Mozart masterworks on tap at St. Charles Singers' series finale concerts Aug. 27-28

The St. Charles Singers, led by founder and music director Jeffrey Hunt, will conclude its decade-long "Mozart Journey" project with concerts on Aug. 27-28 in St. Charles featuring two of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's most beloved sacred choral works, a famous opera aria, and a dramatic early symphony.

The critically acclaimed chamber choir's "Mozart Journey XVII" program, with the Metropolis Chamber Orchestra, is the final leg of its 12-year excursion through the classical composer's complete sacred choral works. It's believed to be the first American choir to present this entire genre of Mozart's music.

While audiences at previous Mozart Journey concerts were often treated to sacred choral works that are rarely performed, choirmaster Hunt says the August performances feature some of Mozart's best-known music.

Fitting finale

Listeners will hear Mozart's Requiem in D minor, K. 626; the motet "Ave verum corpus" ("Hail, true body") in D major, K. 618; and aria "Non più di fiori" ("No more flowers") from his very last opera, "La clemenza di Tito" ("The Clemency of Titus"), K. 621.

Mozart wrote those works in 1791, his final year. He succumbed to illness at age 35.

"We felt it would be a fitting finale to the Mozart Journey to offer sacred choral works and an impassioned opera excerpt representing the culmination of Mozart's career," Hunt says.

For variety, the concert also includes Mozart's emotion-packed Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183, written when he was just 17 years old.

"Music lovers looking for a summer respite and a break from routine can bask with us in Mozart's majestic, mystical, and immortal music," Hunt says.

A classical 'Greatest Hit'

Considered one of the most powerful and moving works in all classical music, Mozart's Requiem in D minor for choir, soloists, and orchestra was his final composition.

Gravely ill, Mozart died before he could finish it. His student Franz Süssmayr completed the Requiem, but an aura of mystery still surrounds it and the circumstances under which it was commissioned.

"Mozart's Requiem appears on almost every list of classical music 'greatest hits," Hunt says, "and with good reason."

Hunt says it's a sacred work that displays the dramatic and expressive range of an opera. He also admires "the richness, variety, and depth of music offered to the choir as well as to the soloists" and how Mozart balances moments of terror and awe with hope and reflection.

"Mozart's writing for the voice is beyond reproach," he says. "Nothing is pushed to extremes. Everything is exactly as it should be."

The aria "Non più di fiori" is a compelling soprano showpiece sung by the character Vitellia, who faces likely execution for plotting the assassination of the Roman emperor out of romantic jealousy.

It's also noteworthy for its lovely, virtuosic basset horn accompaniment, Hunt says.

The basset horn, a low-voiced member of the clarinet family, also figures prominently in the Requiem, which Hunt cites as one of many attractive connections between Mozart's secular and sacred music.

Soprano Michelle Areyzaga, a former St. Charles Singers chorister who has achieved acclaim in the professional opera and concert world, will perform with the St. Charles Singers as guest soloist as it wraps up its decade-long "Mozart Journey" project with concerts on Aug. 27-28. Courtesy of Elliot Mandel

Guest soloist in the "Requiem" and aria is Chicago-born soprano Michelle Areyzaga, who grew up in the far western suburb of Elburn. A former St. Charles Singers chorister, she has achieved success as an opera, concert, and recital artist.

Requiem soloists also include St. Charles Singers ensemble members Margaret Fox, alto; Bryan Kunstman, tenor; and Jess Koehn, bass.

Sublime Motet

Mozart composed his Latin hymn setting "Ave verum corpus" for the choirmaster of a local parish church in the small Austrian town of Baden, near Vienna, where Mozart's wife Costanze was recuperating at a health spa.

"The Compleat Mozart," a standard reference work, characterizes this compact motet, scored for chorus, string ensemble, and organ, as "a pure distillation of heartfelt devotion."

Only 46 measures long, it's considered one of Mozart's most effective and perfectly crafted compositions, Hunt says.

"If I were to describe it in one word," Hunt says, "I would call it sublime."

