“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity…All a poet can do today is warn.”
The quote from renowned poet Wilfred Owen echoes among the aisles and rushes past the eyes and ears of the audience like a bittersweet wave from a distant ocean. Fleeting slowly, but still ever-present, the English poet’s words slither among the steady rise of the orchestra. Eyes dart from the fine-tuned instruments set to ignite, towards the high balcony to the left, where a boys’ choir utters the haunting verses of the Roman Catholic Requiem. The Mass for the dead, a solemn text of ancient religion, one that yearns towards honoring the fallen — no matter their creed or sin. The text echoes alongside the lasting words of Owen, a soldier who once found peace to still hold some semblance of meaning in the tried clutches of war.
From those clutches, sat a cathedral, beaten, but never broken…
The image of Wilfred Owen, a face I had surely seen before but never knew who it was, remained on my mind throughout the entirety of ‘War Requiem’. A reemergence of English composer Benjamin Britten’s passionate tribute to world peace, the production at Central Piedmont Community College came to startling life in an orchestral-choir mix like no other. As conductor Alan Yamamoto led the performers in the work, the mass of talent on stage rose just as Owen’s poems did, like a festering wave from a distant ocean. Backed by a trio of soloists, each imbuing the night with their own vocal selections to fuel the story at hand, the voice of Britten reemerged as images of war and proposed peace trickled from the screen above.
While the soloists wailed on, and the chamber orchestra intermingled with the surrounding chorus, the night of evocative music that was ‘War Requiem’ eventually boiled down to the harrowing message at the heart of Britten’s ensemble. While the night’s music worked to spell danger, uncertainty, devastation, and armistice, all of its monumentality and captivation remained tethered to the composer’s far-reaching vision of world peace. In what began with a desecrated cathedral, lost to the First World War and left in ruins as a garden of remembrance, converged the proponents of history, architecture, and music in a sensational piece dedicated to finding common ground with the enemy in the eye of the storm.
Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ was performed at Dale F. Halton Theater at Central Piedmont Community College on Friday, April 13th. It was presented by CPCC Music and UNC Charlotte College of Arts & Architecture.