SALT LAKE CITY — For the Choral Arts Society of Utah, a concert at Carnegie Hall presents an exceptional opportunity.
“When you have that experience that you realize the music is part of you, you have reached the pinnacle of what we do here,” Sterling Poulson, the conductor and director of the Choral Arts Society told the group in a recent rehearsal at Taylorsville High School. “And if there’s ever a place where you need to reach that pinnacle, it’s at Carnegie Hall.”
Poulson, who founded the Choral Arts Society of Utah in 1997, will make his conducting debut at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, March 31. At the same concert, Poulson will also conduct the New England Symphonic Ensemble and members of the Dock Mennonite Academy Touring Choir from Pennsylvania. And while conducting in this famous space is a unique opportunity for any conductor, for Poulson, the performance will be especially personal.
Poulson’s wife, Danette Poulson, passed away in March 2018 after a three-year battle with cancer, and the Choral Arts Society will honor her with Gabriel Fauré's moving "Requiem." Following their Carnegie Hall performance, the choir will bring the piece to the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in an April 12 concert, along with an ensemble of other pieces to celebrate the Easter season.
“One of (Danette’s) favorite pieces of music was 'Requiem' by Gabriel Fauré,” Poulson told the Deseret News. “So I chose that to perform there. This concert, for me and for the choir, is a requiem for her.”
According to her obituary, Danette Poulson loved music and was a member of many choral arts societies, including the Jay Welch Chorale and the Choral Arts Society of Utah. She eventually served as president of the Choral Arts Society of Utah.
Fauré’s "Requiem" — a slow, exquisite piece arranged in a melody that is always reaching for heaven while grieving the limits of human experience — passes through gentle and boisterous landscapes, switching from minor to major keys as it tells the universal story of tragedy and resolution that guides all humans to an eventual requiem, or rest.
“It’s got a lot of tender moments, which isn’t usual for a requiem,” Poulson added.
Audiences will notice a dramatic, perhaps haunting quality to the piece — made more beautiful by the atonal transitions which move the piece closer to a final resolve.
“Fauré is one of the few (composers) who can do (a key change) smoothly and in 17 measures end up in a completely different key, in a completely different feeling after you’ve sung the whole piece in minor,” Poulson told the choir.
Although the conductor has worked in music for over 30 years, Poulson is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Utah’s School of Music studying choral music education — and is taking a course entirely dedicated to studying Fauré's "Requiem." (Poulson has a degree in meteorology and works full time as chief meteorologist for KUTV 2News.)
Since becoming conductor of the Choral Arts Society of Utah in 1997, Poulson has made an effort to maintain and improve the quality of the choir’s performances.
“I’ve tried to make our performances meaningful as a choir. I mean that by saying, I want what we do as performers to have an effect on our audience," he said.
This isn’t Poulson's first time on the Carnegie Hall stage — Poulson sang Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass” in 1999 and Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” in 2005 at Carnegie Hall with the Choral Arts Society — and no matter how the Carnegie Hall audience responds on Sunday, Poulson is already on a high. Before beginning the night's first run through in the Taylorsville High music room, Poulson addressed the singers:
“I love you. I’m excited, I’m terrified — let’s see all the things I can think of that I am. But I just know this will be one of the greatest experiences of my life, because of you. And I know that when you get there, you’re going to do a magnificent job of singing."