Taos Community Chorus opens 40th season with Mozart's 'Requiem Mass in D Minor'

Members of the Taos Community Chorus Courtesy photo

I remember back in the mid-1980s, when the movie "Amadeus" came out. The fictionalized account of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's life was engaging, but what made a lasting impression on me was the music. I listened to the double-cassette edition of the film's musical score over and over. In particular, it was Mozart's unfinished "Requiem Mass in D Minor" that drew me in. As a young teenager, I found the masterpiece utterly mesmerizing.

According to Taos Community Chorus conductor Erick Brunner, Mozart's 'Requiem' was left incomplete when the Austrian composer died in December 1791 at the age of 35. However, because Mozart had a premonition it was his swansong, he left detailed notes for his student, Xaver Sussmayr, on how to finish the impressive score. After his death, Sussmayr used Mozart's instructions to complete the "Requiem."

This coming weekend Brunner conducts the Taos Community Chorus in two performances of this original version of Mozart's "Requiem Mass in D Minor," with accompaniment by pianist Martha Shepp.

This is the second weekend of concerts planned Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 17-18) at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago. Both performances begin at 3 p.m.

Featured soloists for the concerts are Tjett Gerdom, baritone (Los Alamos); Elizabeth Calvert, mezzo soprano (Taos); Mark Jackson, tenor (Taos); and Jennifer Pérez, soprano (Albuquerque).

"It's an amazingly gorgeous piece of music," Brunner said, when asked why he chose to conduct Mozart's "Requiem." He also noted that the "Requiem" was probably one of the first compositions that the Taos Community Chorus performed 40 years ago when it was first starting out, and it is often requested by chorus members.

"The fabric and tenor of the piece is very, very solemn," Brunner said.

Brunner knew the piece was familiar to some of the chorus members when he chose it. Still, he was surprised when at the first rehearsal he asked how many of the members had sung the piece before and about half raised their hand. That familiarity has paid off. Some of the chorus members are even singing their parts from memory.

"The chorus is singing really well because they know it's under their belts … that brings relaxation and joy," said Brunner. "The beauty in which the choir sings it is quite something. I feel like the chorus gets better and better every season," he added.

On a more personal note, Brunner said, "I'm deeply proud of the work of the chorus. I feel very honored to be a part of their work."

Taos Community Chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary season this fall and spring. Its members are a diverse group of volunteers who come from many parts of Taos County and beyond. Their ages range from the early 20s to the early 90s. The chorus members have varied backgrounds as well -- as teachers, administrators, clergy members, painters, potters, builders, plumbers, computer technicians, furniture makers, doctors, community volunteers, actors, directors, lawyers, landscapers and more.

Debbie Branom is the president of the Taos Community Chorus board of directors. She has been involved with the chorus since 2015. "I think one of the most interesting things, and fun, too, is how many people are still in the chorus that have been in the chorus for many, many years," Branom said. "I think that says something about how much fun the chorus is … It's very welcoming to all sorts of people. If you just like to sing and are interested in being part of this group, you can join."

Tickets for the Taos Community Chorus performances of Mozart's "Requiem" are $20, $15 for seniors and free for those 18 years old and under.

I strongly encourage young musicians and music lovers to come out and listen to this magnificent piece of music. It just might be a mind-bending experience you won't forget.

For more information, visit taoschorus.org. For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-2790.

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