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400 singers to pack Mondavi stage for Berlioz Te Deum

Jeffrey Thomas will conduct a chorus of 400 voices in the monumental Berlioz Te Deum on Sunday in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center. Courtesy photo

Jeffrey Thomas is the artistic director of the American Bach Soloists, performing Monday at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo

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March 4, 2011 | Leave Comment

It’s going to be a big, big concert, with literally hundreds of singers onstage.

The UC Davis University Chorus will be joined by the orchestra from the University of the Pacific, as well as five other choral groups, for a performance of the monumental setting of the Te Deum by French composer Hector Berlioz at 7 p.m. Sunday in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center.

The concert will feature what apparently will be the biggest chorus ever to take the stage at the Mondavi Center, with around 400 voices, plus an 80-piece orchestra and an organ. The Te Deum is one of the largest works by Berlioz, who often liked to do things in a grand way.

Participating choral groups include the University Chorus and Alumni Chorus of UC Davis, the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, the Pacific Boychoir and the Davis Children’s Chorale. There are also several guest artists, including tenor soloist Wesley Rogers and organist David Deffner.

Jeffrey Thomas of UC Davis, who also is artistic director of the American Bach Soloists, will conduct the Berlioz, which runs about an hour. Thomas said he originally invited D. Kern Holoman — a longtime faculty member at UCD, now semi-retired, and an internationally recognized expert on Berlioz — to conduct the Te Deum.

“But Kern very generously declined, saying he wanted me to experience Berlioz,” Thomas said. “Until now, I have never conducted Berlioz. And as it turns out, I really love this piece. I think I’ve seen what Kern saw in the music maybe 30 years ago, when he became one of the great Berlioz scholars in the world.

“The scale of the music is so magnificent. And conducting it is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, because people don’t put on the Berlioz Te Deum all that often.”

Thomas said that when Berlioz wrote the piece in 1849-50, “he called for two large adult choirs, 500 children’s voices — 500 kids! — and an orchestra, with the organ to be antiphonal, in other words, placed in the back,” so that the organ responds from the back of the hall, while the enormous chorus is packing the stage at the front.

“It’s really ‘surround sound,’ ” Thomas said.

And even though he won’t be conducting, Holoman will give a brief talk titled “Berlioz’s Napoleon: Thoughts on the Te Deum,” which is free and open to the public, at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, the day before Sunday’s concert.

The program will open with about 30 minutes of music performed by the University of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, conducted by its director, Nicolas Waldvogel. First up will be Berlioz’s famous “Roman Carnival Overture,” followed by Albert Roussel’s second suite of music from “Bacchus and Ariadne.”

The suite was extracted by Roussel from his music for the original ballet, and premiered under French conductor Pierre Monteux in 1934. (A year later, Monteaux would become the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, a post he held until 1952).

Tickets are $12/$15/$17 general and $8 for students and children, available at http://www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787.

Music lovers should note that Sunday’s performance of the Berlioz Te Deum is the first in a trifecta of choral blockbusters to be heard at Mondavi during March. On Thursday, March 17, the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Chorus will perform the monumental Mass in B Minor by J.S. Bach, under the baton of Ragnar Bohlin — the first time the San Francisco Symphony Chorus has appeared at the Mondavi Center.

And on Saturday, March 19, the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra will come to Mondavi to perform the Verdi Requiem, a huge piece involving a chorus of about 200 voices, plus a large orchestra.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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