Carmel Symphony Orchestra takes on challenge of ‘Verdi’s Requiem’


Carmel Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Commanday is convinced audiences will experience a wide range of emotions during its upcoming concert.

The CSO will perform the 80-minute “Verdi’s Requiem” at 7:30 p.m. April 13 at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

“It’s a life-changing experience because of the power of the piece,” Commanday said. “It’s an operatic, dramatic setting of the Latin Requiem Mass. For people who experience that in their personal religious life, that means something. The Mass is about people contemplating the aspect of the afterlife and what that means and the concept of life after that. It’s a prayer for mercy. The thing that is so special about the way Verdi set the Mass is the human and personal voice that he gives it. It doesn’t sound in any way like a ritual. It’s an expression of the human spirit confronting the reality of guilt or sin. It’s pleading to a merciful God and Jesus because it’s Catholic.”

Commanday said it’s a plea to give the deceased an eternal light.

The four soloists from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music are dramatic soprano Cassandra Glaeser, tenor Jaemyeong Lee, lyric soprano Seonyoung Park and bass-baritone Sunghoon Han. The soloists represent different moments in the requiem.

“Then the chorus represents all of us together,” Commanday said. “It’s dramatic. There are moments of tenderness, moments of fear and moments of wrath. One of the most famous sections of it is how he sets ‘Day of Wrath,’ that day when all will be judged.”

Commanday said when the entire choir sings, it’s incredibly moving and powerful.

“There is some of the loudest music and some of the softest music you can hear at a concert hall,” Commanday said.

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Richard Sowers, who is retiring as Anderson Symphony Orchestra’s music director/conductor this spring, is coordinating the Anderson University choir for this concert. A Chicago resident, he retired from Anderson University in 2021.

“There is a big responsibility for the chorus in the piece,” Sowers said. “It’s at times almost terrifying and at times comforting. It’s deeply spiritual. It’s some of the most glorious writing for soloists. It’s just astonishing how beautiful it is.”

Sowers estimates there will be 100 choir members from different Anderson University choirs, some university alumni members and Circle City Sound.

CSO is partnering with Indianapolis’ Congregation Beth-El Zedeck to relay the story of Czech conductor Rafael Schachter leading Terezin concentration camp prisoners to perform “Verdi’s Requiem” in 1943 and 1944. The performances are part of a documentary, “Defiant Requiem.”

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Cantor Melissa Cohen will give opening remarks prior to the concert.

“It was a mark of resistance and courage to perform live music,” Cohen said. “I am also doing a pre-concert discussion with Maestro Commanday. There will be a small performance with me and my daughter Sadie to inspire more about the partnership together.”

Cohen said it’s an important time to remember the Holocaust.

“We’re living at a time when antisemitism is at the highest in history, which is really remarkable,” Cohen said. “It seems idealistic, but music has the ability to bridge these types of barriers and spark inspiration. Throughout history, Jewish people have faced adversity and we’re still here. We remain strong people. Music becomes that affirmation of life. Through chaos and tragedy, there is this duality of life that is fundamental to the human experience.”

Cohen said “Verdi’s Requiem” is a majestic piece of music.

“It’s powerful in many ways,” Cohen said. “The subject matter of requiem is not Jewish in any way.”

Commanday said humanity in the piece transcends considerations of religious denominations.

“It creates an awareness of our imperfections and needing forgiveness,” Commanday said. “None of us live forever and we lose dear ones, and we think about what it means to not live anymore. The music makes the message all the more universal.”

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