Daniel Flesch: How did this collaboration get started?
Neil Ferris: The orchestra had a legacy that specified some money for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Two years ago the Wimbledon Community Chorus had a really successful collaboration where we combined the professional voices of Sonoro and gave the Wimbledon Community Chorus the experience of singing alongside professional musicians in a special performance of Handel’s Messiah. We thought by doing that with Mozart Requiem with WSO we’re really making a community project happen and we thought it was about the right time to put another collaboration together.
Daniel Flesch: What is your previous experience with Mozart’s Requiem? I know you’ve conducted it before.
Neil Ferris: I’ve also prepared it for other conductors, and because it is so powerful and so profound and so direct in its message, I think it hits home for anyone who listens to it. You’ve got the powerful choruses, the dark and profound textures that you get with Mozart in operatic mode and solo passages such as the Recordare which is stunning beautiful. You have the perfect balance I think, even though Mozart didn’t write all of it!
Daniel Flesch: Mozart wrote the first seven movements. Who completed the later of the work?
Neil Ferris: The completion we’re doing is by Sussmayr. Mozart left Constanza, his wife, penniless and although they had received a down payment for the Requiem, in order to get the rest of the money the work had to be finished. Constanza contracted it out to Sussmayr to finish it off. The completion of the Requiem wasn’t straight-forward. I think that we can detect at least one extra hand in the manuscript. You can’t get away from the sadness that the composer died writing his own Requiem.
Daniel Flesch: Do you have a favourite part of the Requiem? Perhaps when you’re conducting it, a part that gets you excited or that you’re really looking forward to?
Neil Ferris: I think the opening is extraordinary, it is full of torment, vulnerability and frailty before launching into the dramatic vocal lines. Recordare is one of my favourite movements; you’ve this embalming oil that’s being poured down through the strings and then a gorgeous operatic quartet. However, I think my favourite movement is the iconic Lacrymosa – the painful quavers in the string parts are pure genius. That’s the movement where his hand fades away in the autograph score.
Daniel Flesch: Now in addition to the Requiem in D minor, K. 626, we will be performing with Rebecca Lea in Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate. Were you the one who knew of her?
Neil Ferris: Rebecca is one of our sopranos in Sonoro. She’s also a full-time member of the BBC singers. She’s one of the country’s leading choral musicians, but she is an outstanding soloist in her own right. She’s entirely versatile and has just the right voice for this piece. I’m really pleased she’s available, and you’ll see her singing some of the solos in the Requiem as well.
Daniel Flesch: What factors came into play in choosing the repertoire for this programme?
Neil Ferris: Well, after we decided on the Requiem, the overture was part of the orchestra’s repertoire from your concert at the beginning of March. I was also looking for another opportunity to work with the orchestra with something that WSO might not normally do [Exsultate Jubilate & Ave Verum Corpus]. Sonoro will also be doing three short unaccompanied pieces by Bruckner, Tallis, and MacMillan so you’ll get a good flavor of how Sonoro sound in the first half.
Daniel Flesch: On a finishing note, how would you describe your experience working with the Wimbledon Symphony Orchestra?
Neil Ferris: Well I’ve loved it because the orchestra is really responsive. It’s packed full of really superb musicians who represent that fantastic ideal of having ambitions to play at a professional standard but just don’t happen to do it for their jobs. It’s been incredibly productive and enjoyable.