FRESNO, Calif. — Think of the Masterworks concert series at Fresno Pacific University as a building project, resulting in a musical masterpiece rather than an architectural one.
- The blueprint: Mozart’s Requiem.
- The crew: 72 singers and instrumentalists.
- The project managers: Zachary Durlam and Dieter Wulfhorst, both FPU music professors.
The 2014 Masterworks concert took place March 30, but construction began last May when Durlam selected the Requiem. The builders — members of the FPU Concert Choir and Musica Pacifica Orchestra — came together for rehearsals at the end of the fall semester. The first order of business was checking the drawings.
“Because it’s a vocal work, we start by looking at the text,” said Wulfhorst, who oversees the orchestra.
The Requiem text is taken from the Roman Catholic Mass in honor of the dead and is known for its mix of artistic and spiritual merit. Themes include remembering the sacrifice of Jesus, the longing for peace and final judgment.
“These texts offer potential for tremendous musical beauty and drama, and Mozart takes full advantage of this potential,” Durlam said. The piece is in Latin, with an English translation in the program.
But Mozart’s masterpiece has a story as well as a meaning. The Requiem was secretly commissioned by Count Walsegg-Stuppach, an amateur composer who wished to claim the work himself.
Sick and in need of money, Mozart completed the first section but died before he finished more than sketches for the entire second section, most of the third section and part of the fourth.
Two of Mozart’s students worked on parts of the piece from his written suggestions, and then his wife gave the score to another composer and friend to continue before returning it to one of the students, who completed the piece.
The Requiem was performed twice in 1793, once by the count, who did indeed try to take credit, and again by Baron van Swieten, who credited Mozart.
Despite this confusing parentage, the Requiem is among the most important and most performed pieces of Western music.
“It really is a masterwork — that’s not just the title of the concert,” Wulfhorst said.
The foundation of the Masterworks series was laid in the spring of 2012. As part of a concert honoring music faculty emeritus Larry Warkentin’s 50 years at FPU, Durlam led a performance of Warkentin’s cantata Sun, Moon and Stars for baritone soloist, orchestra and choir. The experience inspired Durlam to do other works.
“I feel like it’s really important, especially for our more select singers, to do a major choral work every year,” he said.
The Requiem is the right piece to begin building a larger Masterworks audience.
“It’s a blast to sing, and it’s one of the major pieces that every choir member should have a chance to perform,” he said.
The logistics of combining separate rehearsal elements can be complex. Wulfhorst prepares the 28-piece orchestra and then hands his baton over to Durlam, leader of the 45-voice choir, for the performance.
“Zack knows what he’s doing. He’s a wonderful colleague,” Wulfhorst said. “The piece is very dear to us. We really believe in the message.”
For the future, Durlam sees no shortage of projects to develop by musical architects ranging from Bach to Bernstein.
“I have a lot of things I think would be fun to tackle,” he said.