frieder bernius

Conductor Frieder Bernius

Editor’s Note: In what may be the most anticipated event of what’s already been an amazing season of choral music, the Stuttgart Kammerchor performs in Portland this Friday, March 16, at 8 pm at First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave. They’ll perform music by J.S. Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, and the great 20th century composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s shimmering Lux Aeterna, which might as well be subtitled “as heard in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.” The Portland State University Chamber Choir, directed by Ethan Sperry, will also perform. ArtsWatch asked Cappella Romana singer and executive director Mark Powell, who’s worked with Bernius, to explain why he’s so revered in the choral music world.

Frieder Bernius: A Personal Reflection

By Mark Powell

In 1990 I was living in Northern England, working for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and singing as a lay clerk at Wakefield Cathedral. Having just finished a liberal arts degree with a focus in vocal music performance, I was pursuing my dream of being a professional choral singer in Europe. I auditioned for the World Youth Choir, an important ongoing project of the International Federation for Choral Music, and was accepted as part of the British delegation in summer 1991. Singers from about 30 countries were to be directed by Fred Sjöberg from Sweden, who led the a cappella program, and Frieder Bernius from Germany.

Frieder conducted Mozart’s Great Mass in C with the WYC and a period instrument orchestra in the Baroque St. Nicholas Church (built 1703) in Lesser Town Square in Prague. It was an experience that changed my life, solidifying that summer at least two directions my career would take: a commitment to historically informed performance and to supporting the professionalization of ensemble singers. I had never experienced Mozart’s Mass performed live like that, in which the orchestral players were on even ground with the singers. One was not simply accompanying the other; they each assumed equal rhetorical, aesthetic, tonal, even spiritual importance.

I also learned from Frieder (over a certain amount of Czech beer) about his Kammerchor Stuttgart, a professional ensemble he founded in 1968 (at the age of 21!), the first of a number of ensembles he founded to express directly his commitment to elevating choral music to the same level as orchestral music in our cultural life. It was a defining moment for me. I too wanted the world to value singing in a top-flight choir the same way it values playing in a top-flight orchestra.


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