Arts & Events

Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra Presents Dvorkak’s ‘Stabat Mater’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 07:01:00 PM

The Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, the 180-voice, 40-year-old local musical institution, will present Anton Dvorak’s masterwork Stabat Mater this Sunday afternoon, May 3, and the following Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (May 9 and 10), at St. Joseph the Worker Church. 

The performances will feature Carol Schaffer (soprano), Sonia Gariaeff (mezzo-soprano), Berkeley native Kalil Wilson (tenor) and Jeffrey Fields (baritone). 

From musical sketches begun in early 1876, following the death of his daughter Josefa, Dvorak returned to the orchestration of Stabat Mater in late 1877, after two other children of his had died. It was first performed in Prague in 1880, expressing the anguish of the Virgin Mary after the death of her son. “It’s very melodic, very moving,” said Elizabeth Raymer of the chorus board of directors. “The chorus has expanded on the theme to honor families and all others with the abiding grief of having lost children to war, to illness, to accident—for any reason.” 

Raymer commented on the piece and the chorus’ choice of it: “It’s heavy in solos, in solos over the chorus. At an hour and a half, it’s quite an event for us and the orchestra. It’s the statement piece that brought Dvorak fame and acclaim. He’s more familiar in this country for The New World Symphony. Stabat Mater is far beyond that in scope.” 

The Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra was founded four decades ago by Eugene Price, originating in the Berkeley Adult School. Arlene Sagan, the current music director, took on the leadership 20 years ago. A board of directors was organized and bigger budgets followed. “We’ve come a long way,” said Raymer. 

Raymer spoke about the chorus and its mission: “It’s very special in that it’s a non-audition chorus; anybody can join who has a love of this kind of music. We only sing major masterpieces—nothing rinky-dink! We hire the orchestra. The performances aren’t amateurish. Our membership is on all levels, ranging from beginners without musical training to very experienced singers, some who sing for professional audition choruses. And we have several members who have been with the chorus for 20 years.” 

Raymer described some of the unique support features of the chorus: “Members are given a tremendous amount of help along the way, from musical instruction to extra rehearsals, weekly section meetings and buddy systems for individual help. Almost everything is done by volunteers; we have an active board of directors. Arlene and a halftime manager have the only paid positions. The concerts are free. We ask for donations, which make this possible. Many can’t afford this kind of music. We invite people, provide transportation, from the Strawberry Creek Senior Housing. We have a lot of involvement in the community—we’re really a large part of it.”  



Presented by Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra. 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 3; 8 p.m. Saturday, May 9; 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 10. St. Joseph the Worker Church, 1640 Addison St. Free admission; donations appreciated.