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Davis, California

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Throwing it back to the classics

UC Davis University Chorus performs at the Mondavi

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, UC Davis students, faculty and community members gather to practice as the University Chorus. Together, they explore musical pieces that date from the Baroque period to the 21st century. This Friday, the University Chorus will hold its spring quarter performance at the Mondavi Center.

The performance also features the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, which will accompany the chorus in bringing to life Austro-German works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout the evening, conductors Jeffrey Thomas and Garrett Rigsby are to trade command of different pieces.

Rigsby, a UC Davis graduate student in music conducting, assumes much more than the role of conductor for the evening. The spring quarter performance also serves as his graduate thesis performance.

Rigsby will head a trio of short works by Anton Bruckner and Josef Rheinberger, as well as a six-movement symphony by Gustav Mahler. Rigsby noted the significance behind Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

“Das Lied von der Erde explores themes of life and death and I believe that this is [Mahler’s] greatest work, [which makes it] tragic that [he] did not live long enough to hear it performed,” Rigsby said. “I’m very excited to be conducting this work and also to be working with our two fabulous soloists, Agnes Vojtko, a mezzo-soprano, and Jonathan Nadel, a tenor.”

The complexity of classical music exercises different styles of interpretation, which Rigsby mentioned that the musicians have worked hard to collectively master.

“Besides perfecting the technical aspects of the music, [like] notes, rhythm [and] dynamics, [the chorus] also had to work on conveying the mood and meanings of the works,” Rigsby said.

Sarah Nitzan, a doctorate student in mechanical engineering and soprano singer, attested to the focus on dissecting each piece to its metaphorical core.

“This quarter, the challenges [faced were] less technical and [layed] more in understanding the meaning of each piece and emoting,” Nitzan said. “There’s nothing quite like Bruckner’s lush harmonies and dramatic phrases, though, so I’m looking forward to those songs.”

Schuyler Borges, a freshman soprano singer, also shared her take on complexity of the performance pieces.

“I look forward to singing the pieces by Bruckner the most because I just love the harmonies,” Borges said. “Whenever I sing pieces like those, I lose myself in the expansiveness of the songs. They’re so emotional and powerful and there’s so much room for interpretation and dynamics.”

While each member has his or her own unique connection to the music, members of the University Chorus collectively agree that the repertoire is rich in positive learning opportunities. Though many of the lessons come from the actual experience of singing, one also has a thing or two to discover from being a listener.

To illustrate the ways music transcends from performer to audience, Borges recalled a pivotal moment from one of her first performances with the University Chorus.

“I just looked around the room and thought how incredible it was to be around so many people who were feeling and hearing what [we, as singers, were] hearing,” Borges said.

To hear the University Chorus perform the classical pieces, head over to the Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center on June 5 at 7 p.m. For further ticketing information, please visit www.mondaviarts.org.

Graphic by Sandra Bae. 

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