SWISS CHORAL TO PRESENT ‘A GERMAN REQUIEM’ FRIDAY
When Daniel Graber was looking at and listening to “A German Requiem,” the oratorio composed by Johannes Brahms between the years 1865 and 1868, he recognized immediately the difficulty of the sacred work. The parts demand the upper register of its singers, it shifts in rhythm and there are harmonical changes throughout the 75-minute piece.
“It’s a monster,” said Graber, who on Friday night will direct the Swiss Choral Society as it presents its traditional Thanksgiving-season concert at the Salem Mennonite (South) Church six miles southeast of Freeman beginning at 7:30 p.m. — 91 years after the choral group was formally established. “We’re up against one of the most challenging pieces of music I’ve ever led. It’s so difficult, but people have been up to the challenge.”
This year’s Swiss Choral Society performance is being sponsored by Merchants State Bank and features a choir of 36 community residents. Peter Tuff, a career opera, concert and performance artist who played the lead in the 2023 Schmeckfest musical “State Fair,” is the featured baritone. He lives in Sioux Falls.
Rebecca Huberg-Krause is the featured soprano. She is a student of opera, piano and flute, a freelance performer and private instructor living in Sioux Falls and will be performing with the South Dakota Symphony Chorus and Christmas at the Cathedral Orchestra this December.
Piano accompaniment will be provided by Dr. Anne Waltner, a community native, who earned degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Chicago College of Performing Arts and Goshen College. She lives in rural Freeman with her family and is the principal keyboardist for both the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and Sioux City Symphony Orchestra.
Additionally, Sonja Waltner has served as assistant director and Amy Hofer Vetch and Barb Yoder as rehearsal pianists.
More on ‘Requiem’
One of the other challenges of “A German Requiem,” which was presented by the Swiss Choral Society in 1990, is that it is not as familiar as some of the oratorios that have been prepared and presented in past years — notably “Messiah” by George Frederic Handel on which the Swiss Choral Society was built.
“People just don’t have the same familiarity with this music (as others),” said Graber, who notes that rehearsals began in September with tedious but critical sectional work and have continued every Sunday evening since.
As for Brahms’ masterpiece at hand, Graber says it eludes somber tones intercepted by glorious moments.
“It’s a powerful piece of music that has a profound message,” he said. “A lot of times when you hear of requiems, they were written to celebrate somebody’s life. But this approach is a little bit different. This is more of a humanist requiem written for people mourning the loss of somebody.”
In that way, Graber said, “‘A German Requiem’ has a lot of meaning for the singers. That’s a good way to look at a piece of music — something that is of comfort.”
In his outstanding notes included with programs that will be available Friday night, Eric Deckert — a Freeman resident and member of the chorus — identifies “A German Requiem” as a breakthrough composition for Brahms “denoting his ascension as a composer to the world stage.”
Decker’s notes also touch a personal take regarding the composers’ approach to the work.
“Not satisfied with the somewhat stale musical form someone else insists he must use, Brahms instead conceived of music for his Requiem that pushes outwardly on known and accepted boundaries of form and style,” he writes. “His music is difficult, at times, to listen to. It is challenging to perform.”
To that end, Graber says the fact that the chorus made up of entirely local singers, few of which are classically trained, says a lot about the music tradition of the community.
“It’s impressive that we can tackle a project like this,” he says. “We will do it justice.”