Mozart's birthday bash

Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, under the direction of conductor Paul French, will celebrate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birthday with a concert of works by the influential composer of the classical era.

"The bash will include pieces by Mozart and Brahms this year, in particular Mozart's Coronation Mass and a long, beautiful piece by Brahms titled "Nanie," French says. "It's almost never performed because it is so difficult."

The concert is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Reserved seats cost $22, $5 for students and Oregon Trail Card holders, and can be purchased online at Call 541-552-0900 for information.

This will be the last annual Mozart Birthday Bash for the repertory singers.

"We're going to let Mozart rest in peace," French says. "No one recalls exactly how many of these shows we've done. We've been bashing him for a long time and people still enjoy it, but we feel it's time to make a change.

"There's so much great music. The choral repertoire is vast, and it's growing all of the time. It goes back to the Renaissance, and there's a renaissance of choral music taking place today. Wonderful new music is being written."

It's French's theory that, during the '50s, classical music became too dissonant, strident and cerebral.

"Today's composers understand that audiences want to hear music that is beautiful," he says. "We can write in modern idioms — in an expanded harmonic vocabulary — and still not assault the listener. There is a host of great, young composers writing beautiful music, and we want to share it with audiences, as well as work by Brahms, Bach and the other masters.

"We'll still do Mozart, just not a whole program," he says. "I promise that people will like what we do next year as well."

Jefferson Public Radio talk show host Geoff Riley has emceed the bash for at least 10 years, French says.

"He is so much fun," French says. "He dresses as Mozart and makes hysterical introductions to the pieces that we perform, always offering information about the music in a light-hearted, amusing way and speaking in an outrageous German accent.

"He always goes to the piano and plays "Happy Birthday to Me," French says with a laugh.

The repertory singers will not perform "The Requiem," just say "Auf wiedersehen, Herr Mozart."

The concert will include such Mozart favorites such as "Ave Verum Corpus" — the composer's last completed piece of choral music, according to French — "Laudate Dominum," a famous melody that will feature soprano Jeffri Carrington, and a chorus from a Mozart's opera seria, "Idomeneo."

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