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St. Agnes Cathedral choir singers to perform Mozart

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An upcoming, intergenerational performance by St. Agnes Cathedral choir singers will draw from their enriching experiences abroad.

Last July, 50 members of St. Agnes’s six choirs were selected to sing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem” in Austria, where Mozart and his music were born. While visiting Europe, the Rockville Centre singers studied under Vienna Boys’ Choir director Gerald Wirth. This was just one highlight of two years practicing the piece, under the direction of Michael Bower, St. Agnes’s musical director.

Now, the singers will perform Mozart’s famous composition for the community at St. Agnes Cathedral on June 30 at 7:30 p.m. Four guest operatic soloists will join them.

“It’s aged like fine wine,” Bower said of their performance. “It’s really exciting. [St. Agnes] is a big cathedral. You need a lot of voices to fill that church, and we have that full sound.”

About 100 singers, from elementary school students to folks in their 70s, will perform “Requiem” side by side. It is rare that the different age groups merge — typically, they perform within their own choirs, Bower said. Those include the Junior and Senior Girls’ Choirs, Cathedral Chorale and the Men and Boys Choir, according to the St. Agnes music ministry website.

The mixed group will sing the German-Latin version of “Requiem,” which is atypical for American choirs to take on, Bower noted. The vocalists improved their pronunciation and performance in Europe. In addition to Vienna’s St. Steven’s Cathedral, they sang at churches in the cities of Murnau, Germany, Prague, Czech Republic, and Salzburg, Austria.

“It was amazing,” said Jane Houdek, an Alto II in the Cathedral Chorale, who traveled to Europe with the group. “Here we were, where this piece was originally performed 200 years ago, and we got the history and learned so much.”

Houdek, a lifelong Rockville Centre resident, said it is “physically, spiritually and emotionally uplifting” to sing in the choir under Bower’s direction. “We’re all very different in our musical background and experience,” she said, “but Michael has a talent for teaching us how to sing together.”

Mozart’s “Requiem” is a dynamic piece that the famous composer wrote at the end of his life in 1791. The last time that St. Agnes performed it was on April 2, 2006, to commemorate one year since Pope John Paul II’s death. That year also marked Mozart’s 250th birthday. “It was a memorial and a celebration,” Bower said, “so ‘Requiem’ was fitting.”

“It tells a story,” Houdek said of the piece. “Without even speaking German, which I don’t, you can just feel it. It was written to invoke a sense of intense joy and intense sorrow.”

The June 30 performance will feature guest soloists Olivia Greene, a soprano; Nicholas Giunta, a tenor; Brian Mextorf, a baritone; and Emily Skilling, a mezzo-soprano. There is a suggested donation of $25 to attend.

Bower encouraged the community to go, noting that the end of June is “a good time to relax and enjoy a special evening.”

“For [non-Catholics] who may not feel comfortable coming to Mass, this is an inclusive time for them to enjoy a concert in the cathedral.”