Mozart masterpieces featured at St. Charles Singers wrap-up concerts this weekend

The St. Charles Singers, led by Founder and Music Director Jeffrey Hunt, will wrap up their decade-long Mozart Journey project with concerts August 27-28, 2022 in St. Charles, Illinois, featuring two of the most sacred choirs loved by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. works, a famous opera aria and a first dramatic symphony.

The critically acclaimed chamber choir’s Mozart Journey XVII program with the Metropolis Chamber Orchestra is the latest leg of its 12-year excursion through the classical composer’s complete sacred choral works. It is believed to be the first American choir to perform all of this kind of Mozart music.

While audiences at previous Mozart Journey concerts have often been treated to sacred choral works that are rarely performed, conductor Hunt says the August performances feature some of Mozart’s best-known music.

Decent final

Listeners will hear Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626; the motet “Ave verum corpus” (Hail, true body) in D major, K. 618; and aria “Non più di fiori” (No more flowers) from his very last opera, “La clemenza di Tito” (The clemency of Titus), K. 621.

Mozart wrote these works in 1791, his last year. He succumbed to the disease at age 35.

“We thought it would be a fitting finale to Mozart’s journey to offer sacred choral works and an impassioned operatic excerpt representing the high point of Mozart’s career,” Hunt said.

For variety, the concert also includes Mozart’s emotional Symphony No. 25 in G minor K. 183, written when he was just 17 years old.

“Music lovers looking for a summer respite and a break from routine can bask with us in Mozart’s majestic, mystical, and immortal music,” says Hunt.

A classic “greatest hit”

Considered one of the most powerful and moving works in all of classical music, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor for choir, soloists and orchestra was his last composition.

Seriously ill, Mozart died before he could finish it. His pupil Franz Süssmayr completed the Requiem, but an aura of mystery still surrounds it and the circumstances under which it was commissioned.

“Mozart’s Requiem appears on almost every list of classical music’s greatest hits,” Hunt says, “and with good reason.”

Hunt says it is a sacred work that displays the dramatic and expressive range of an opera. He also admires “the richness, variety and depth of the music offered to the choir as well as the soloists” and the way Mozart balances moments of dread and awe with hope and reflection.

“Mozart’s writing for voice is impeccable,” he says. “Nothing is taken to extremes. Everything is exactly as it should be.”

The aria “Non più di fiori” is a compelling soprano centerpiece sung by the character of Vitellia, who faces execution for plotting the assassination of the Roman Emperor out of romantic jealousy.

He is also notable for his charming and virtuosic basset horn accompaniment, says Hunt.

The basset horn, a deep-voiced member of the clarinet family, also features prominently in the Requiem, which Hunt cites as one of many attractive connections between Mozart’s secular and sacred music.

The guest soloist for the Requiem and aria is Chicago-born soprano Michelle Areyzaga, who grew up in the western suburb of Elburn. A former backing vocalist with the St. Charles Singers, she has enjoyed success as an opera, concert and recital performer.

Requiem soloists also include members of the St. Charles Singers Margaret Fox, alto; Bryan Kunstman, tenor; and Jess Koehn, bass.

Sublime Motet

Mozart composed his Latin hymn “Ave verum corpus” for the choirmaster of a local parish church in the small Austrian town of Baden, near Vienna, where Mozart’s wife, Costanze, was recuperating at a spa.

The Compleat Mozart, a standard reference work, characterizes this compact motet, composed for choir, string ensemble and organ, as “a pure distillation of heartfelt devotion”.

At just 46 bars in length, it is considered one of Mozart’s most effective and perfectly crafted compositions, says Hunt.

“If I had to describe it in one word,” Hunt says, “I would call it sublime.”

The Metropolis Chamber Orchestra shines the spotlight on one of Mozart’s “tragic” symphonies, the tumultuous Symphony No. 25, sometimes called the “little symphony in G minor”. Like other symphonies in minor of the time, it borrows its urgent and tempestuous character from the world of opera, drawing on the musical style “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and stress) in vogue at the time.

