Heavenly Thunders

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Two years after witnessing the extraordinary performance of the SF Symphony Chorus, I was blessed by another choir performance during my second stay in Berkeley, two years later. This time it was SFS' East Bay Counterpart, the Berkeley Community Chorus.

It is difficult to judge which of the two is the more impressive, so don't let us be drawn into a discussion about this. Suffice it to say that both are grandiose. It is a miracle indeed to witness their performance at full blast, when some 160 souls (in San Francisco) or more than two hundred (in Berkeley) open their golden throats and let mellow tones fill the universe.

The Berkeley event I am hinting at was a performance, in May 2012, of Antonin Dvorak's famous Requiem, with full orchestra, four eminent vocal soloists and, last but not least, the magnificent full bodied Berkeley Chorus. For those not familiar with Antonin's piece, its demanding orchestration and "chorusation" hardly leads itself to be played at funeral masses. Let's face it, this is a concert piece, if ever there was one. That notwithstanding, at least part of it was played at President Havel's funeral mass. It is said that some Member of the audience questioned whether the lover of Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones would have wanted the soaring grandeur of this Requiem at his funeral. He surely must be mistaken. Not only was Vaclav a true Czech and would not dream of putting aside Antonin, the greatest Czech (actually Bohemian) musician of them all. In addition, Vaclav, as anyone else the least familiar with Antonin, would certainly have recalled the important role the composer played in advancing modern music American style.

I was lucky to get to know about this performance in time and have to thank Karl Reeh, a good friend and gardener from South Berkeley, for that. One of his garden friends is a Chorus Member who encouraged us to witness this extraordinary performance and Karl was kind enough to take me along in his car.

The venue for the event was the large Catholic church of St. Joseph the Gardener on Addison Street. With its lightly colored interior and aptly vaulted ceiling, not to forget the beautiful glass windows above the altar, it appeared as an appropriate counterpoint to the music. In a way, it reminded us about a rosy late sunshine sky, not unlike those painted by Caspar David Friedrich; against such a romantic background, the wrath of God on Dies Irae would appear the more frightening. And forceful and frightening indeed was the first half of the performance. The full blast of the Chorus sounded like God's Thunder powering down at us with a force that seemed to shake the very fundaments of the church. Thankfully, Antonin's score provided for an intermission, which we put to good use for cleansing body (with coffee) and soul after this onslaught of sounds.

The second part of the performance went in a calmer, more lyrical vain, which helped us come to terms with the inevitable end of our existence, and left us cushioned in God's Mercy rather than defenseless under God's Wrath.

What an afternoon, never to be forgotten!

If you would like to hear the momentous sound of the Berkeley Community Chorus, please take a look at this linked video!

Fence w California poppies