Santa Maria Sun / Music
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 33
The Allan Hancock College Singers and the San Luis Chamber Orchestra perform Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana'
BY JOE PAYNE
You know Carl Orff’s composition “Carmina Burana.” You’ve heard it, or at least have heard its epic introductory and finale chorus, “O Fortuna.” Penned by Orff in 1936, the cantata for orchestra and choir hearkens back to traditions of classical music that many had left behind in his time, all the while remaining prescient and indicative of its own time and place.
“This is one of the iconic works of the 20th century,” said Ann Lucas, D.M.A., director of the Allan Hancock College Singers. “A lot of people who don’t know anything about classical music either came to like classical music because of this piece or recognize the opening chorus of ‘O Fortuna,’ which has been used to sell everything from aftershave to Cadillacs.”
From movie scores to televisions commercials, the song’s grand and ominous sound has been a relentless earworm over the last century, so much so that it has enjoyed staying power in the repertory of large works that still get performed today.
The Allan Hancock College Singers have teamed up with longtime collaborating ensemble the San Luis Chamber Orchestra to make this piece happen in Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande on Nov. 2 and 3, respectively. The orchestra has performed with the Hancock singers before on works such as Beethoven’s “Mass in C Major” and Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” which are both pieces that don’t require an orchestra as large as the one “Carmina Burana” requires.
“They’ve got more strings than they normally have. I believe it’s up to 25 violins now, which is going to make a difference,” Lucas said. “They have a much larger percussion section because this piece calls for every percussion instrument you have ever heard of, including a gong.”
Percussion was a popular trope in 20th century classical music as more complicated rhythms became popular and acceptable. “Carmina Burana” is an example of a 20th century work that didn’t go over the precipice of atonality, nor did it remain within the rigid confines of Mozartian tonality.
“This piece is fundamentally tonal, but it has dissonance,” Lucas said. “And it’s loud! It immediately gets your attention because it is so aggressive at the outset. Mozart and Haydn aren’t that way.”
The piece takes much from the classical music playbook, but most of that is informed by the text. The original “Carmina Burana” is a collection of some 254 poems and dramatic texts that were written during the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Orff chose 24 of these poems to serve as the text for his musical setting. Most of these are the works of the Goliards, Lucas explained.
“The Goliards are—when you read the research—called ‘wandering theological students,’ but here is the reality: they were college dropouts,” Lucas said. “You have to think, though, some of them were pretty smart because their depth of classical knowledge is so deep that they must have had an education somewhere.”
Some poems, such as “O Fortuna,” are beautiful yet ominous hymns in Latin. On the other hand, some of them are bawdy stories told in middle-high German. Much of what the Goliards produced didn’t hide the fact that they were alienated and dissatisfied with society and church leadership at the time.
“They traveled, but they were really looking for a court appointment as a poetic, bardic entertainer,” Lucas said. “They really became expert beggars as well as being very literally and poetically accomplished; they were like the first Beat poets or hippies.”
Orff is remembered as a somewhat controversial figure in Western music due to his Nazi sympathies. He was in good favor during the war with the Fascist Party, though he always claimed he wasn’t a true believer.
“‘Carmina Burana’ found favor with the Nazis, so he was a made man, and with that came the career and the income,” Lucas said. “That put Orff, at the conclusion of World War II, in an area with the Allies where he had to be de-Nazified—and that was the actual term, de-Nazification—which is basically to go back and look at how people behaved during the war and deciding whether they should be prosecuted or blacklisted.”
Orff was in the unfortunate position many artists of national recognition find themselves while their country is at war, but especially more so. Hitler had an open and well-known cabal against composers who didn’t write music according to his paradigm.
“He never wrote anything this good or as big a hit as this again,” Lucas said. “He always had a cloud over him after World War II, and there’s a whole bunch of German musicians who went on after that in the same way.”
Despite the politics of his time, Orff’s work has lived on in its own right thanks to its accessibility. Its liberal use by Hollywood and other media attest to the work’s emotional immediacy.
“Sometimes ‘Carmina Burana’ is the only piece of classical music that a person will know,” Lucas said, “and it certainly served as a gateway piece for people to get to know classical music.”
The task Lucas and her students have had to accomplish is to get a large amount of music and language learned simultaneously. The choir has already begun rehearsals with San Luis Chamber Orchestra conductor Keith Waibel, who chooses the pieces to be collaborated on with Lucas.
“He and I both agree that this is the hardest concert we have ever collaborated on,” Lucas said. “The music itself is not that hard, but the transitions are.”
Many of Lucas’s students are repeat choral scholars who may have sung in previous collaborations, and most of Waibel’s orchestra are longtime volunteers. The collaboration of the two ensembles has given each a chance to grow and expand, especially when tackling a piece like “Carmina Burana.”
“At the end of the day, you have an elite, fit, fighting assault team you didn’t have when you started,” Lucas said. “Every time we do something this hard, the quality of the choir ramps up another notch. It’s an improvement tool in a very technical way, in addition to being artistically rewarding.”
The original style
The Chumash Casino and Resort presents a concert featuring La Original Banda El Limon and Los Morros Del Norte on Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. at the casino’s Samala Showroom, Highway 246, Santa Ynez. Cost is $35, $45, and $55. More info: chumashcasino.com or 1-800-585-3737.
The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County and the Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos present a benefit concert event featuring Amber Cross and her band on Oct. 26 with gates opening at 1 p.m. and the show from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Dana Adobe, 671 S. Oakgle Ave., Nipomo. $10, free for members. More info: 929-5679 or lcslo.org.
The Very Lonesome Boys Bluegrass Show will feature Peter Feldmann and the Very Lonesome Boys performing live on Oct. 26 at 8 p.m. at St. Marks in the Valley Episcopal Church, 2901 Nojoqui Ave., Los Olivos. Cost is $12. More info: bluegrasswest.com.
The Radisson Hotel in Santa Maria presents live music by Juan Marquez on Oct. 25 and 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. each night at the Radisson Hotel, 3455 Skyway Drive, Santa Maria. More info: 928-8000.
Creative Juices features regular live music on the weekends, including Phil Good live on Oct. 25, and Rockfish live on Oct. 26 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Creative Juices Lounge, 874 Guadalupe St., Guadalupe. More info: 219-0518 or creativejuiceslounge.com.
The Unity Chapel of Light presents a special Oktoberfest event featuring German food and live music by Trio Internationale on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Unity Chapel of Light, 1165 Stubblefield Road, Santa Maria. Cost is $8, $4 for kids. More info: 937-3250.
The Central City Swing Big Band directed by Bob Swayze presents its Oktober Concert on Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Unity Chapel of Light, 1165 Stubblefield Road, Orcutt. More info: 937-3025.
Root 246 presents live music Fridays and Saturdays from 8 to 11 p.m. at the restaurant, 420 Alisal Road, Solvang. More info: 264-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucia’s Wine Co. offers an open mic night featuring wine, poetry, and live music on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the tasting room, 126 E. Clark Ave., Orcutt. More info: 332-3080.
The Addamo Tasting Room and Bistro presents “Wine Down Wednesdays” featuring live music on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Addamo Tasting Room and Bistro, located at 400 E. Clark Ave., Old Orcutt. Free. More info: 937-6400 or Bethany@addamovineyards.com.
Contact Arts Editor Joe Payne at email@example.com.