Concerts will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 27 and 3 p.m. Sunday, August 28 at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, 307 Cedar Avenue, St. Charles.

Jonathan Saylor, professor of music at Wheaton College, will give a 30-minute pre-concert talk at Baker Church one hour before each concert.

Ensemble singers on stage

Forty-six members of the St. Charles Singers ensemble will perform in Mozart Journey XVII.

Sopranos include Jeanne Fornari of Batavia; Ingrid Burrichter, Chicago; Marybeth Kurnat, DeKalb; Mary Kunstman and Jessica Palmisano, Elburn; Karen Rockett, Glendale Heights; Laura Johnson, Hanover Park; Jennifer Gingrich and Meredith Taylor Mollica, Naperville; Amanda Kohl, Oak Park; and Andrea James and Cynthia Spiegel, St. Charles.

The alto section includes Christina Collins of Arlington Heights; Christina Bernardoni, Bartlett; Margaret Fox and Valérie Heinkel-Bollero, Batavia; Kelly Grba, Bolingbrook; Nicole Tolentino, Carol Stream; Bridget Kancler, Chicago; Grace Bardsley, Montgomery; Chelsea King and Julie Popplewell, North Aurora; Rachel Taylor, Wheaton; and Debra Wilder, Wheeling.

The tenors are Tyler Theis, Aurora; Christopher Jackson, Crystal Lake; Rob Campbell, De Kalb; Bryan Kunstman and Bradley Staker, Elburn; Marcus Jansen, Geneva; Stephen Mollica, Naperville; Gregor King, Aurora North; Aaron James, St. Charles; David Hunt, Wayne; and Steve Williamson, West Chicago.

Bass vocals include Michael Thoms, Aurora; Brandon Fox, Batavia; David Zemke, Bloomingdale; Douglas Peters, Chicago; Nate Coon and Brian Jozwiak, Crystal Lake; Jess Koehn, Downers Grove; David Hartley, Lake in the Hills; Chris DiMarco, Naperville; Michael Popplewell, Aurora North; and Antonio Quaranta, River Grove.

Tickets and information

Single admission to Mozart Journey XVII is $40 for adults, $35 for seniors 65 and older, and $10 for students. Group discounts are available.

Tickets and information are available at stcharlessingers.com or by calling (630) 513-5272. Tickets are also available at Townhouse Books, 105 N. Second Ave., St. Charles (check or cash only at this counter). Tickets can also be purchased at the door on the day of the concert, subject to availability.

Origin of the trip

The St. Charles Singers launched their Mozart Journey initiative with the Metropolis Chamber Orchestra in January 2010 as part of a long-term, multi-year celebration of the choir’s 25th anniversary concert season. The project encompasses the entirety of Mozart’s sacred choral works, presented in 17 different concert programs in venues across Chicago and the western suburbs, including neighborhoods and cities where the St. Charles Singers have never performed previously.

Singers of St. Charles

Founded and directed by Jeffrey Hunt, the St. Charles Singers is a chamber choir dedicated to choral music in all its forms. Hailed by the American Record Guide as “a national treasure,” the mixed-voice ensemble includes professional singers, choir directors, and voice teachers, some of whom perform with other leading Chicago choirs. Classics Today called the ensemble “one of North America’s outstanding choirs”, citing “first-rate charisma and musicianship” that “brings character and excitement to every piece”. The Chicago Tribune described the St. Charles Singers as “beautifully disciplined, beautifully responsive” and proclaimed, “Chamber choir singing doesn’t get much better than this.” Prominent guest conductors of the St. Charles Singers include renowned English composer John Rutter, founder of the Cambridge Singers; Philip Moore, composer and former music director of York Minster Cathedral in England; and Craig Hella Johnson, Grammy Award-winning American choral conductor. The choir was started in St. Charles, Illinois, in 1984 as the Mostly Madrigal Singers.

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