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La Jolla Symphony And Chorus Creates Berlioz Splash Zone

Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

The La Jolla Symphony and Chorus takes on the challenge of performing Hector Berlioz's "Requiem" and gathers more than 300 musicians to make it happen.

The La Jolla Symphony and Chorus is doing something few orchestras are willing to try. They will perform composer Hector Berlioz's "Requiem," this weekend.

The 19th century composition is rarely performed because it requires such a huge ensemble. How huge?

Music director and conductor Steven Schick leads members of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus.

"One of every three people in the auditorium will be a performer," said Steven Schick, music director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus. "When you have a room like that and a third of the people there are actually making a sound, it’s an extraordinary experience."

The crowded stage and side aisles at UC San Diego's Mandeville Auditorium will include a dozen timpani, four brass bands, a beefed-up chorus totaling 200, which includes 70 members of the San Diego Gay Men's Chorus, and a full orchestra with eight horns and a tenor soloist.

Usually, an orchestra has one tuba player.

"This piece involves four extra brass bands, so there are four tubas all together in this piece," said tuba player Ken Earnest, who has been playing the instrument for 40 years.

The brass bands will perform from the sides of the theater, putting the audience in the middle of some of the loudest portions of the piece.

"You know, we're in San Diego, we have the concept of the splash-zone down," said Schick. "The audience will be in the Berlioz splash zone."

As the symphony's principal percussionist, Fiona Digney says there are times when the timpanists are encouraged to play as loudly as they can.

"I think it will be the loudest acoustic sound this hall has ever seen," said Digney. "I forgot my ear plugs, so I should go get those."

It was the right time to take on this challenge with the company's 60th anniversary, said David Chase, the group's choral director.

When he and Schick started talking about doing the Berlioz "Requiem," he wasn’t convinced they should take it on.

"I talked him off the ledge for a little while, but then we went ahead and jumped and it’s been great," said Chase.

Chase says composer Hector Berlioz was a dramatic figure and is a favorite in music history.

"He's that wild romanticist, who thought very highly of himself, and who put all of his emotion into everything that he did," said Chase.

Berlioz's memoirs are a "fun read," according to Chase. Various legends surround the French Romantic composer. His most famous works are the "Requiem" and the dream-like "Symphonie fantastique."

The "Requiem" is the mass for the dead in the Catholic Church. But Chase said the performance is not a religious experience.

In fact, Schick says it's more like heavy metal music.

"Because every single moment in this piece is poised to lead you to a powerful statement," said Schick. "It's basically just power chords and decibels."

Though Schick is quick to point out there are plenty of quiet moments in the piece as well.

"For the big moments to work, there have to be lots of small moments," said Schick. "Most of the moments are quiet, and what that does, as in an archers bow, it pulls back so that you are accustomed to softer music and so when the loud music comes, it makes an enormous impact."

The La Jolla Symphony and Chorus will perform Berlioz’s Requiem this weekend, March 13-15, at Mandeville Auditorium on the campus of UC San Diego.

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