On Saturday evening March 17, 2018, the 600-year old Lorenzkirche (St. Lawrence’s Church) echoed with the sounds of choir and orchestra during the performance of Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater.”
Nuremberg, a city in the German state of Bavaria, is known for its Imperial Castle and other medieval buildings within the Alt Stadt (“Old City”), which is still surrounded by stone fortifications. The city is also famous for hosting the Nuremberg Trials after World War II and as the site of the Nazi party rally grounds on the outskirts of town.
I visited these and other historic sites during my recent 2-week visit to the city, and when I was walking around the inside of the Lorenzkirche on a weekday I picked up a brochure about this concert the following Saturday.
Czech composer Antonin Dvorak completed the orchestral version of this cantata in 1877. It was his first composition on a religious theme: Christ’s crucifixtion as told from his mother’s perspective (the title “Stabat Mater” is Latin for “The Mother stands” and the first verse of the cantata begins: “The grieving mother stands weeping beside the cross where her son was hanging.”) This powerful theme has inspired many composers to set it to music over the years, including Hadyn, Verdi, and Rossini.
On the night of this concert the temperature was unseasonably snowy and cold, about 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Celsius). It wasn’t much warmer inside the soaring gothic stone arches of the church, although a few space heaters flanked the orchestra area. Nevertheless, the choir, soloists, and orchestra performed enthusiastically. Bundled in their winter coats, about 100 choir members filled bleachers set behind the orchestra and soloists. I counted about 20 instrumental musicians, including strings, French horn, clarinet, flute, and oboe. The conductor, Matthias Ank, led the group energetically during the 90-minute performance.
The four soloists performed admirably despite the chilly conditions:
Margaret Vilsone – Soprano
Ida Adlrian – Alto
David Yim – Tenor
Wonyong Kang – Bass
The words of the cantata were in Latin so I didn’t understand them (the program notes provided a German synopsis), but still I appreciated and enjoyed the excellence of the choir and orchestra, who performed the ten movements without intermission and only a slight pause at the hour mark for the musicians to re-tune their instruments.
The audience impressed me as well. During the long performance, I didn’t see anyone leave their seat and I didn’t even hear any coughing or throat-clearing. This starkly contrasts with concerts I’ve attended in the US where audience members shuffle in and out of their seats during a performance as if they were at a baseball game. Could it be that German audiences appreciate the talents of musicians more than American audiences, or have they been taught to be more respectful and formal at a live concert?
I have to say that I especially enjoyed the last 5 movements. Maybe it just took me that long to forget the cold and uncomfortable hard seat, but I did become immersed in the music and felt a tinge of regret when it ended. If you have a chance to attend a performance of this piece, don’t pass it by, even if the venue is not as historic as this performance!
This recording captures the beauty and emotion of Dvorak’s composition. Enjoy!