Manookian’s kinder, gentler Requiem

Salt Lake Tribune, UT
April 25 2004

Manookian’s kinder, gentler Requiem

Composer Jeff Manookian rehearses with soloists Julie Wright-Costa,
left, and Aubrey Adams McMillan. (Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake

By Catherine Reese Newton
The Salt Lake Tribune

No fire and brimstone for Jeff Manookian, thanks. His new
Requiem, which the Oratorio Society of Utah will premiere tonight as
part of the Madeleine Festival, focuses on a compassionate God and
the promise of resurrection.
“In going through the [Requiem] literature, I was taken aback by
all the references to hellfire and brimstone and God as this awful,
vengeful creature,” Manookian said. So rather than write a thundering
composition in the tradition of Verdi or Berlioz, he set only the
more peaceful and joyous movements of the traditional Mass for the
The gentler approach puts the Salt Lake composer in good company,
said tonight’s soprano soloist, Julie Wright-Costa. Faure, Durufle
and Brahms also eschewed the darker movements. “The Brahms has a
message specifically for the living,” Wright-Costa said. Likewise,
“[Manookian] wanted a more compassionate and benevolent spirit — a
loving image of Christ and God, rather than wrath, rage and
judgment,” she said.
Manookian considered setting poetry of Walt Whitman rather than
the traditional liturgical text, but decided “if I kept strictly to
the Latin, the focus would be on the music,” he said. “I didn’t want
the audience to be tethered to the text.”
The movements he used are “Requiem Aeternum (eternal rest),” for
choir, soprano and alto; “Offertorium,” a soprano solo; “Tuba Mirum
(the trumpet shall sound),” for choir alone; “Pie Jesu (blessed
Jesus),” duet for soprano and alto; “Te Deum (we praise thee),” choir
alone; “Lux Aeternum (eternal light),” alto solo; and “In Paradisum
(in paradise),” choir and soloists.
The symmetrical structure “just happened,” Manookian said, adding
his music tends to write itself: “When I have to force something,
that’s when I rip it up, until it flows naturally.” He wrote the
Requiem in 44 days. “I was living like Howard Hughes, going for days
on end in my bathrobe and letting my beard grow,” he said. “The piece
came very fast; it surprised even me. — It’s amazing what you can do
on a deadline.”

Manookian’s last venture with the Oratorio Society was in 2000
with “Symphony of Tears,” commemorating the Armenian genocide of
“This one is more upbeat,” said Oratorio Society president
Richard Grossen, who sings tenor in the chorus and also performed in
“Symphony of Tears.” The earlier work “had to grow on you more.”
Manookian agreed that the Requiem is more readily accessible, the
aural equivalent of “sinking into the most comfortable, warm
bathtub.” He added that he intended the Requiem, unlike the more
programmatic “Symphony of Tears,” to be “generic in the best sense —
[so] every person can identify with it on his or her own terms. It’s
a much more universal piece.” The music is in a “blatantly
post-Romantic style.”
Manookian said he wrote the Requiem “during the period of a broken
heart, a down period in my life. — It represents the end or death of
a major section of my life.”
Also on the program are Manookian’s 1991 composition “Endless Are
the Clouds” and the 2002 work “Khachkar” for alto flute, harp and
strings. Manookian explained that “Khachkar” is Armenian for
“Christ’s cross.” The 10-minute piece, based on two Armenian folk
songs, is “an orchestral prayer, an invocation to the Requiem.”

Manookian at the Madeleine

* The Oratorio Society of Utah, with the Intermountain Chamber
Orchestra, flutist Laurel Ann Maurer, soprano Julie Wright-Costa and
alto Aubrey Adams McMillan, will perform the Requiem and other works
of Jeff Manookian tonight at 8 in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331
E. South Temple, Salt Lake City. The composer will conduct.

* Admission is free.