By Kate Williams '16
Full of beauty and a joy to sing is how conductor Richard Nance describes Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union’s upcoming Gioachino Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle”. The performance took place Sunday, November 12 in Lagerquist Concert Hall, Mary Baker Russell Music Building. The performance featured PLU Music Faculty Artists: Jessica Robins Milanese, soprano; Soon Cho, mezzo-soprano; James Brown, tenor; Barry Johnson, baritone; Oksana Ezjokina, piano; Lark Powers, piano; Jonathan Wohlers, harmonium.
Conductor, Richard Nance had been looking forward to this event since last spring, especially with the addition of Oksana Ezjokina, PLU’s chair of piano studies. “Ever since she came to PLU, I have wanted to do Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle” with Oksana Ezjokina at the piano. She is an incredible artist, and the work demands a pianist of her virtuosic skill. But until now, we haven’t been able to work out a collaboration due to schedule conflicts.”
“Last spring our department hired three outstanding new full time faculty – mezzo-soprano Soon Cho, baritone Barry Johnson and pianist Lark Powers. It seemed to me the perfect time to try to schedule this mass in a concert to showcase all these fabulous new colleagues along with Oksana, soprano Jessica Milanese and tenor James Brown. And of course the piece is a perfect showcase for Choral Union as well!”
Rossini is renowned as a composer of opera, and even though it is a sacred work, the “Petite Messe Solennelle” is filled with beautiful arias duets and trios. The word “Petite” in the title does not refer so much to the work itself, which is laid out in fifteen movements and over seventy minutes in length. Rather, Rossini lovingly referred to it this way on the last page of his manuscript: “Dear Lord, here it is finished, this poor little mass. Have I just written sacred music, or rather, sacrilegious music? I was born for opera buffa, as you well know. Not much technique, a little bit of heart, that’s all. Blessings to you and grant me Paradise.”
An unusual element of this piece is the use of Harmonium, or “pump organ,” in the accompaniment, along with two pianos. PLU faculty emeritus, David Dahl, graciously volunteered to allow the music department to borrow it for the performance. The instrument has a very distinct timbre and lends a unique flavor to the sound of the work.