On April 12, the Charlotte Symphony presented “Mozart’s Requiem” at the Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. It was a three-piece program featuring the titled Mozart Requiem in D Minor, K. 626. With a chorus featuring more than 100 members echoing from behind and four soloists – Margot Rood, soprano, Sofia Selowsky, mezzo-soprano, Isaiah Bell, tenor, and Adam Lau, bass – calling toward the audience in front, the Charlotte Symphony performed expressively and effectively, leaving the audience to meditate on loss and our own mortality and to question what exactly it is that we confront after death.

Opening the evening were two shorter pieces. The first was a contemporary piece entitled “Charlotte Mecklenburg” by Nkeiru Okoye, commissioned by the Charlotte Symphony and premiered in 2018 in honor of the city’s 250th anniversary. From Copland-esque wind themes to a drum set-backed bluesy section, “Charlotte Mecklenburg” explores some of the diverse ethnic and racial heritage of Charlotte and glimpses into its history from its founding to the present day. The orchestra executed this piece well, capturing each varying theme while maintaining an overall unity, representing some of the many parts that make up the whole of Charlotte.

Following “Charlotte Mecklenburg” was Antonio Salieri‘s Symphony in D Major, “Il Giorno Onomastico” (The Name Day), a pleasant, classical symphony in four movements. Salieri is often compared to Mozart (as one is when working at the same time as an internationally-recognized prodigy). After Mozart’s untimely death at 35, it was even falsely rumored (through plays and movies, such as the 1984 Amadeus) that Salieri poisoned Mozart in an envious frenzy. Maestro Christopher Warren-Green stated in introducing the piece that Salieri remains constantly in the shadow of Mozart, even if rightfully so. “You can’t compare anyone to Mozart – it just isn’t fair.”

Yet, what did the CSO do? Compared poor old Salieri to Mozart once again, and, naturally, it wasn’t fair. Why even pair a Salieri on the program with Mozart – and not just any Mozart, but Mozart’s profound, multi-layered, stage-filled-to-the-brim-with-musicians Requiem – if you know Salieri will never hold up? Not only was this programming just another reason to believe that Salieri might have considered poisoning Mozart, but it held no sort of preparation for what was to follow. Neither Charlotte Mecklenburg” nor “Il Giorno Onomastico” seemed to have thematic relevance with the Requiem. The Requiem delves the listener into serious contemplation about his or her own life and death. Usually before entering Mass, attendees bless themselves with holy water, as to prepare the entrance into a sacred space, an almost “other” dimension. While both openers were enjoyable and well performed, we were about to enter into musical church for heaven’s sake, and neither acted as this necessary mental or spiritual preparation.

Nevertheless, we entered. As it is a Requiem, the piece follows the Catholic funeral Mass, beginning with the Introitus and the Kyrie asking the Lord for eternal rest and mercy, weeping in the Lacrimosa, and ending with the Communio: Lux aeterna, a hope for everlasting light.

Mozart’s Requiem was begun in 1791 and was unfinished upon his death that same year. It was finished (upon Mozart’s request) by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and premiered in 1793.

The Requiem is not a peaceful send-off: it is in D minor; it is mysterious, unnerving, and at times scary with tremendous dynamic swells and accents. We are not being coddled by the Divine. The chorus and soloists praise God, but more often they plead for forgiveness, for mercy, and for rest. The listener finds himself before Judgement and asks, trembling, “What’s next?”

The orchestra, though occasionally lacking power (partially due to being in a theater rather than a resonating cathedral), was able to portray this experience of uncertainty in moving into the next dimension. The chorus and orchestra were well-balanced and clean in their articulations, and all four soloists were beautifully expressive individually and together. Particularly strong moments came from the Dies irae: I was writing down a note from the previous section but was forced to look up from my notepad immediately with the chorus’ exclamation of “This day, this day of wrath.”

In a way only art can, the Requiem takes listeners on a journey that should teach them something new, should change them, not by stating a fact but by allowing them an experience. The Requiem addresses the mystery of the dimension that comes after death. What is it that comes right before the Divine, and will we even get there? Mozart explores the notion that in between human mortality and Divine immortality, there must be something. Perhaps all we have to explain this interluding dimension is the arts; perhaps that interluding dimension is art.

There will be a final performance of this program on Sunday, April 14, at 3 P.M. For more information, please view the sidebar.