“I don’t really know anything about this piece,” Jonathan said, before we entered the Great Auditorium. “Just wait,” I replied. “If nothing else, I guarantee that you’ve heard the ‘Dies irae’ before. Like a lot
of classical music, you just didn’t know you knew it.”
I know the Verdi Requiem pretty well, just not as well as those by Mozart or Faure, both of which I’ve sung before. But I’ve never heard Verdi’s Requiem live before. And it was the ‘Dies irae’ (the first, full time through, not the later iterations) that gave me both of my favorite moments of the evening:
Favorite moment #1: The sound in the Great Auditorium is amazing. I must have heard that from about 8 different people before I went to Ocean Grove for the first time and everyone was right. David Patrick Stearns, classical music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote, “Leonard Bernstein reportedly compared its acoustics to Carnegie Hall’s. An exaggeration? Not when you’re sitting so far from the stage that you can’t see which singers’ lips are moving but their sound seems to be coming from right next to you.” But the best part was when trumpeters from the New Jersey State Opera Orchestra played the ‘Dies irae” from either side of the empty balcony, halfway down the hall. The sound enveloped you and putting the trumpets in this unusual place took great advantage of the space.
Favorite moment #2: Definitely watching everyone jump the first time the timpani (kettle drums) came in during the ‘Dies irae.’ The sound in the hall is really live, which is great for the singing. But it also transforms the timpani hits into startling gunshots. The musical themes from this section are repeated several times throughout the work, but luckily everyone was better prepared for the “gunshots” by the second time around.
Favorite moment honorable mention: At the end of the performance, after the bows were taken and flowers handed out, Maestro Tramm motioned for everyone to stop clapping and sit back down. Then the orchestra played John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” which was a lot of fun. And not only because it reminds me of playing it at every spring concert with the Fordham University Concert Band…