Press Release April 27 2015


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Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra Will Present Verdi’s Requiem in June

Berkeley, Calif. – The Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra (BCCO) will bring Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic Messa da Requiem to Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley in its spring concert series.

Under the direction of BCCO Music Director Ming Luke, the 220-singer chorus will present three performances of this choral masterwork on Friday, June 5, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 6, at 3:00 p.m.; and Sunday, June 7, at 3:00 p.m. All BCCO concerts are free and open to the public; donations are gratefully accepted.

The performances will feature four well-known professional soloists: Carrie Hennessey, soprano; Lisa van der Ploeg, mezzo-soprano; Alexander Boyer, tenor; and James Demler, baritone. The performances will also feature a professional orchestra with about 50 musicians.

This powerful piece is Verdi’s only large-scale work not written for the stage, and it evokes opera in its highly dramatic scope.  "Performing the Verdi Requiem is always thrilling,” said Music Director Luke. “One always immediately thinks of the bombastic “Dies irae,” but with a composer with a flair for drama, this Requiem has such a range of colors. We're very much looking forward to performing it at Hertz Hall."

First performed in Milan in May 1874, the Requiem immediately drew criticism for the operatic style of the music, and courted political controversy as well. According to Eric Choate, BCCO’s assistant conductor, since its inception the Requiem has “sparked fierce debate over whether it is more at home in a liturgical context, as Verdi intended, or if its style and proportions relegate it exclusively to a concert hall.” One critic of the time even denounced the work as “an opera in ecclesiastical robes,” and with some validity, as Verdi’s theatrical sensibilities took it well beyond the traditionally solemn requiem genre to a hugely emotional tour de force.

Verdi composed his Requiem when Italy was under Austrian rule. A fiercely patriotic Italian with strong political opinions, Verdi shared his fervor for Italian liberty with poet and novelist Allesandro Manzoni, whom Verdi admired tremendously. Manzoni’s work frequently used historical themes with allusions to the contemporary struggle for independence. When Manzoni died in 1873, Verdi was so devastated that he couldn’t bear to attend the funeral. Over the next year, Verdi composed the Requiem in memory of the celebrated Italian author. It premiered a year after Manzoni’s death, in the Church of Saint Mark in Milan.


The Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra is a non-auditioned community chorus dedicated to performing major classical works with orchestral accompaniment, free to the public. In 2016 it will celebrate its fiftieth year of performance. Ming Luke joined BCCO in 2011, becoming only the third music director to lead BCCO since its founding. Widely recognized for his innovative music education programs, Luke has performed more than 120 educational concerts with the Berkeley Symphony, for which he is associate conductor. He frequently conducts for the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and has worked with ensembles across the United States, UK, Russia, France, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary and Austria.

Contact:  Jan Murota, or 510-725-2246