Conjuring Carmina Burana at the Capitol
You know it, even if you don’t know you know it.
German composer Carl Orff’s classic Carmina Burana has long been a staple of movie trailers and horror films — it has a ritualistic, repetitive power — and Nelson choral director Allison Girvan has wanted to mount her own rendition for a long time. There’s something about the rhythmic, monastic chanting that has always triggered a primal kick inside her.
The piece is based on manuscripts discovered in the early 1900s originating from medieval monasteries, but Girvan said the student monks’ writings are “not at all sacred, they’re highly secular.”
“These manuscripts touch on love, changing fortune, fate, debauchery of all kinds. There’s drinking and taverns and women. The pieces themselves, once you translate them, are enough to raise an eyebrow or two,” Girvan told the Star.
But her choir will be singing them in Medieval Latin and early German — not an easy task for her auditioned, 43-person ensemble. The concert will be held three times at the Capitol Theatre, at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 9, 10 and 11.
“Lots of people who have sung through their lives have sung some form of Latin, you can’t really escape it, however our pronunciation will be different so that has been the challenge.”
Luckily, Carmina Burana is so popular that there’s a wealth of versions online so her singers can compare their pronunciation to that of other productions.
“I’ve seen it a couple of times and it’s something I’ve always wanted to sing in. At this point it seems unlikely so the next logical thing would be to direct the thing because it really is rewarding music. It has a real impact on both the audience and the performers.”
Girvan first heard Carmina Burana when she was in university.
“When I heard it, it was something I had to seek out and listen to over and over again. It really is the rock and roll of the classical oeuvre. It’s very primal.”
For her concert, Girvan has prepared songs for the first half that are Carmina Burana-themed, which will be sung by her youth choirs Lalin and Solstice. That will be followed by the composition itself, sung by older singers.
“This is an adult choir of singers, men and women, who are rehearsing once a week now for this specific project. They’re from all sorts of choirs in town.”
She said “the music lends itself well to people who have a specific love of singing and just want to let go.”
The production is being put on by Amy Ferguson Institute.
“This is a version the composer, Carl Orff, signed off on long ago. It’s a chamber version, so rather than an orchestra it’s written for two pianos and percussion.”
She said the percussion alone will be worth the price of admission. And they’re importing a grand piano from Selkirk College, as well as two accomplished pianists who can provide the musical foundation for the rest of the ensemble.
“The piano parts are epic in themselves, they’re holding the whole orchestral tapestry together, so it was really crucial we had two professional pianists coming to play with us. So we have two Albertan pianists coming, Roger Admiral and Susanne Ruberg-Gordon, and they’re both fantastic.”
The percussionists will be locals Bruce Hunter, John Galm and Stephen Parish. They’re collaborating and meeting on their own to get the percussion part ready.
“I’m super excited that this can build until February as we keep adding elements.”
Girvan has been hyper busy and productive in the past few years and feels passionate about her work.
“The process itself is what keeps me coming back. The collaborative nature of projects like this is highly appealing to me, and the idea to combine something which is about community but also has a real push to be musically as excellent as it can be, also keeps me coming back.”
And she’s expecting people to be impressed by soloists Bessie Wapp, Gabriel MacDonald and Noémi Kiss.
“It’s going to be a spectacle that allows the music to speak for itself.”