Move over Mozart and make room for composer Jocelyn Hagen from Minnesota. Her contemporary 2011 requiem “Ashes of Roses” had its west coast premiere May 13 at Mission Santa Clara with the full force behind it of the Santa Clara Chorale, the Santa Clara University Choirs and Symphony Silicon Valley.
Chorale Artistic Director Scot Hanna-Weir opened the spring concert with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s traditional and beloved “Requiem.” Then after intermission, he pulled out all the stops for Hagen’s 45-minute work, and the audience loved it.
“I wanted to do a large work by somebody contemporary,” said Hanna-Weir, who met Hagen at a conference in February 2015. He took “Ashes of Roses” home with him, thinking, “This could be something special.” And it was.
Hagen’s requiem, with seven movements for soloists, chorus and orchestra, was full of surprises. The text incorporates Elaine Goodale Eastman’s poem “Ashes of Roses,” written in English, with the traditional Latin text of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead.
As Hanna-Weir wrote in the program notes, the requiem reflects Hagen’s “holistic appreciation for music from Gregorian chant to pop,” and the work “oscillates between the old world and the new….[ending] triumphantly, gloriously lifting up the final Dona Eis Requiem and creating a transcendent moment full of hope and promise.”
In fact, Hagen’s requiem was so up lifting that the audience jumped to their feet instantly after the finale, clapping long and loudly.
Hagen could have been a rock star instead of a classical composer. People crowded around her, offering their congratulations and blocking the aisle. They interrupted her conversations to have their picture taken with her. Members of the Chorale sought her autograph.
“It’s incredible. This is such a high. This music mostly lives in my head and to hear it live is thrilling,” said Hagen. “I’m so honored that Scot brought it to life.”
“It was a joyful celebration of life,” said Cathy Fisher from Los Gatos. “I loved the joy of it!”
None of this shortchanges Mozart’s “Requiem,” but most audiences have, after all, heard it before. It was the composition Mozart left unfinished at his death in 1791 in Vienna, Austria.
Mozart’s sacred mass for the repose of souls of the dead–completed by a student of his–is the most famous requiem, ending, as did Hagen’s, with the traditional words of the Latin funeral mass: “Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine”–”Grant them eternal rest, O Lord.”
“I know the piece. It gave me goose bumps,” said Roseann Burhenne from Campbell.
Hagen paid tribute to Mozart, saying that his Requiem inspired hers. Nonetheless, Mozart would have felt a little upstaged had he, like Hagen, been in the audience for the Chorale’s concert of requiems by composers from two different centuries.
For the choirs and orchestra, performing Hagen’s “Ashes of Roses” was a musical challenge well met.
“It exceeded my expectations. I was much more moved than I expected I would be, even as I was conducting,” said Hanna-Weir.
The audience was excited to discover, thanks to the Chorale’s risk-taking young artistic director, a talented young composer (born in 1980) and welcome her to the elite corps of requiem composers. This is not to take a long-esteemed friend like Mozart for granted. Rather, it was to welcome, embrace, and look forward to meeting again a new friend.
The Chorale will reprise the highlights of its 2015-2016 concert season June 5, 3 p.m., at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Santa Clara, in a free concert. It will perform in Spain later in June.