NEW YORK – Teodor Currentzis, the redoubtable super force behind Siberia’s musicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus, brought a Verdi Requiem to The Shed on Nov. 21 that will be etched long in the memory. Without a conductor’s baton and dressed in signature skinny tight jeans, the young maestro plundered the heart, bloodstream, and marrow of Verdi’s volatile and operatic 1874 funeral mass to offer a decisive and palpable Requiem.
Currentzis’ balletic leaps, jumps, and dances were so energized that during the Sanctus the Greek-born conductor was compelled to leap off the podium to conduct from the floor in the body of the orchestra. The platform simply could not absorb the weighty percussion of his tap-dancing, bouncing feet. Currentzis was undeterred. His new vantage point did not hinder his mission. The choir responded with matched life-affirming vitality.
Currentzis is tenacious. He is also storyteller who narrates his score detail by detail to build an organic interpretation that magnetizes the audience’s attention. In the opening Introit e Kyrie, Currentzis executed his expertise as a colorist, extracting a unanimous hush. The result was an expectant prologue. When the tympani and bass drum crashed through the ensemble in the Dies Irae, the moment transpired as a dramatic exposition. In the duets between soprano (Zarina Abaeva) and mezzo-soprano (Clémentine Margaine) of the Agnus Dei, Currentzis summoned the beauty of the moment with his caressing, cupping hands creating a floating and transcendental emotional bridge. The conductor was equally attentive to his male soloists, the likewise distinguished René Barbera (tenor) and Evgeny Stavinsky (bass), who also benefited from his in-the-moment precision.
But let it be said that this performance was not at all about Currentzis, but about the results he imagined and what the ensemble and soloists delivered.
Currentzis’s Requiem calls to mind Tolstoy’s observation that good art promotes a feeling of brotherhood and inferior art makes us feel alone. Judging from this capacity audience’s response, there was little reason to believe otherwise. It was an immersive experience.
This Requiem incorporated cinematic artwork by the late Lithuanian auteur Jonas Mekas. The work was projected on two small square screens behind the orchestra.
Envisaged by The Shed’s artistic commissioning team as an accompaniment, Mekas’s contribution is emphatically a counterpoint. His grainy home-made collage of handheld camera footage is an ode to simplicity, imporing the viewer to appreciate and seek the poetic in the prosaic – the patterns and beauty of nature and the substantive benefits of ephemeral and human-to-human encounter alongside and in the face of the apposite experience of destruction, famine, and war. The intent of the commissioning juxtaposition was clear.
What The Shed team could not account for was the domination of musicAeterna’s compelling performance. We were necessarily distracted.
It bears noting that through these unlikely artistic partnerships, The Shed is attracting new and varied audiences to classical music. Who would have thought that so many hipsters and cool kids would attend a performance of Verdi’s Requiem?
Xenia Hanusiak is a New York-based writer, festival director, and scholar whose writing has appeared in London’s Financial Times, Music and Literature, National Sawdust’s Log Journal, and the New York Times. She is an advocate for contemporary music and cultural diplomacy. www.xeniahanusiak.com.