Naturally Mozart: This is the right way to the Requiem, Storgårds says

John Storgårds. Photo: Heikki Tuuli

When Mozart put pen to paper and started writing his Requiem mass, his future lay ahead of him. But he did not finish, dying at the age of 35. What killed him remains a matter of some speculation, with a strep infection one of the more recent candidates.

After he passed away in 1791, Mozart’s work was taken by his friend Franz Xavier Sussmayr who “finished” it in 1792.

For NACO’s principal guest conductor John Storgårds, Sussmayr’s work doesn’t quite get to the point of the Requiem. He prefers an updated version by the German musicologist Franz Beyer who produced his revision in the 1970s.

“He knew what was needed to fill in the details as Mozart would have done it. It feels like real Mozart,” he said by telephone. “With (Sussmayr’s version) you could hear the changes he made.” Beyer made a speciality of studying and finishing works by the composer, including chamber pieces that were left undone at the time of his death, Storgårds said.

As a violinist as well as a conductor, Storgårds has a special affinity for Mozart’s music.

“It is the most natural music. It is fragile, however, and can go easily wrong. You need the right touch and when you find that touch the music flows so naturally.” And that is what he hears in Beyer’s edition.

Storgårds believes that it is Mozart’s own innate musicianship (he was a brilliant pianist), that his compositions are built upon and what makes them so special.

The Requiem will be performed Wednesday and Thursday evening in Southam Hall, but it is not the only piece on the programme.

The well-known soprano, Karina Gauvin, will perform Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate and the orchestra will also play The Messenger by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, another favourite of the conductor. Gauvin was recently in Ottawa performing a concert programme of works by Purcell in the Chamberfest concert series. (You can read an ARTSFILE interview with her here). 

Storgårds says Silvestrov is not that well-known in North America. His music has what Storgårds’ calls a “post-romantic” feel. The composer is often compared to Gustav Mahler. The Messenger was written in 1996 for synthesizer, piano and string orchestra. It contains hints of Mozart’s music within a modern original score, Storgårds says, making it a good fit for an evening that includes the Requiem.

The Finnish conductor has been NACO’s principal guest for two seasons now, but it is no easy feat for him to get to Ottawa.

When Storgårds is not travelling around the world, he calls Rovaniemi, Finland home. The city is near the Arctic Circle and is the home of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, which Storgårds has conducted since 1996.

The orchestra is billed as the most northerly in the European Union. It will perform next season during the NACO’s Idea of North Festival. It specializes in premieres in Finland of works by international composers from all eras and world premieres of works by contemporary composers.

Storgårds says he would not live anywhere else. It is a great place to raise a family and it is close to nature, something he really appreciates. He even expresses a fondness for the winter in Lapland which is similar, if slightly longer, than winter in Ottawa.

The city has an airport, he says, and is an hour-flight to Helsinki and the rest of the world. But there is one frustration. Because of the demands of his career, he is often moving in and out of cities without getting enough time to explore. He says, one day, he’d like to get acquainted with Canada’s north, but that will have to wait for another day.

NACO plays Mozart’s Requiem
John Storgårds, conductor
Where: Southam Hall
When: May 17 and 18 at 8 p.m.

Karina GauvinSoprano
Allyson McHardy, Mezzo-soprano
Andrew Haji, Tenor
Christian van HornBass-baritone
Cantata Singers of OttawaCapital Chamber Choir
Duane WolfeChorus master

Silvestrov: The Messenger
Mozart: Exsultate, Jubilate
Mozart: Requiem (ed. Beyer)

Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.