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Friday, October 22, 2021

Rarely Performed Berlioz: Te Deum to be presented by several choirs at Mondavi Center

On March 6, at the Mondavi Center, music lovers and Berlioz fans alike can rejoice. The University Chorus and Alumni Chorus of UC Davis have collaborated with the University of Pacific Symphony Orchestra, the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, the Pacific Boys Choir, the Davis Children’s Chorale and several guests to bring Berlioz’s Te Deum to modern audiences.

Hector Berlioz is a 19th century French Romantic composer, known for using large orchestras in his works. One of his most famous works was Te Deum, which means “To God” in Latin and is a traditional religious hymn praising God, although Berlioz had originally composed the piece to honor Napoleon.

Berlioz’s Te Deum calls for a large number of performers as well as a large orchestra, which often makes it difficult to stage. In fact, Te Deum was never performed during Berlioz’s lifetime and presently, very few orchestras undergo the monumental task of gathering the large numbers of performers required to execute it.

This makes the nearly 400 singers and 80 musicians, including an organ player, all who will assemble at the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall for one night, a huge undertaking.

The gathering of all the different choirs and musicians was made possible by Jeffrey Thomas, UC Davis Professor of Music and conductor of the UC Davis University Chorus and Alumni Chorus.

Nicholas Waldvogel, conductor of the University of Pacific Symphony Orchestra said Thomas made everything possible.

“Jeffrey Thomas had this idea of doing Te Deum. We had been longtime collaborators, nearly seven years, and he asked me to be part of it. We try to make unusual programs happen and I think we do really well in that aspect,” Waldvogel said.

During the concert, the organ will be placed in the back of the room, which will enhance the etherealness of all the soaring voices joined in unison. The concert’s first half will be of Waldvogel and the University of Pacific Symphony Orchestra opening with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture followed by Roussel’s challenging Bacchus et Ariane, Suite No. 2. Then, the entire second half of the concert will be devoted to Te Deum.

Rachel Kessler, the conductor of the Davis Children’s Chorale, said the concert will be unique in that both children’s and adult choirs will perform together.

“It’s always a joy to be involved with other choirs no matter what the ages. It’s nice to have the children to hear more mature voices and to see where they will be going in years to come if they keep singing, which is my sincere hope,” Kessler said.

The entire group hasn’t practiced together as of yet. Each participant practiced their parts on their own and will rehearse later in the week for the first time, several days before the actual performance. Overall, all the groups involved in the gargantuan production are excited and hopeful that the concert will do what Berlioz had originally intended for the piece: to lift spirits.

“All of the performers are greatly looking forward to rehearsing together for the first time in a few days, and to performing to what will be a sold-out house,” Thomas said. “And the spirit of collaboration that all the ensembles are bringing to the production is, in itself, a great experience.”

The entire concert will be less than two hours long, with Te Deum about 40 minutes long. On the Saturday evening before the performance, UC Davis Distinguished Professor D. Kern Holoman will give a brief talk titled “Berlioz’s Napoleon: Thoughts on Te Deum” which will be free and open to the public at Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studion Theatre at 5 p.m.

Student tickets are selling for $8. Tickets can be bought at the Mondavi Center box office or on the center’s website.

MICHELLE RUAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org

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