The Metropolis Chamber Orchestra takes the spotlight for one of Mozart's "tragic" symphonies, the stormy Symphony No. 25, sometimes referred to as the "little G minor symphony."

Like other minor-key symphonies of the era, it borrows its urgent, tempestuous character from the opera world, drawing on the "Sturm und Drang" ("Storm and Stress") musical style in vogue at the time.

Concerts will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, 307 Cedar Ave. in St. Charles.

Jonathan Saylor, professor of music at Wheaton College, will give a 30-minute pre-concert talk at the church an hour before each concert.

Single admission to "Mozart Journey XVII" is $40, $35 for age 65 or older, and $10 for students. Group discounts are available.

Tickets and information are available at or by calling (630) 513-5272. Tickets are also available at Townhouse Books, 105 N. Second Ave., St. Charles (checks or cash only at this ticket venue). Tickets may also be purchased at the door on the day of the concert, depending on availability.

Journey's origin

The St. Charles Singers launched its "Mozart Journey" initiative with the Metropolis Chamber Orchestra in January 2010 as a long-range, multiyear celebration of the choir's 25th anniversary concert season. The project embraces Mozart's complete sacred choral works, presented in 17 different concert programs at venues in Chicago and the western suburbs, including neighborhoods and cities where the St. Charles Singers had never performed before.

Founded and directed by Jeffrey Hunt, the St. Charles Singers is a chamber choir dedicated to choral music in all its forms. Hailed by American Record Guide as "a national treasure," the mixed-voice ensemble includes professional singers, choral directors, and voice instructors, some of whom perform with other top-tier Chicago choirs. Classics Today has called the ensemble "one of North America's outstanding choirs," citing "charisma and top-notch musicianship" that "bring character and excitement to each piece." The Chicago Tribune has described the St. Charles Singers as "splendidly disciplined, beautifully responsive" and proclaimed, "Chamber chorus singing doesn't get much better than this."

Among the St. Charles Singers' prominent guest conductors have been renowned English composer John Rutter, founder of the Cambridge Singers; Philip Moore, composer and former music director at England's York Minster cathedral; and Grammy Award-winning American choir director Craig Hella Johnson. The choir launched in St. Charles, Illinois, in 1984 as the Mostly Madrigal Singers.

St. Charles Singers ensemble

Forty-six St. Charles Singers ensemble members will perform in Mozart Journey XVII.

• Sopranos: Jeanne Fornari of Batavia; Ingrid Burrichter, Chicago; Marybeth Kurnat, DeKalb; Mary Kunstman and Jessica Palmisano, Elburn; Karen Rockett, Glendale Heights; Laura Johnson, Hanover Park; Jennifer Gingrich and Meredith Taylor Mollica, Naperville; Amanda Kohl, Oak Park; and AnDréa James and Cynthia Spiegel, St. Charles.

• Altos: Christina Collins of Arlington Heights; Christina Bernardoni, Bartlett; Margaret Fox and Valerie Heinkel-Bollero, Batavia; Kelly Grba, Bolingbrook; Nicole Tolentino, Carol Stream; Bridget Kancler, Chicago; Grace Bardsley, Montgomery; Chelsea King and Julie Popplewell, North Aurora; Rachel Taylor, Wheaton; and Debra Wilder, Wheeling.

• Tenors: Tyler Theis, Aurora; Christopher Jackson, Crystal Lake; Rob Campbell, DeKalb; Bryan Kunstman and Bradley Staker, Elburn; Marcus Jansen, Geneva; Stephen Mollica, Naperville; Gregor King, North Aurora; Aaron James, St. Charles; David Hunt, Wayne; and Steve Williamson, West Chicago.

• Bass: Michael Thoms, Aurora; Brandon Fox, Batavia; David Zemke, Bloomingdale; Douglas Peters, Chicago; Nate Coon and Brian Jozwiak, Crystal Lake; Jess Koehn, Downers Grove; David Hartley, Lake in the Hills; Chris DiMarco, Naperville; Michael Popplewell, North Aurora; and Antonio Quaranta, River Grove.

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