Philippe Herreweghe has long moved beyond the historically informed performance of ancient music to include the repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries, music ranging from Beethoven to Mahler, Schönberg and Kurt Weill. He has done so partly with ensembles he has founded and directs himself, such as the Collegium Vocale Gent, and partly with established concert orchestras and choirs of the highest quality. With a blend of both he will now present Antonín Dvorák’s Requiem at Konzerthaus Berlin: Collegium Vocale Gent will be responsible for the choral part, the Konzerthausorchester for the instrumental one and the evening’s soloists will be made up of artists with whom Herreweghe has worked on numerous occasions.
Dvorák wrote his opus 89 for concert performance from the start rather that for use in religious services. Its length of over one and a half hours went beyond any liturgical framework and he found the church’s requirement that music should serve the words difficult to justify even with the most dextrous mental gymnastics. Composed for a major choral festival, the Birmingham Triennial, the Requiem is part of the European oratorio tradition that was particularly strong in England. Together with the Eighth Symphony it introduces a productive era in which Dvorák moved in gradual stages yet purposefully towards the genres of music drama, towards opera and symphonic composition.
In these vocal genres he would pave the way because Dvorák composed these ancient and in some cases controversial texts from the Latin death mass as an imaginary and visionary theatre of the world with substantial elements of terror, consolation and meditation. One motif assembled out of traditional formulae of grief and suffering runs through the work as if to remind us that this is about a human passion with its painful and catastrophic sides but also with its promise of happiness.