The idea for the new choral music event SummerSing sparked on a recent road trip for married couple Christopher Eanes and KellyAnn Nelson.
Eanes, leader of Collegium Cincinnati, a classical ensemble focused on music from the 18th century, and Nelson, the mastermind of the Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC), were driving to Charleston, South Carolina, for the Spoleto performing arts festival when inspiration struck.
“We were about to pull into Charleston," Eanes said, "and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get people involved in singing a major work at a very high level and in a community setting?’”
Eanes and Nelson decided that Mozart’s powerful Requiem Mass in D minor, one of the all-time great choral works, would be their first endeavor. They have invited singers to participate in a week of rehearsals, starting Sunday, that will culminate in a 7 p.m. performance July 30 at Christ Church Cathedral, Downtown.
“We are not auditioning singers,” Eanes said. “We’re just going to see who wants to do it. If someone jumps at the opportunity, then chances are they can do this. We have some professional singers who have jumped in just to sing. Some others think they’re going to be in for a challenging week. But we’ve taken all comers. It’s going to be a great experience for everybody.”
Singers pay $50 to participate. Eanes had hoped to recruit 50 singers, and that goal already has been exceeded.
“So far we have 75, without doing a lick of paid advertising," he said. "Not bad for the first year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit 85 or even a hundred.”
The core will be singers from Nelson’s very successful YPCC, which involves several hundred people who sang in high school and college choirs.
Eanes noted that many church choirs go on hiatus over the summer.
“Most choir members sing during the year, but they don’t really interact much with other choirs,” he said, adding that many smaller choirs don’t have the resources to do a work like the Requiem, which requires large forces and orchestral accompaniment. “We’re not trying to replace any community choir. We’re just trying to bring choristers together from all over the city.”
In fact, two singers are traveling from farther away, one from Connecticut and one from New York. Both sing in choirs at home. “They have relatives here, and they thought this would be a neat way to spend a week,” Eanes said.
In addition to the Collegium’s 25 musicians, Eanes will feature four soloists with solid credentials: soprano Alexandra Schoeny, recently featured in Cincinnati Opera’s production of "Fellow Travelers"; mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti, a Dayton Opera artist; and tenor Andrew Jones and baritone Tyler Alessi, past Cincinnati Opera performers. (Schoeny and Jones will each sing a Mozart aria to open the program.)
But the real stars will be the SummerSing Chorus.
“Some of the great choral music really has the chorus playing a smaller role," Eanes said. "But in the Mozart Requiem, 95 percent of what happens is done by the chorus. It’s a great chance to really focus on a week of choral singing, rather than recruiting a bunch of singers to back up some very fine soloists.”
You might have heard the work and learned some of its history in the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie "Amadeus" — or attended Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2008 production of the play on which the film was based. It’s based on the apocryphal tale of Mozart’s rivalry with the composer Salieri and the mysterious commissioning of a grand requiem that Mozart struggled to complete before his own death at age 33. A requiem mass is a musical work composed for a Roman Catholic funeral service, intended to provide repose for the souls of the dead.
"Mozart was really the first composer to paint this service so vividly," Eanes said. "To this day it still reaches out and grabs you.”
SummerSing performers must learn a lot of music over the course of one week. But it's not just about singing, said Eanes, who also will conduct the performance; they will focus on “imparting a comprehensive musical message."
"As 100 voices, what are we going to agree upon in any given spot to communicate to the audience? That’s what makes an electric performance,” he said.
If You Go
What: SummerSing Chorus and Collegium Cincinnati performs Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626
Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 318 E. Fourth St., Downtown
When: 7 p.m. July 30
Tickets: $20 general admission; $17 students/seniors; click here to buy
Information: www.collegiumcincinnati.org/summersing.html. Eanes envisions SummerSing as an annual event; for 2017, he’s planning to feature works by Beethoven.