review by Janet I. Martineau
What could a Great Dane/lab mix named Rex, Negro spirituals, Mozart’s Requiem, storytelling and slide projections of classic art possibly have in common?
Lots, apparently, when they fall under the spell of Glen Thomas Rideout, the Saginaw Choral Society’s ever-inventive and chance-taking artistic director.
It all played out Saturday night at the Temple Theatre in a performance that brought the audience to its feet cheering like it was at a football game.
Dunno what tradition-loving musical purists thought of the venture, but here is what Rideout pulled off: He interspersed BETWEEN every two or three sections of the Mozart piece (which was sung in Latin and totally of the classical genre) a Negro spiritual and one U2 lullaby honoring Martin Luther King (five in all, sung in English and clearly not classical).
The common theme: they all dealt with death and coming to terms with it, and except for the U2 piece they were written in roughly the same time period in civilizations across the pond.
Onto that Rideout layered the classic art projections dealing with that theme, gathered by Kara Brown at the Saginaw Art Museum, and projections of all the texts, Latin and English.
And in my favorite component of this multi-layered concert, the storytelling! Mozart, as just about anyone familiar with the Requiem knows, died before he finished it and Franz Xaver Sussmayr completed the work. But that is about all most of us know.
What Rideout did was narrate Mozart’s story -- the plight of his family as he was dying, why it had to be finished but under secrecy, who Sussmayr was (a former pupil), and why he was chosen for the job.
And then ...then.....those projections with the texts and a few comments by Rideout kept us informed what was all-Mozart, what Mozart drafted and Syssmayr completed and assembled, what was all-Sussmayr, and some of the orchestrations added by a third man.
It was no easy task, Rideout noted, because Sussmayr had to be careful to write in Mozart’s voice and not his own -- so vital it was to keep the secret. Sucker that we are for good stories, this one left me in tears -- and an astonishment at how much of the work is Sussmayr’s.
What part the pup projection played (Rex belongs Rideout) and why the Requiem had to be finished in secrecy, dear reader, remains the property of those who attended and were amused and amazed. All we will say is that this concert was exciting, creative, gutsy, informative and fun.
The spirituals sung by the chorale were a cappella and most whisper soft, contemplative, and thus an interesting contrast to the more “lively” Mozart with a 23-member orchestra. The short “MLK” text was poetic and full of symbolism that still has us thinking. There were times the words in both the spirituals and the Mozart hit very close to modern-day situations -- to which Rideout added some dry wit commentary about “this being our story.”
If there are complaints it was that sometimes the orchestra overpowered the chorale and the four guest soloists (one of them home towner Emily Marvosh, who has a gorgeous contralto voice). There were times some sections of the chorale struggled with the tricky spiritual arrangements. Some of the transitions between the Requiem and spirituals also were less than smooth.
And applause at some points rattled the mood, but it was understandable because of this wild Requiem/spiritual/Requiem/spiritual mix interspersed with the storytelling. Yep. Never ever seen anything quite like this before in nearly 50 years of covering the arts! Loved it.