BAR HARBOR — Before Mount Desert Summer Chorale Director David Schildkret began the performance of Mozart’s Requiem Saturday night, he invited the audience at the Criterion Theatre to reflect on the things we may have lost these past two pandemic and politically tumultuous years. Lost lives, lost opportunities, lost faith, perhaps. He then suggested that we, as the composer himself had, move beyond the fear and reality of loss to a place of hope and redemption as we listened to his music.
So many thoughts and images came to mind immediately as I reminisced over the personal events of the last two years. But as soon as the familiar, opening chords of the mass’s first, almost tentative, movement began, the most prominent regret was not a personal one, but a keen sense of the enormous loss of Mozart himself, who died in 1791 at 35, an age where most composers are just beginning to hit their stride.
Just imagine the other thrilling, game-changing compositions Mozart would have given the world had he been granted another 30, 20 or even just five years of working life.
But then we need to remind ourselves that Mozart’s working life started when he wasn’t much more than a toddler, giving him a head start on finding his unique voice.
By the time of his death, Mozart’s works were unarguably those of a mature and polished genius. Still, one wonders just where his journey would have taken us next. Sigh.
As Schildkret pointed out in his pre-concert talk, while many of the elements in this version of the requiem were completed by Mozart’s pupil, Franz Xavier Sussmay, after his mentor’s death, the unmistakable voice of the master can be clearly heard throughout.
And speaking of clear voices, despite being somewhat diminished in size, less than 50 singers this season, and with several of them wearing protective masks, the chorus managed all the necessary vocal dynamics that make this work so profoundly compelling, especially after the two opening pieces of the evening had warmed them up.
Our local talents were aided and abetted here not only by a full orchestra of area and Bangor Symphony talents, but also by a quartet of magnificent soloists – soprano Mellissa Solomon, mezzo Miriam Schildkret, tenor Eric Flyte and bass/baritone Ryan Downey. Often the soloists don’t join in on the chorus parts of these concerts, but here when their strong voices weren’t climbing, diving and performing vocal loop de loops like barnstorming pilots, their strong voices provided a solid foundation uplifting the entire requiem.
While Solomon’s soaring soprano was purely, pardon the cliché, angelic and Flyte carved out his tenor notes like a sculptor using a laser beam and Downey’s sexy baritone and even sexier bass made one weak in the knees, it was Schildkret’s mezzo that was simply jaw-dropping. Her pitch is so perfect that at times it was hard to tell where her voice started and an instrument – a bassoon, or trombone perhaps – left off. And somehow, without any apparent strain or even effort, her voice projected throughout the theater, hovering just over our heads, no matter where we were sitting.
Well, suffice it to say, it worked. Mozart and the Mount Desert Summer Chorale brought us through fear, despair, grief and yearning to a place of hope and even celebration.
Yes, things have changed, some forever, probably, but this dynamic, beautiful work by a young genius sung and played by a group of largely village folks a continent away and 230 years later makes us wonder if hope is not, after all, a thing with feathers, as Emily Dickenson would have it, but with notes, lots and lots of wonderful notes.