WASHINGTON, IL -- The Heartland Festival Orchestra's June 4 season finale featured Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, which received the longest standing ovation yet. It was a spectacular performance of a fascinating, difficult piece, almost an opera, released in 1937, in Nazi Germany.
Here's what Wikipedia says: "In 1934, Orff encountered the 1847 edition of the Carmina Burana by Johann Andreas Schmeller, the original text dating mostly from the 11th or 12th century, including some from the 13th century. Michel Hofmann, then a young law student and Latin and Greek enthusiast, assisted Orff in the selection and organization of 24 of these poems into a libretto, mostly in Latin verse, with a small amount of Middle High German and Old Provençal (French). The selection covers a wide range of topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st century: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.
"The Nazi regime was at first nervous about the erotic tone of some of the poems, but eventually embraced the piece. It became the most famous piece of music composed in Germany at the time. The popularity of the work continued to rise after the war, and by the 1960s Carmina Burana was well established as part of the international classic repertoire."
Two choral groups performed with the orchestra: the Peoria Area Civic Chorale, directed by Dr. Joseph D. Henry, and the Peoria Area Civic Chorale Youth Chorus, directed by Courtney Vercler. These were young children, grade school age, whose performance was amazing in its professionalism.
The adult choir was also amazing, with perfect timing, singing in the languages noted above. Supertitles in English explained the lyrics.
Three terrific soloists also performed. Penelope Shumate, a Western Illinois University Assistant Professor of voice was gorgeous in a strapless red gown. Baritone John Michael Koch teaches at Illinois State University. Countertenor Daniel Schuetz also teaches at ISU. The three have performed at many venues in the U.S. and elsewhere.
So the piece was riveting, a once-in-a-lifetime experience made even better by the intimacy of the Three Points Washington auditorium.
As artistic director and conductor David Commanday wrote in the program, the performers "sing, cry out, declaim, exhort, complain, admonish and at times shock" -- all to the sometimes dissonant and fast paced music from the large orchestra. Pulling all this together -- the piece lasts an hour -- is an incredible artistic achievement. .
The orchestra also played two other interesting pieces, Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Op. 92, an exciting, fast number; and an interesting modern composition, Fraties for string orchestra and percussion by Arvo Part.
The orchestra's executive director, Laura Evancho, accepted a well deserved award, the 2016 Executive Director of the Year from the Illinois Council of Orchestras.
How can the Heartland Festival Orchestra ever top this event? Season tickets for next year's season are now on sale, so stay tuned.
-- Elaine Hopkins