Mozart’s final masterpiece, the Requiem, has been a staple of the Mostly Mozart Festival under the baton of Louis Langrée, and this summer the festival’s orchestra will be performing it at Alice Tully Hall on August 5 and 6.
But there is a slight difference. The concert is under the auspices of Lincoln Center’s new initiative, Summer for the City, which brings together elements of former summer festivals. It is itself part of the inaugural Festival of New York, comprising more than 300 organizations’ presentations of hundreds of events, exhibits, panel discussions, and other citywide programming through Labor Day.
Three themes make up the programming of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City: “Rejoice,” “Reclaim,” and “Remember,” the latter of which features Mozart’s Requiem, as well as the New York premiere of a transformation of Mozart’s work by choreographer Kyle Abraham, his company—A.I.M by Kyle Abraham—and electronic composer Jlin. The new piece, Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth, will be performed August 11–13 at the Rose Theater.
For the Tully concert, Langrée has attracted the usual array of formidable musical forces. First, the orchestra will perform Mozart’s penultimate symphony, the 40th; after intermission, the Requiem will be performed by the orchestra, four soloists—Soprano Sunhae Im, Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, Tenor Matthew Swensen, and Bass Dashon Burton—and, as the chorus, the Unsung Collective, which makes its Lincoln Center debut at these performances.
Tyrone Clinton Jr. is the founder and director of the Unsung Collective, which focuses on living composers and composers of color. “So, in that regard, (the Requiem) is not part of our usual repertoire,” Clinton says. “But for anyone performing any music of the Western canon, it is a familiar piece. Although we don’t always perform music of this era, it is in our wheelhouse.”
Clinton has worked on the Requiem before, but these performances will be a new challenge. “I was asked by Lincoln Center to put together a group of 36 singers,” he explains. “I’ve performed it a couple times before as a singer and I’ve prepared sections of it as a conductor, but it’s the first time that I’ll be preparing the entire work for chorus. It’s obviously a big deal for us and we are looking forward to it.”
Based on Mozart’s original, Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth, is a collaboration by choreographer Kyle Abraham and composer Jlin which came about as a commission for Abraham and his dance company, A.I.M by Kyle Abraham. “A few summers ago, a work of mine, Pavement, was done for Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and I was asked if I wanted to create anything to Mozart,” Abraham explains. “The piece that connected with me was the Requiem, since I gravitate toward more somber music. I started to set dances to the music, and it made me think about afterlife, rebirth, and reincarnation—I am obsessed in some ways with what happens after we die.”
After asking Jlin to create the music (“Who else could I ask to bring new life to this piece?” he asks. “She seemed the perfect collaborator”), Abraham set out the parameters for her electronic score. Jlin started sampling sections of the Requiem, but as she laughingly admits, “I can only stay in the parameters so much—if you hear my music, you’ll understand.”
The composer and the choreographer bounced ideas off each other, sharing music demos and videos of dance set pieces, which would then inform their next steps (so to speak). According to Abraham, “It was honestly a collaboration in the sense that we were working at the same time on the same page and there was always a suggestion from one of us that would lead to something new,” he said. “Her demos would make me think about what movements would go with it, and we would move ahead from there.”
The combination of Mozart’s Requiem, Jlin’s new score, and Abraham’s choreography has made him anticipate the audience reaction. “I’ll be curious to see what happens,” Abraham says. “I think everyone will love the live-music angle, and I’m glad that it has allowed me to make my own story out of the original score.”
Kevin Filipski is Juilliard’s program editor.
For more information about Lincoln Center’s summer programming, including updates about events, dates, and locations, visit LincolnCenter.org.