The Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale may break a record on April 26 for putting the most instrumentalists and vocalists on stage at the Alberta Bair Theater to perform “Carmina Burana.”
More than 100 vocalists from four Billings choirs, including the BSO Chorale, will join 70 instrumentalists and three guest artists to perform what has been deemed the most popular choral work in classical music.
The music is soaring and emotionally-charged. The composer Carl Orff deliberately stripped the music down to focus on the joyful sound of the human voice.
The work translates to “songs of Burana” or Beuren, referring to a collection of medieval secular songs found at the Benediktbeuren monastery during the 13th century. This is primal stuff. It’s a celebration of what it feels like to be a human being in the spring. It’s bawdy, irreverent and satirical — so much so that some of the lyrics, which are sung in German and Latin, have been cleaned up for a general audience.
Orff used 24 poems from the Carmina Burana in 1936, paired with music in a three section structure, with a prologue and epilogue.
Orff’s composition quickly became popular and a staple piece of the classical music repertoire. The opening and closing movement, “O Fortuna,” has been used in numerous films.
Steven Hart, director of the Billings Symphony Chorale and the Rocky Mountain Chamber Choir, has been working for months to prepare the vocalists. Anne Harrigan will direct instrumentalists and vocalists at the concert.
During a practice session Monday night at Lincoln Center, vocalists went through a half-hour stretching session, using yoga movements to expand their lung capacity and to relax. It seemed to work. The combined choir, with members ranging in age from early high school students to grandparents, was precise, producing such a powerful and melodic sound it was chilling to hear.
“What I think is cool is the wonderfulness of the collaboration,” Hart said. “It lifts everybody up to perform together. Every singer wants to do well in front of the other groups.”
The concert on April 26 is the BSO and Chorale’s season finale. It begins with a “Celebrate Spring” fundraising gala from 5:15 to 7:15 p.m. at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Marvin Granger will lead concert cues at 6:45 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the ABT.
Guest artists include soprano Christine Steyer, countertenor Paul Bork, and baritone Andrew Wilkowske. Other performing choirs include the Rocky Mountain College Chamber Singers; the Montana State University Billings Chamber Singers, directed by Doug Nagel; and the Billings Youth Orchestra Chorale, directed by Amy Logan.
Nagel said his students were excited to be showcased with a professional orchestra and chorus.
“The students are thrilled to be a part of this performance and are honored to be invited,” Nagel said.