German composer Carl Orff was known as a composer and an educator who wrote music for teaching young children. But he is remembered for "Carmina Burana." The Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, along with the combined choirs of Bakersfield Masterworks Chorale, CSUB Singers and a children's chorus, will perform the 20th century masterwork on Saturday.
"Carmina Burana" is arguably one of the most famous works of the 20th century. The hourlong work, for large chorus, children's chorus, soloists and orchestra, premiered in Germany in 1937, and has generated so much interest since then that it has overshadowed all of Orff's other works. Choral director Robert Provencio said the piece has always gotten "mixed reviews."
"Some people see it as a musical 'rave'-- a free-for-all party," Provencio said. "Others see it as a monument of the choral-orchestral 20th century repertoire."
"It's overwhelmingly rhythmic," said BSO conductor John Farrer, who will conduct the performance. "There's also a lot of variety in texture throughout the movements of the piece."
The text for "Carmina Burana" comes from a set of manuscripts from the 11th and 12th centuries discovered at the monastery in Benedicktbeuren in Germany, inspiring the title, which is Latin for "Songs from Beuren." Orff, who was deeply interested in ancient and medieval history, chose 24 of more than 250 texts for his composition. The texts are written in medieval Latin and German, and talk about love, love, love.
"It's a 'scenic cantata,' and there are three scenes," Provencio said. "The first scene, a resurgence of spring, is about love as expressed in nature."
"Scene two is love as fellowship; set in a tavern, it discusses the highs and lows of life," Provencio said. "Scene three is the courts of love, where a boy and a girl negotiate what their relationship will be."
Anchoring the cantata are the movements titled "O, Fortuna" which Provencio described as a "wail to fortune, or Lady Luck." Movements from the cantata, especially the primitive-sounding "O, Fortuna," have been used repeatedly as soundtracks for many types of productions, so that even if words are foreign to the ear, the music will speak for itself.
"With pieces like this, it's always the music," Farrer said. "It's a very complex work but it comes across in a fairly straightforward way."
"Along the way the composer has supplied some very engaging and accessible music," Provencio said.
Farrer said it's taken a long time to get Orff's masterpiece on the BSO program.
"A lot of people have requested it over the years, and choral people in particular like to sing it," Farrer said. "All of the streams fell into place to program it this year."
Farrer noted the orchestra has been expanded, especially in the percussion section, as the cantata demands more musical effects and color to help tell the story.
Joining the performance are Los Angeles-based soprano Shana Blake Hill, who has been earning critical praise nationally for her work in contemporary opera; Los Angeles-based tenor and Shafter native Robert McNeil, who is a noted choral soloist as well as opera performer; and Bay Area baritone Zachary Gordin, who is respected for his performances in established operas as well as choral solos.