Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Washington Chorus Plans Epic Send-Off for Julian Wachner

After about a decade at the helm of the Washington Chorus, music director Julian Wachner will conduct his last official performance with the group on May 14 during their season finale concert at the Kennedy Center.

Wachner will go out with a bang, however, as the Washington Chorus will be joined onstage by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, the Children’s Chorus of Washington, and the Washington National Cathedral Boy and Girl Choristers. The program will feature Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex.

“It’s going to be an incredible performance with so many forces onstage, and another 80 extra men up there,” Wachner says. “Carmina Burana is such a popular and well-known piece, and doing Oedipus Rex on Mother’s Day brings sort of a primitive feel to it. I think it’s a great combination of pieces.”

Featured singers in the concert include soprano Colleen Daly, mezzo soprano Margaret Lattimore, tenor Vale Rideout, tenor Robert Baker, baritone Christopher Burchett and bass Morris Robinson. NPR’s Ari Shapiro will serve as guest narrator. The secret to conducting so many voices at one time, Wachner says, is maintaining a zen-like calm.

“When you add the orchestra into it, it’s really several hundred people, and you have to get everybody around a singular artistic vision,” he says. “There’s the basic, practical aspect of how you get people to start and stop together, but then you have to move on to how to get everyone to make an artistic statement together. It’s mostly through gesture and coercion and will.”

The show starts at 5 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

“The reason I chose Carmina Burana as my finale is I had never conducted it before, which is a weird thing for a conductor because it is so popular, and I wanted my chance,” Wachner says. “It’s secular in nature and helps us fill the hall with ticket sales because it’s a piece everyone loves.”

And although the season will officially end with that performance, a 100-person choir from the group will gather once more on May 24 to sing in the Hubble Cantata, a new work of music by New York-based composer Paola Prestini. The performance features opera stars Nathan Gunn and Talise Travigne, plus a 20-piece instrumental ensemble.

Wachner says it combines a narrative of a couple experiencing loss with the life and death of a star, and audience members will be given cardboard virtual reality headsets so they can view actual images of a voyage through the universe (as long as they download an app first).

“It’s about an astronomer and his wife, and is the tale of two lovers all wrapped up in life’s discoveries and the universe,” he says. “It’s a very forward-looking piece; very lyrical and is scored for two soloists, a child choir, an adult choir and then adds the VR experience, which is mind-blowing. It’s something truly special.”

In addition to conducting the Washington Chorus, Wachner is music director of Trinity Wall Street in New York and leads the church choir, the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and the contemporary music ensemble Novus NY. He also has an incredibly busy schedule of guest-conducting appearances, which all combined led to his exiting the choir.

“I will miss the energy and vitality that volunteer music making can offer. It’s been an incredible turn, and I’ve been very pleased with the process. We knew this was coming for awhile. We are all parting as friends, and I’m looking forward to continuing relationships with the people here as I move away.”

For more information on the event, visit here.

Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org