‘It’s good, man’: Seattle Symphony Orchestra concertmaster offers a peek at Mozart’s ‘Requiem’

Seattle News

Noah Geller, the distinguished new concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, has a concise yet heartfelt way of describing the enduring appeal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem.”

“It’s good, man,” the wry violinist says by phone from SSO’s offices.

You bet. The symphony will perform “Requiem,” Mozart’s final work — left unfinished at the time of his 1791 death — in three concerts beginning Thursday, Oct. 17. Four guest vocalists and the Seattle Symphony Chorale will join the orchestra at Benaroya Hall, under the baton of conductor Masaaki Suzuki, founder and director of the Bach Collegium Japan. Suzuki and the Collegium were here last December for an Early Music Seattle program.

Geller, SSO’s first violin, will be playing a vigorous solo during another performance on the bill, Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s “Concerto funebre (Funereal Concerto),” and won’t be participating in “Requiem.” (“My arm can only take so much.”) But he has played it elsewhere and heard it “a hundred times.”

“If you haven’t heard it before, I’m jealous you get to hear it for the first time. It’s one of those pieces that connect with you on a deep level. If you’re a fan of four-part harmony, ‘Requiem’ is the best there is. It’s just a large-scale, magnificent work, and it’s going to be realized by a great master of early music [in Suzuki].”

Geller did get a peek at what will make this particular “Requiem” a little different from the completed 1792 version attributed to Franz Xaver Süssmayr, the edition best known to Mozart devotees.

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“I did have a look through the parts in the score,” Geller says. “If you’re a person who’s used to the Süssmayr, and you hear something a little different this time, that will be because of the revision by Suzuki’s son.”

Geller is referring to Masato Suzuki, a composer and music director of Ensemble Genesis, which explores intersections in Baroque and contemporary music. The younger Suzuki also plays organ in his father’s Bach Collegium.

Earlier this decade, Masato Suzuki set about correcting orchestration errors in the Süssmayr edition of “Requiem.” He also incorporated a brief “Amen” fugue discovered in Berlin in 1960, which was written in Mozart’s hand. The Suzukis have placed the fugue after the composition’s “Lacrimosa” movement.

Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan released a critically acclaimed recording of their revised new version in 2015.

“Requiem” has been shrouded in mysteries and overheated fantasies since before Mozart’s death. What we do know is that “Requiem” was commissioned by an anonymous benefactor, later identified as Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach, who intended to pass off the music as his own.

Mozart’s widow, Constanze, kept the news of her husband’s death under wraps, turning to another composer, Joseph Eybler, to complete “Requiem” in secret. Her plan was to present the finished score to Walsegg and collect Mozart’s full payment. Eybler did some clandestine work on “Requiem” but ultimately punted. Constanze then turned to Süssmayr. Part of what the Suzukis have done is add more of Eybler’s contributions to their revision.

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Not to be overlooked on the program is Hartmann’s best-known work, “Concerto funebre,” written in 1939 and revised two decades later. Hartmann, a German, was horrified by the Third Reich. His reaction to the Nazis inspired “funebre’s” striking tonal shift from initial hope to darkness.

“It speaks very much to the time in which Hartmann was writing,” says Geller, “and to our time today as well. There’s a little bit of chaos in it. It resembles a bacchanal, but not of this world. It sounds like a bunch of demons at a party.”

Geller, Seattle Symphony’s first concertmaster since 2015, grew up in the Chicago area. He received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees at The Juilliard School, served as acting assistant concertmaster for the Philadelphia Orchestra and as concertmaster for the Kansas City Symphony. He has performed with many chamber ensembles and music festivals, including Marlboro, Tanglewood and our own nearby Olympic Music Festival.

“I love Seattle. I wanted to be here for a long time. We’re beginning a great new chapter for the orchestra with Thomas Dausgaard as music director. I couldn’t be happier with how we’re sounding right now and the direction we’re headed in.”

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Mozart’s “Requiem,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17-20, at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $24-$134; 206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org

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