,” Robinson said. “I was nervous about how this would work out but they are right where they need to be right now.”
Brahms’ large-scale work provides movements for chorus, orchestra, and a soprano and a baritone soloist. Homer High music teacher and concert director Kyle Schneider will perform solo parts while Audra Faris takes the soprano solos. Requiems were traditionally performed at funerals and included Latin liturgies. Brahms began his in1865 after his mother died, which could have influenced its mood.
“He found text that was personal to him, in German in the Luther Bible. It had universal application as a comfort to the living,” Robinson said. “Death is seen as a changed state going from sorrow to joy. It broke boundaries of predictable meter and harmonic progression. The choral progression isn’t what they predict. It’s powerful, dramatic, rich.”
In contrast to the Roman Catholic liturgy, which begins with prayers for the dead – “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord” – a German Requiem focuses on the living. Brahms began with “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Robinson chose to perform the concert in English rather than Latin or German, figuring there is enough precedent for it. His choirs throughout the years performed pieces in other languages many times, in Italian and German when the high school choir made its European tours, in Japanese, French, even Swahili. In English, the liturgical words will come across for Homer and Kenai audiences.
When the popular teacher retired last spring, he promised his Homer following he wasn’t giving up music. “I knew I would be involved. I didn’t know what kind of project I would take on, but I am not done making music and I am not done working with kids and adults.”
This year, he came up with Brahms’ requiem and next year it will be another piece he hasn’t yet identified.
This concert raises funds for Pier One Theatre and for the Homer High School Choir. Robinson begins the Friday and Saturday concerts with a 6 p.m. preconcert lecture explaining the history and the composer. In Kenai, the performance begins at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Henderson Auditorium in the Kenai High School. It is performed 7 p.m. Saturday in the Mariner Theatre and Sunday, at 3 p.m. at the Mariner in Homer.

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Posted by on May 1st, 2013 and filed under Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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