Duruflé: Requiem & Poulenc: Stabat Mater
Duruflé: Requiem & Poulenc: Stabat Mater

When: April 13, 2019, 7:30pm

Where: St. Mark's United Methodist Church, 100 State Rd 46, Bloomington, IN

$20 Adults; $5 with Valid Student ID; Free for Age 18 & under

On Saturday evening, April 13, 2019, BCS presented two of the great French choral-orchestral works of the 20th century: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, op. 9, and Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, FP 148.

The Requiem, Duruflé’s longest and most substantial work, was composed in 1947 at the end of World War II. Like Fauré’s Requiem, the work focuses not on hell and damnation, but instead on images of consolation in the face of loss. The chants of the Roman Catholic Missa pro defunctis (Requiem Mass) form the melodic basis of the work, ancient melodies enriched by gentle harmonies and tender orchestral colors. Duruflé explains: “This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from human concerns. It reflects, in the unchanging form of Christian prayer, the anguish of man faced with the mystery of his final end.”

Poulenc’s Stabat Mater was composed in 1950 in response to the death of his friend, the artist Christian Bérard; he considered writing a Requiem for Bérard, but, after returning to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour, Poulenc selected as his text the Stabat Mater, an ancient Latin hymn that reflects on Mary’s sorrow as she witnessed the Crucifixion. The piece, scored for soprano solo, mixed chorus, and orchestra, premiered in 1951 at the Strasbourg Festival. The Stabat Mater was well received throughout Europe; in the United States it won the New York Critics’ Circle Award for Best Choral Work of the year. Poulenc considered it his finest composition.

With chorus, orchestra, and soloists, over 100 musicians were on stage for this special concert conducted by BCS Music Director, Gerald Sousa. Soloists for the Duruflé were Lisa van der Ploeg (mezzo-soprano) and Bruno Sandes (baritone). The soprano soloist for the Poulenc was Amanda Biggs.

vanderPloeg Lisa van der Ploeg‘s rich, lustrous sound and electrifying stage presence have captivated audiences, displaying a remarkable variety in over 45 roles such as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana and the Witch and Mother in Hansel and Gretel. Her extensive concert repertoire is equally diverse, highlights of which include the Bach B-minor Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 and Symphony no. 3, the Verdi Requiem, and Dvorak’s Stabat Mater. A favorite of the West and Midwest regions, Lisa has performed with Utah Festival Opera, Indianapolis Symphony, and San Francisco Opera Center, and among many others, working with conductors such as Raymond Leppard and Benjamin Zander. Upon sending their twin boys off to college, she and her husband have moved their empty nest from California to the Midwest.

BrunoSandesHeadshot-2019Brazilian baritone Bruno Sandes has been praised for his “ability to engage with the audience through music”, his “dynamic and touching performances”, and his “bold, mature, warm, and rich voice”. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Voice from the Jacobs School of Music and is currently pursuing his D.M. under the tutelage of Carol Vaness. His roles with the IU Opera & Ballet Theater include Belcore in Elisir d’Amore, Emile de Becque in South Pacific, and Sùng Ông in the world premiere of P.Q. Phan’s The Tale of Lady Thi Kính, among many others. Sandes has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Joshi International Fellowship from the Georgina Joshi Foundation, first place in the XI Maracanto International Voice Competition, and a semifinalist in the IX Maria Callas International Voice Competition. He currently serves as an Associate Instructor of Voice at the Jacobs School of Music, and is the Assistant Director of Carol Vaness’s Graduate Opera Workshop.

Biggs Amanda Biggs is an internationally prized opera singer who is a current national semifinalist in the New York Lyric Opera competition, who placed third in the Gerda Lissner International Voice Competition, and was a finalist in the Marcello Giordani Foundation International Voice Competition. She received her training from Western Kentucky University and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Amanda’s vast and varied repertoire contains works by Puccini, Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein, and all the way to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, with stops along the way in jazz, pop, and Americana. Amanda can be heard at Carnegie Hall on May 4, 2019 as part of the New York Lyric Opera Showcase and Finals concert.


Here is the program booklet for our concert: Poulenc and Duruflé.

Here is a preview of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:


Events this month and beyond sure to excite audiences

By Peter Jacobi H-T columnist Apr 7, 2019

If you’re of a strong anticipatory nature and love music, Bloomington is a wonderful place to live. There’s always much to anticipate. And, in follow-up, there’s always much to experience and celebrate.

In April, I always anticipate at least two events, one of town origin, the other of gown.

• The town happening deals with the immediate, this in the form of a never-disappointing spring choral concert performed by the Bloomington Chamber Singers. Come Saturday evening at 7:30 in St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, that ensemble, led by its longtime and excellent music director Gerald Sousa, performs two 20th century French choral masterworks: the Maurice Durufle “Requiem” and the Francis Poulenc “Stabat Mater.” About this event, I had no issues, merely an increase in salivation.

Saturday’s BCS Concert
I asked for comments from Maestro Sousa.

