• Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano takes Benjamin Britten's massive and moving War Requiem to Carnegie Hall. Britten, a staunch pacifist, wrote the piece in 1961 for the re-consecration of England's 14th-century Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed in World War II.
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    Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano takes Benjamin Britten's massive and moving War Requiem to Carnegie Hall. Britten, a staunch pacifist, wrote the piece in 1961 for the re-consecration of England's 14th-century Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed in World War II.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • Moments before the music begins, Robert Spano greets the Atlanta Symphony Concertmaster David Coucheron (left) and soloists, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Stephen Powell (right).
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    Moments before the music begins, Robert Spano greets the Atlanta Symphony Concertmaster David Coucheron (left) and soloists, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Stephen Powell (right).
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • With a full orchestra and 160-voice chorus, plus the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, every inch of Carnegie Hall's huge stage is filled.
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    With a full orchestra and 160-voice chorus, plus the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, every inch of Carnegie Hall's huge stage is filled.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • In this Requiem, Spano says "Britten invites us to contemplate, with him, both our humanity and our capacity for compassion and our need to grieve and mourn and honor our dead; along with the opportunity to self-scrutinize and to reflect on our capacity to be inhuman."
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    In this Requiem, Spano says "Britten invites us to contemplate, with him, both our humanity and our capacity for compassion and our need to grieve and mourn and honor our dead; along with the opportunity to self-scrutinize and to reflect on our capacity to be inhuman."
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, nurtured for so many years by ASO Music Director Robert Shaw, plays an important role in Britten's War Requiem, singing the words of the traditional Latin mass for the dead.
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    The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, nurtured for so many years by ASO Music Director Robert Shaw, plays an important role in Britten's War Requiem, singing the words of the traditional Latin mass for the dead.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • Choristers sing with the memory of Robert Shaw in mind, as he would have celebrated his 90th birthday on the day of this performance.
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    Choristers sing with the memory of Robert Shaw in mind, as he would have celebrated his 90th birthday on the day of this performance.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • Tenor Thomas Cooley, who sang evocatively with great clarity, was called upon to fill in with just 48 hours notice. He sings the clear-eyed poetry of Wilfred Owen, an English poet and soldier who died in World War I just a few days before the armistice.
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    Tenor Thomas Cooley, who sang evocatively with great clarity, was called upon to fill in with just 48 hours notice. He sings the clear-eyed poetry of Wilfred Owen, an English poet and soldier who died in World War I just a few days before the armistice.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • Baritone Stephen Powell also sings Owen's poetry. Much of the Requiem's power lies in the contrast between the old and impersonal language of the Latin mass and the shocking directness of Owen's non-sentimental English language poetry.
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    Baritone Stephen Powell also sings Owen's poetry. Much of the Requiem's power lies in the contrast between the old and impersonal language of the Latin mass and the shocking directness of Owen's non-sentimental English language poetry.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • Soprano Evelina Dobraceva also sings the music from the traditional Latin mass.
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    Soprano Evelina Dobraceva also sings the music from the traditional Latin mass.
    Melanie Burford /for NPR Music
  • Near the end of the Requiem the tenor and baritone voices intertwine. In Owen's poetry, two soldiers who were enemies in battle become friends in hell.
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    Near the end of the Requiem the tenor and baritone voices intertwine. In Owen's poetry, two soldiers who were enemies in battle become friends in hell.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music
  • Final bows taken after the ethereal ending to Britten's 80-minute War Requiem.
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    Final bows taken after the ethereal ending to Britten's 80-minute War Requiem.
    Melanie Burford/for NPR Music

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Classics in Concert

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra At Carnegie HallWQXR

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The most successful polemical art succeeds first as art. Benjamin Britten proved that with his War Requiem.

Robert Spano will make the case on Wednesday, April 30 at Carnegie Hall when he conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at 8 p.m. ET. NPR Music and WQXR will broadcast the concert, which also features soprano Evelina Dobračeva, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, baritone Stephen Powell and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

Britten composed his War Requiem for the 1962 rededication of the cathedral in Coventry, England, destroyed in a 1940 air raid. The selection of Britten to write and conduct the work was both ironic and appropriate. As a pacifist, he had endured intense criticism during the war for registering as a conscientious objector. His Requiem's great innovation lies in the blending of the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead and nine poems by Wilfred Owen about World War I.

Owen was an English soldier who died in 1918, one week before the armistice that ended the war. He had taken a medical leave because of the stress of the war. While convalescing, he had begun writing poems that didn't concern heroes or deeds but rather drew on the horrors he'd experienced as a soldier.

"Britten was aggressively pacifistic and taking the text of the Latin Mass for the Dead and refracting it through this poetry speaks eloquently to the ravages and horrors of war," Spano told WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon. Over 85 minutes, bold gestures of collective mourning are seamlessly mixed with intimate, song-like passages.

The Atlanta Symphony's Carnegie Hall show happens to fall on the birthday of Robert Shaw, who was the orchestra's hugely influential music director from 1967 to 1988. Under Shaw's direction, the orchestra and chorus became the gold standard for symphonic choral works by Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi and Britten, winning a clutch of Grammy Awards in the process. "Sometimes we refer to ourselves as Requiems 'R' Us," Spano jokes.

Directed by Norman Mackenzie, the ASO Chorus remains an all-volunteer organization, whose members are said to come from across Atlanta's spectrum of jobs and backgrounds. "Mr. Shaw was adamant that it was important to have an amateur aspect to the institution because of the word itself, which means 'the lover of something,'" Spano said. "So rather than meaning not good enough to be professional, [it means] so good as to be in love with one's work."

Program

Britten: War Requiem

Evelina Dobračeva, soprano

Thomas Cooley, tenor

Stephen Powell, baritone

Brooklyn Youth Chorus

Robert Spano, conductor

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