Lovers of choral music are in for a special treat when the Master Chorale of Flagstaff and the Shrine of the Ages Choir from Northern Arizona University join with Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra on Friday, March 15. FSO’s Masterworks V concert offers a rare opportunity in Flagstaff–the grand experience of hearing highly trained singers performing with full orchestra. 

Music Director Charles Latshaw conducts the performance in Ardrey Memorial Auditorium on the Northern Arizona University campus, beginning at 7:30 pm. The audience is invited to attend a pre-concert conversation with the conductor at 6:30. Latshaw will be joined by Tom Peterson, director of Master Chorale, and Edith Copley, director of the NAU choir.

A perennial favorite opens the concert – the well-known waltz “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” Johann Strauss Jr., “The Waltz King” of Vienna at the turn of the 19th century, wrote this piece, so popular that it is called the unofficial Austrian national anthem. The magnificent Danube, second longest river in Europe, originates in Germany’s Black Forest and runs through Vienna on its way to the Black Sea. Enjoy a taste of Vienna in this piece inspired by the city’s ten bridges over the beautiful “Blue Danube.” 

Since 1978, Master Chorale of Flagstaff has combined forces annually with FSO for a mighty choral work. This year’s offering is “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light) by contemporary composer Morten Lauridsen.  The Shrine of the Ages Choir, which was first organized in 1933, and is made up of inter-disciplinary undergraduate and graduate students at NAU, will perform along with the Chorale.

“Lux Aeterna” has been described as glorious:  “This is what heaven sounds like!”  Lauridsen creates textures of choral voices using polyphony, interweaving melodies and harmonies into unique ethereal sounds that evoke inner peace and sublimity. He has been called “the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic.” 

Lauridsen won a National Medal of Arts in 2007, was a composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The second half of the concert features the “Third Symphony” by Johannes Brahms, the great German composer of the Romantic period. Ranked with Bach and Beethoven as the “Three Bs” of classical music, Brahms wrote four symphonies, the third in 1833. Positively compared with Beethoven’s third symphony, “Eroica,” Brahms’s third is complex, moody, melodic and vibrant. Unlike most popular symphonies, which climax in an audience-loving loud flourish, this one ends on a quiet note. 

Brahms’s close friend Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann and a composer in her own right, wrote to him upon her introduction to this symphony, “What a work!… What a harmonious mood pervades the whole!” Audiences loved the third movement so much (described as “Brahms at his brooding, moving best”), that they often demanded an encore, which was not an uncommon practice at that time. Frank Sinatra lifted the melody for his 1950 song, “Take My Love.”

Emotionally a true romantic, Brahms was known for his contradicting kindness and rudeness, epitomized in his remark after a gathering, “If there is someone here whom I have neglected to insult, I apologize.” Despite his reputation as a curmudgeon, Brahms continues to be cherished today for the depth and melodic beauty of his music .