(1) Since he usually selects music “that has a special meaning for you,” what in the Durufle and Poulenc make you feel that way? His answer:

“I first discovered these two pieces as a freshman music major years ago. The Durufle was one of the first large choral-orchestral pieces I sang in college. As a Catholic steeped in pre-Vatican liturgy, I found an immediate connection to the Gregorian chant melodies upon which Durufle based his composition. The piece has been a personal source of comfort and beauty to me through the years. About the same time, I stumbled on the Poulenc and was fascinated by its intense mysticism, its unique harmonic colors, and Poulenc’s eclectic and seemingly spontaneous inventiveness.”

(2) You also select music that has some sort of impact on your singers. What would that be, and is it having such an effect?

“Unlike some other large-scale choral-orchestral works in which the orchestra often reinforces choral lines or is treated as a symphonic instrument itself, these two works utilize the orchestra as a coloristic instrument (very French) that enhances and reflects on the meaning of the texts being sung. From the singer’s perspective, the musical experience is very rewarding, for both composers were scoring the works with the clarity and transparency of the vocal writing paramount.”

(3) What do you hope that we who come to listen gain from the experience?

“Both composers wrote from a deeply felt spiritual center, and from that aspect, they share a common genesis. But they are also works by composers who approached their craft from markedly different perspectives. Durufle was inspired by the timeless depth of the Gregorian Requiem Mass. He is a contrapuntalist and his writing harks back to the Renaissance masters. Poulenc by his own admission and his teachers’ did not excel in counterpoint but was remarkably inventive as a harmonist. His writing is a fascinating mixture of Bachian functionality and whimsy of the Parisian cafe scene. We hope both these musical vocabularies resonate on a personal basis with our listeners.”


Here is a review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:


Bloomington Chamber Singers give memorable performance

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer April 15, 2019

One of the happy relationships on the local music scene is the lengthy tie that has bound the Bloomington Chamber Singers to its music director and conductor Gerald Sousa. The combination has brought us countless programs of worth and great satisfaction, season after season, 30 of them.

On Saturday evening in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, to conclude the current year of musical activity, Maestro Sousa led his chorus, a pick-up but by concert time nicely trained orchestra, and three well-chosen soloists in a program featuring two important 20th century works of liturgical nature: Francis Poulenc’s “Stabat Mater” and Maurice Durufle’s “Requiem.” Both works premiered in mid-century and reflect not only a personal belief system expressed in music that only its composer could have created but also the turbulent time during which they were written.

The concert itself reflected what conductor Sousa has been able to infuse into his willing and able vocal partners. The Bloomington Chamber Singers belong to their maestro and he to them. They have become an indestructible team, sharing a unified vision.

Remember that the singers, most of them, are not professional. This is a community choir. But they always sing with purpose, a sense of having taken possession of what they are singing. Only a fully committed and same-thinking conductor can accomplish that.

Poulenc decided to write his “Stabat Mater” following the death of two dearest friends. For his words, he chose a 13th century poem meant to reveal the sorrow of Mary as she watched the agony of her son from the foot of the cross. The music he used blends the traditional liturgical style of old with Poulenc’s own way of mixing the dark and the surprising, almost improvisational, and the brutal and the radiant, often in proximity. Both the choral and orchestral colors are his; they shift and change and, sometimes, linger.

The work’s 12 movements, most very brief (the lot of them lasting 30 minutes), cast a soft light on sorrow and our overcoming of it, so that reason and understanding and moral victory can follow Mary’s grief when “She saw her own sweet Son, whose dying caused his desolation, while he yielded up his spirit.”

To hear Poulenc’s score, and to hear it sung so passionately, was a thrill. The bounteous soprano of guest Amanda Biggs generously supported the efforts of chorus, orchestra, and conductor.

As for Durufle’s “Requiem,” it does not, like some of its 19th century predecessors, focus on anger and fear, on hell and damnation, on death as finality and despair, but on peace and comfort, on something to look forward to. The music paints that interpretation in sound and includes settings for sections that are not in most other versions of this centuries-old rite.

In the middle of the score, between the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei,” he placed “Pie Jesus,” a stunningly beautiful musical statement pleading for “Gentle Lord Jesus” to “grant them rest, eternal rest.” Listening to the music, one cannot doubt the composer’s belief that so it shall be, that the wish will be granted. And to the usual ending of the Mass, the “Libera me,” Durufle added “In Paradisum,” which ever so restfully reinforces his faith in more song of ecstatic nature: “May the angels receive them in Paradise. … There, may the chorus of angels receive them and with Lazarus, once a beggar, may thou have eternal rest.”

Again the Bloomington Chamber Singers, their instrumental partners, along with two other just-right soloists (mezzo-soprano Lisa van der Ploeg and baritone Bruno Sandes) joined Maestro Sousa to draw a magic circle around the soul embedded in a special and very difficult-to-master piece of music, one heard too rarely. The combination made for a memorable evening.