By Jim Sullivan
---- — The Newburyport Choral Society has been spending some quality time with composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn lately, and soon, the rest of the community will be able to hear the result of that interaction.
During their spring concert, set for May 4 and May 5 at the Belleville Church on High Street in Newburyport, the Choral Society will present Mozart’s “Solemn Vespers” and “3 Motets” and Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass.”
“The music is absolutely terrific,” said Dr. Gerald Weale, the choral society’s music director of 26 years. “These are the two great figures of the second half of the 18th century who did write a lot of choral music. Not all composers write a lot of choral music, these guys did. And they’re fun to sing.”
The composers were not only contemporaries, but they were friends as well. Their choral pieces are meant to be sung in churches like the Belleville.
“It’s full of uplift,” Weale said. “All of this music is music written for the church. Austria was the (Roman Catholic) church at that stage in the game. In those days, the church was supported by the state. So, there were orchestras in churches; there were professional level choirs. Composers were hired to do specific things for big occasions for the church.”
Now in its 79th year, the all-volunteer chorus will be supported by a 13-piece orchestra of trumpets, timpani, strings and organ. Soloists will include Australian-American soprano Robyn Lamp; mezzo-soprano Jaime Hartzell, who has performed with the Utah Festival Opera and the Boston University Opera; tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts and bass Erik Van Heyningen, who have also performed with the Boston University Opera.
“There is a strong melodic sense,” Weale said of the program’s music. “They are really wonderful, wonderful melodies. They are also from a very orderly, tidy world. The music from that particular period is not wild. Nor, however, is it enormously soothing. What it is, is organized. It is for music lovers. It is not primarily about its words. Yes, we’re singing words, but it’s not like a solo song. Here the text is used as a vehicle for writing music.”
The first portion of the concert will feature several different pieces by Mozart written during his Salzburg period, including “Sancta Maria,” “Solemn Vespers” and “Ave Verum.”
“It is the last piece of choral music that he finished and one of the last pieces he heard,” Weale said of “Ave Verum.”
“On his deathbed, they were two pieces that were sung,” Weale said. “So, ‘Ave Verum’ has a very special place in many choirs.”
The second part of the program will feature Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass,” which was performed after Napoleon’s defeat by Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile.
“It was the first time anybody had been able to score points on Napoleon,” Weale said. “So, it was kind of like when the wall came down in Berlin. There was a great deal of rejoicing about it and two years later (Lord Nelson) shows up at this and they sing it for him again.”
Just as the music is organized, Weale said his chorus is as well.
“We have a solid core who have been with me and the rest of the chorus for most of my 26 years,” he added.”And they have been with me long enough so, frankly they know how this thing has to work. They know what a rehearsal is. It’s not a kaffeeklatsch. It’s not a question-and-answer session. It’s a rehearsal. And that’s not something everybody learns. “
IF YOU GO What: Newburyport Choral Society spring concert When: May 4, 8 p.m. and May 5, 2:30 p.m. Where: Belleville Congregational Church, 300 High St., Newburyport How: $24 for adults, $22 for students and seniors. Tickets purchased at the door on the day of the concert are $25. For more information on ticket outlets and purchasing tickets, visit newburyportchoralsociety.org.