I attended the May 5th concert of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall for a sold-out performance of Christopher Rouse’s Requiem. Chris Rouse was a classmate and friend of mine at the Oberlin Conservatory in the late 60s. Chris is now a preeminent composer. He’s won a coveted Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy award and is member of the prestigious National Society of Arts and Letters. I knew him as a teenager from Baltimore who was finding his way into the world of music. He started collecting signatures and letters from famous composers when he was quite young. He also had a huge collection of vinyl records, ranging from Berlioz to Led Zeppelin. Chris wrote a piece for my senior recital which is long lost. He has since withdrawn all of those early works but luckily has a huge volume of compositions that have been played by the finest musicians and orchestras throughout the world. We met back stage after the concert.
Chris’s Requiem took up the entire two plus hours of this concert and was received with a standing ovation when he was called to the stage. This is a massive work for full orchestra including six percussionists and two choruses. The large chorus was onstage behind the orchestra and a 25 piece children’s chorus was in the balcony above the stage area. This work was premiered in 2007 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic where it received rave reviews. It begins with the solo baritone (Jacques Imbrailo) standing in front of the orchestra singing a solo in the style of plainchant (secular Gregorian chant). What follows that is what I remember of Chris’s musical tastes in that it builds and builds to an apocalyptic climax including a very busy percussion section. The work continues throughout with this kind of dramatic contrast. I was incredibly impressed with Chris’s sense of texture, orchestration and the wonderful setting of the text. The concert was broadcast on the classical music station of New York City WQXR and the evening was introduced by a broadcaster from the radio station, David Garland, along with actor Alec Baldwin. Baldwin is a huge supporter of the arts and often helps promote New York Philharmonic concerts. I was surprised to hear just days after this concert that he was handcuffed by the NYPD for having driven his bicycle the wrong direction down Fifth Avenue. One would think there are bigger crimes to attend to in New York City. Luckily for us Baldwin was available that night to present Requiem to the audience.