Requiem, interrupted

A decade after a performance was derailed by personal tragedy, Dedell leads ‘In the Light’ with Brattleboro Concert Choir

BRATTLEBORO — Susan Dedell is returning to a powerful requiem she had scheduled to conduct a decade ago, until she was sidelined by a heartbreaking loss.

The Brattleboro Concert Choir, under Dedell's direction, is set to present the choral concert “In the Light,” a pairing of two contemporary requiems, Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, and Bob Chilcott's Requiem.

Performances are at the First Baptist Church on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 3 p.m.

Dedell initially programmed Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna for a concert 10 years ago. She was working on it when her only child died, and she no longer felt emotionally able to perform this requiem.

But now, after years of healing, she said she believes she is ready to return to the piece.

Since its première in 1997, Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna has enjoyed frequent performances, not only in the United States, but also with European ensembles. With texts drawn from a rich variety of sources, it is a transfiguring score of power and immense beauty.

Dedell is dedicating these choral concerts to the late Helen Daly, a long-time member of the choir.

“Helen … was with us learning the piece when she died three weeks into rehearsal,” Dedell says. “She is very much on my mind as we went forward with the concert. Helen has given the Brattleboro Concert Choir much financial support of the years. Her generosity and love has meant a lot to me personally, as well as many of those who knew her from the choir.”

David Patrick Stearns said that Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna is “spellbindingly rapturous,” and “inhabits an extremely conservative style directed simply and single-mindedly at showing off the beauty of choral singing.”

Dedell paired Chilcott's Requiem with Lux Aeterna in the upcoming concert. She has become a recent but passionate admirer of Chilcott's music. The Brattleboro Concert Choir introduced his Salsbury Vespers to Brattleboro audiences last January, when it was performed to capacity crowds.

Chilcott's Requiem has galvanized the choral world. The work received its world première by the Oxford Bach Choir in spring 2010, and has been described by the Oxford Times as “gorgeous and uplifting.”

Dedell says that neither piece could be called a traditional requiem.

“Neither solely uses the text of the requiem mass, which is the basis of most requiems,” she says.

She said Lauridsen wrote the piece in response to his mother's final illness.

“The result is a timeless work about light, both in the spiritual and intellectual sense. It is a 'three-hanky' piece. Not because it is sad, but because it is incredibly powerful,” she says.

Paradoxical 'Aeterna'

Dedell says the wonder of Lux Aeterna is difficult to put into words. “The piece is deeply polyphonic, and is modern and old at the same time. Nothing seems derivative and yet there is an eternal quality about the music.”

She says she now feels compelled to finally perform Lauridsen's requiem, even though it will always remain for her permanently connected to the death of her child.

“Grief takes a long time to recover from, and to be willing to revisit,” she explains. “That death gave me a visceral jolt. I truly believed I would never come back to Lauridsen's work. But time and events, plus love and wisdom from the people around me, changed my thinking. I now feel more open and embracing, filled with less fear.”

Special hybrid

Dedell believes that Chilcott has not written a typical requiem either, even though Chilcott's text blends some of the words from the requiem mass with excerpts from the Book of Common Prayer.

“I was already a big fan of Chilcott's work, and when I read the score of this very new piece, I liked it very very much. There is a slight introspective quality to this requiem. It rather reminds me of Faure's Requiem, with its sense of gentleness and lightness. The last movement of Chilcott's Requiem in particular has a floating quality that expresses such purity that it moves me very much,” she says.

Dedell emphasizes that neither requiem is saccharine or cloying.

“Both explore the difference between this world and what else there may be,” she says, “but never trivializing the search with sentimentality. These requiems examine the mystery and power of this life and death.”

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