Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ takes center stage this weekend

PUHI — It’s been sampled by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and signaled a throwdown between Will Schuester and Sue Sylvester in the first season of “Glee.”

It was the theme music for Conan O’Brien’s “Evil Puppy,” and Nancy Kerrigan danced to it.

It’s one of the world’s most popular pieces of classical music, and on May 5 and 6, the Kaua‘i Chorale will join the Kaua‘i Community College Wind Symphony and Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School Chorus to bring it to Kaua‘i audiences for the first time.

It is “Carmina Burana,” a cantata written in the 1930s by German educator Carl Orff.

“It’s so epic,” said Sarah Tochiki, conductor of the Kaua‘i Community College Wind Symphony.

“It’s such a powerful piece. The opening ‘O Fortuna’ makes your bones rattle. It’s cool to be part of something so powerful. Whether you are singing, playing or just in the audience, the power of the piece appeals to the people.”

“Carmina Burana” is Latin for Songs from Beuern, a collection of 254 poems and texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries written by members of the clergy.

“What’s really fascinating is Carl Orff was known as an educator, and really, this is his only big work,” said Lois Ricciardi, director of the Kaua‘i Chorale. “This is the first time we are doing this kind of undertaking.”

The collection was unearthed in 1803 in a monastery in Bavaria, and Orff set the poems to music, where it firmly remains one of the world’s most popular music pieces ever written.  

“It’s very brilliant, exciting, dynamic,” said Mary Genegabuas of the Kaua‘i Chorale. “The men’s part, they have one piece, where it’s very, very rapid in Latin, and you get swept away with it.”

Tochiki approached Ricciardi a year ago about doing the piece. The duo pulled in Juilianne Hiu, conductor of the CKMS Chorus, and together, about 150 people will be on stage performing the piece.

“I think it’s very dramatic,” said Hiu, who will be performing in the chorale at the same time 23 of her students take the stage.

“Musicians love drama. It’s so exciting when you hear these really huge dynamics, and then it drops down to something really soft. That’s one of the fun things about it. There’s a lot of play of opposites, so that makes it exciting for the listener.”

Hiu said her middle school students enjoy the challenge of singing in languages other than English.

“We talked about how the piece came from manuscripts that were written by monks, and they thought that was very unique,” Hiu said.

“They enjoy the pieces they are singing about, too because it’s all about love. The two numbers they are featured in are both love songs.”

Besides love, other themes of “Carmina Burana” include tales of fame, fortune, drinking and spirituality.  

“There was anticipation taking on a large piece, but once you start you get really excited about it,” Genegabuas said. “The thing is, when people start listening to it, they will recognize it from outside.”

“It’s never been done on Kaua‘i before,” Tochiki said. “It’s one of those things that every major ensemble does in the whole world. Here we are, a little island is doing it. … For such a small island we are very fortunate.”

Call 337-1882 for ticket information.

∫ Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.


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