Ezequiel Menéndez (Photo by Bob Mullen)
HARTFORD – Two major concerts in March will comprise the most ambitious musical project in the history of the Cathedral of St. Joseph. So says Dr. Ezequiel Menéndez, director of music since 1998 and founder of the acclaimed Sacred Sounds series of concerts.
The concerts on March 11 and 16 are planned to kick off a series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the completion and dedication of the cathedral, which was rebuilt following a devastating fire on Dec. 31, 1956. The rebuilt cathedral was consecrated on May 15, 1962, by Auxiliary Bishop John F. Hackett.
The March 11 concert will include Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor and Richard Strauss’s tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra. On March 16, Giussepe Verdi’s Messa di Requiem will be performed.
The Saint-Saëns symphony, called the Organ Symphony (Symphonie No. 3 "avec orgue"), features the organ in two of its sections. It was first performed in 1886 at St. James Hall in London. It lasts for about 35 minutes.
Dr. Menéndez said, "I performed it once in South America last year, in the opera house [Teatro Colón] in Buenos Aires. It’s one of the masterpieces in the repertory of orchestral music, symphonic music. The use of the organ is amazing."
In addition, the 90-member orchestra from the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford will feature a four-hand piano, "two pianists on one piano," he said. Conducting will be Edward Cumming.
The organ part is not especially difficult, Dr. Menéndez said, but the challenge will be the distance from organ to orchestra. "The orchestra will be in front and the organist in the back. We will have a closed circuit [television]. We have a camera upstairs. I will hear the orchestra in real time, not with a delay."
The Strauss piece, Also sprach Zarathustra ("Thus spoke Zarathustra") saturated popular culture when Stanley Kubrick used its opening fanfare in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also features a small part for organ, which Dr. Menéndez will be performing for the first time in his career.
The March 16 performance of Verdi’s Requiem will be "a major, major work," he said. It is a musical setting for the Roman Catholic funeral Mass, featuring four soloists and a 400-member choir. Dr. Edward Bolkovac will lead the massive combined forces of the Hartford Symphony, Hartt School Choirs, Hartford Chorale, New Haven Chorale and Cathedral Choir.
Dr. Menéndez has been billing this performance as "the largest scale production that has ever been performed in the Cathedral of St. Joseph," according to the cathedral’s Web site, www.cathedralofsaintjoseph.com.
Never before has the cathedral featured 400 singers in one performance, he said. A smaller-scale performance of the Requiem was held not long after the cathedral was dedicated 50 years ago, he added.
The 90-minute piece was first performed in 1874 in Milan, Italy, in memory of Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni. The soloists for this concert will be Amanda Hall, soprano; Lucille Beer, mezzo-soprano; Raffaele Sepe, tenor; and Ryan Green, bass.
Ms. Hall previously appeared as soloist in the Requiem with Lynn University. She also sang the roles of Violetta in La Traviata with the Western Plains Opera Company, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni as a guest artist with Yale Opera, and many others.
Ms. Beer previously sang the Requiem in January 2011 with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. She was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was later accepted into the Met’s Young Artist Program. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1983 as La Bergère in Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.
Mr. Sepe was a 2007 finalist in Placido Domingo’s Operalia Competition and was awarded the first prize in the 2009 International Ritorna Vincitor Competition in Ercolano, Italy. Also in 2009 he won the first prize in the Teatro Borgatti di Cento Competition as well as second prize in the Ravello Festival Competition. He has several times sung the role of Ruggero in Puccini’s La Rondine and the title role of Jules Massenet’s Werther. Mr. Green was formerly a resident artist at Opera Colorado. He received his master of music degree from Florida State University.
"Ryan is a Hartt graduate," Dr. Menéndez said. "He’s a young guy who finished Hartt two or three years ago and went on and won a competition at the Met [the 2011 National Council Auditions]."
He has sung Colline in La Bohème with Opera Colorado, Jake in Porgy and Bess in concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, and other roles.
Dr. Menéndez predicts that both concerts will attract capacity audiences to the cathedral, especially for the Verdi concert. "For the second concert we will have to close the doors before we start. With that many performers, and also with the anniversary of the cathedral, many people from the archdiocese are going to be going. I think it will be a packed house," he said.
The Sacred Sounds series of concerts is open to everyone. No admission is charged, but a free-will offering will be accepted.
The March 11 concert begins at 3 p.m., and the March 16 concert begins at 8 p.m., both at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, 140 Farmington Ave.
The cathedral’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated with a Mass at 3 p.m. May 20.
Information is available by calling the cathedral at (860) 249-8431.