When conductor Richard E. Probert announced the musical selections for his Trinity Concert Series Palm Sunday concert, the response was both "hurrah!" and "huh?"
Mr. Probert will direct the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Trinity Festival Choir and Orchestra in a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem and Arthur Honegger's "King David" next Sunday. The Requiem is well known, but "King David" — not so much. Singers in the 50-member chorus were initially scratching their heads because of its difficulty.
Mr. Probert asked some of the concert's 26 orchestra members, most of whom are from SUNY Potsdam's Crane School of Music, if they'd ever heard the "King David," which will follow the Requiem.
"Two of the players played it many, many years ago," he said. "Most of them have never heard of the piece. But you can bet they're practicing hard."
Mr. Probert, who has more than 40 years of conducting experience, first performed "King David" in the early 1960s.
"I love the piece," he said. "It's very different and very accessible to audiences. It has many different forces involved."
French composer Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) wrote "King David" in the 1920s. The oratorio, sung in English, tells the Biblical story of King David. Its elements range from Gregorian chant to Baroque to jazz.
"It's very demanding musically and requires very exotic instrumentation, especially in the percussion section," Mr. Probert said.
Amy R. Renzi is a newcomer to the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble who appreciates the challenge.
"You have to work hard and study," she said. "Richard is very knowledgeable and talented. He has high standards and demands a certain excellence."
Mrs. Renzi, a 1991 graduate of Immaculate Heart Central School, is taking a year's leave of absence from her job as a middle school music teacher in the Indian River Central School District.
"There are many local musicians and music teachers and other skilled professionals who not only love music, but are really committed to the group." she said. "They're not afraid to challenge themselves and to work hard."
She had never heard of the "King David" previously, but "the more I listen to it, the more I like it," she said.
"King David" is held together by a narrator as the chorus and orchestra tell the tale.
"It tells the story of King David, so it comes from the Old Testament's Book of Samuel," Mr. Probert said. "It covers, in a rather abbreviated form, King David's life from the point where he's a shepherd to where he becomes king. It brings in his slaying of Goliath and his wooing of Bathsheba."
King David, the Bible says, had an affair with the married Bathsheba, and when she became pregnant, he arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle.
"It's real Old Testament stuff," Mr. Probert said. "It's really a story about the foibles of life. It ends in the death of David."
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The Austrian Mozart (1756-91) was commissioned by a nobleman to compose the Requiem, but died a pauper at age 35 before it was completed.
"His wife, Constanze, thought it'd be a good idea to finish the work to get paid," Mr. Probert said. "Legend has it that a guy named (Franz Xaver) Süssmayr finished the work for her."
Mr. Probert said the story that Mozart knew he was dying and was working on his own requiem is likely untrue.
"I think that myth was propagated a lot by Hollywood," he said.
Many musical scholars describe Mozart's Requiem as haunting.
"The audience will recognize it from its first note on," Mr. Probert said.
Five soloists will also perform during the concert.
The concert is made possible, in part, with funds from the state Council on the Arts Decentralization Program, administered in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence Counties by the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.