Verdi’s Requiem – musicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus, The Shed, Hudson Yards, NY, November 2019

The Shed: Industrial components; enormous wheels locked into place at the ready to roll back and open the roof to the sky, welded steel staircases and stadium-style seating inside the McCourt Theater. The factory appearance, the bronzed shell and the darkened theater felt cold and unsettling. Onstage, music stands outnumbered the chairs. None of these prepared me for a single blue light to guide the entrance of Teodor Currentzis, the very fine conductor and founder of musicAeterna Orchestra and chorus noted for their authentic performance practices of Baroque and classical music. Somehow the black-cloaked musicians and chorus found their spots on the stage and on the risers in the dark where all but the bassists and cellists would stand for the 90-minute performance. The first notes of the Kyrie began with the faint voices of the chorus pleading for mercy, like the shallow breath of the dying. The audience sat supplicant and this performance was anything but a penance.  In the triple pianissimo, Currentzis exerted control with his outstretched hands while the tension that Verdi intended steadily grew. The act of listening was a physical feat to pay attention and allow the sound to wash over me.  

All four soloists were standouts.  The Agnus Dei paired the mezzo and soprano voices of Clémentine Margaine and Zarina Abaeva in a prayer.  Their voices were not two but one that floated above the orchestra and the audience like angel hair.  Bass, Evgeny Stavinsky commanded the room in the Dies Irae when he sang, “When the damned are silenced and given to the fierce flames, call me with the blessed ones..”  The tenor soloist, a last-minute substitution, sang with exquisite control at his top.  In the Dies Irae the soloists, chorus and orchestra elevated the holy sound in the large hall so carefully designed by architects, Diller, Scofidio and Renfro. Projected above the musicians two screens displayed in duplicate a film of nature and flowers, humble imagery, shot with an iPhone by Lithuanian Jonas Mekas who was a leading filmmaker of avant-garde cinema and author of the “Movie Journal” column in the celebrated Village Voice. He was 96 when he made the film.  He died on January 23, 2019.  

When I stood to applaud the riveting performance I was no longer cold.  The components of the Shed from the layers of steel to the utilitarian seating seemed just right.  The massive sound from the Currentzis’ musicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus had filled all the corners of the McCourt theater. Director Alex Poots’ vision for The Shed as a radical new space swept away the unnecessary elements for the public to experience the highest quality performances.  Plan a visit in 2020.

Photo credits – David Spira