Not our fathers’ Gregorian chant: Music in the Mountains presents Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ |

Not our fathers’ Gregorian chant: Music in the Mountains presents Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’

Know & Go

WHAT: Music in the Mountains presents Orff’s “Carmina Burana”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for pre-concert talk.

WHERE: Amaral Center, Grass Valley Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley

TICKETS: $20 to $68

INFO: Visit or call the box office at 530-265-6124

Here’s an idea: Take some verses written in Old Latin on parchment by a medieval order of monks and set them to music. Sounds like an irresistible crowd-pleaser, doesn’t it?

It is if you’re talking about Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” Music in the Mountains is presenting the exuberant hymn to life, love, and the inconstant moon on Thursday evening at 7:30 in the Amaral Center at the fairgrounds. Concert-goers may recall it was a brilliant success during the summer of 2011, when attendees acclaimed the performance with boisterous and lengthy applause.

Maestro Ryan Murray, resident conductor for Music in the Mountains, will lead the revival of “Carmina Burana” with a large ensemble of musicians, soloists and choristers. Soprano Carrie Hennessey is delighted by the opportunity to sing under Murray’s baton.

“Ryan is my favorite conductor to work with,” she said. “His conducting is true artistry. He gets the orchestra to breathe with him and he breathes with the singer. It’s unbelievable.”

Murray addressed the task confronting the conductor who leads a performance of “Carmina Burana.”

“Balancing the chorus and orchestra in a big choral/orchestral work is always a challenge,” he said. “On the chorus side we have been working on projection, and a strong delivery of the text. The orchestra is a very sensitive group and they will do a lot to help balance the chorus and the soloists. Orff helps us out as well. He is careful with orchestration and balancing textures.”

Hennessey is returning to Music in the Mountains after gracing SummerFest 2018 with Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.” She sang last year in the Sacramento Ballet’s production of “Carmina Burana” and relishes the role.

“I have the best seat in the house, right in front of the wall of sound,” she said. “Orff plays so beautifully with the text, the orchestration sparkles, and Orff challenges the soloists to sing in the extremes of their ranges to emphasize certain feelings.”

The tenor soloist will be Daniel Ebbers of the music faculty of the University of the Pacific. He’ll be singing “The Roasted Swan,” what Maestro Murray says is “perhaps the most difficult tenor aria ever.”

Ebbers agrees.

“I would even go so far as to say that most tenors do not sing this piece as much as navigate it,” he said. “It awkwardly goes through registers in the voice that are difficult to steer through, especially when the pitches are higher. I think Orff intended it that way. It is obvious when you consider how he writes so beautifully for the other two soloists. In the tenor solo, however, it is supposed to sound like someone is suffering. But any tenor who sings this role will tell you that both the swan and the tenor are suffering.”

Among swan songs, “The Roasted Swan” is indisputably one of the most dramatic.

Kevin Richard Doherty will undertake the role of baritone soloist, which includes the famous “Estuans interius” (Burning inside) passage that opens the tavern songs. Doherty’s voice should be familiar to early-rising fans of classical music, since he is the host of KXPR’s morning broadcast from 6-10:00 a.m. on weekdays.

“The entire cantata is really something special,” said Doherty. “There are so many levels. It’s essentially this collection of secular medieval poetry that reflects morality, love, drinking, sex, and beauty. Folks don’t leave a performance of ‘Carmina Burana’ not having felt something. It’s music that is meant to move you. And Orff lets you know that immediately.”

When it comes to unraveling the message of “Carmina Burana,” Hennessey has no doubts about its unbuttoned joy.

“It’s a true celebration of feeling life in the fullest way possible, in both the bombastic moments and the absolute chat-like stillness,” she said. “It’s visceral. Sensual. Comical. Feel it all to the fullest. In this piece, we can explore all those areas through the text and music.”

Music in the Mountains invites you to join in a hearty celebration of Orff and the artists who will bring his work to life, an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

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