• John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir performed Beethoven's Missa Solemnis at Carnegie Hall on November 17, 2012.
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    John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir performed Beethoven's Missa Solemnis at Carnegie Hall on November 17, 2012.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • John Eliot Gardiner and his two ensembles, the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique (ORR) and The Monteverdi Choir, take the stage at Carnegie Hall.
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    John Eliot Gardiner and his two ensembles, the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique (ORR) and The Monteverdi Choir, take the stage at Carnegie Hall.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Beethoven inscribed the manuscript to this piece: "From the heart — may it in turn go to the heart!"
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    Beethoven inscribed the manuscript to this piece: "From the heart — may it in turn go to the heart!"
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • The evening's soloists were soprano Elisabeth Meister, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, Michael Spyres and bass Matthew Rose.
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    The evening's soloists were soprano Elisabeth Meister, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, Michael Spyres and bass Matthew Rose.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Soprano Elisabeth Meister, watching and listening intently.
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    Soprano Elisabeth Meister, watching and listening intently.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • The ORR's players use period instruments — which are much more sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity than modern instruments. Despite the challenges, these master musicians gave a phenomenal performance on this dry, cold night in New York.
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    The ORR's players use period instruments — which are much more sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity than modern instruments. Despite the challenges, these master musicians gave a phenomenal performance on this dry, cold night in New York.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Gardiner's interpretation calls for trim forces compared to other conductors' much weightier numbers of choristers and instrumentalists.
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    Gardiner's interpretation calls for trim forces compared to other conductors' much weightier numbers of choristers and instrumentalists.
    Melanie Burford for NPR

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Classics in Concert

Gardiner Leads Beethoven's Missa SolemnisWQXR

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PERFORMERS:
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner, artistic director and conductor
Elisabeth Meister, soprano
Jennifer Johnston, mezzo-soprano
Michael Spyres, tenor
Matthew Rose, bass

In recent years, much of conductor John Eliot Gardiner's focus has been on what he perceives as the emotional universality of canonical Western classical music. It is a point driven home by the images he selected for his Bach cantata "pilgrimage" series that recently concluded on his own Soli Dei Gloria label. Each volume was graced with an arresting photo portrait of people from Africa, Central and South Asia by Steve McCurry — who also shot the iconic "Afghan Girl" picture for National Geographic.

In Gardiner's hands, one can feel the same sort of impetus towards catholicism here, framed within the outlines of Beethoven's actual Catholic Mass, the Missa Solemnis. It is a spiritual declaration that might perhaps supercede specific dogma or doctrine. As Beethoven inscribed on the score: "From the heart — may it in turn go to the heart!" That feeling was underscored when Gardiner's Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique (ORR) and Monteverdi Choir created their now-iconic version of this work in November 1989 — with more than half of the resulting recording culled from a session held on Nov. 9th, the same night the Berlin Wall was opened.

The Missa Solemnis is a outsized work, one that Beethoven constructed over four years. Almost 90 minutes long and scored for a large chorus and orchestra, it is an uncomfortable squeeze in either a church or a concert hall. But Gardiner and his lean, period performance oriented musicians lay bare the core of this massive piece, revealing it to be a searching meditation on mortality.

Beethoven originally intended the Missa Solemnis, which ends hauntingly with an anxiety-laden Agnus Dei roiled by the horns and drums of war, to be a partner piece for his emphatically resplendent Ninth Symphony — and for the two to be premiered together in a single concert. Ultimately, while that did not happen at the debut, the Ninth Symphony remains the unheard answer to the big questions of this Mass.

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