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Bach Choir director uses current concerts to educate

Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 10:31 p.m.

Thomas Wesley Douglas obviously takes his role as an educator as strongly as he does that of artistic director of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh.

He has combined those two jobs nicely in the current concerts by the choir, “French Kiss,” which opened Feb. 14 at First Presbyterian Church, Downtown.

The concerts are presentations of the requiem masses of Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) and Maurice Durufle (1902-86), two works that often are teamed on recordings or in concerts.

But instead of simply presenting the two classics, Douglas, who teaches at Carnegie Mellon Unversity, offered a little music lesson. He linked the various sections: “Sanctus” to “Sanctus,” “Pie Jesu” to “Pie Jesu” and so forth.

In comments before the concert — once again in a teacherly fashion — he explained he was trying to illustrate the similarities and differences.

It was a technique that worked nicely, even if it had its frustrations. The two works, written about 60 years apart, have some great differences. The “Domine Jesu Christe” of Durufle is much darker that Faure's. The closing “In Paradisum” of Faure has a peacefulness as compared to the unresolved, haunting quality of Durufle's.

Yet, at times, there is striking similarity. The “Introit” and “Kyrie” of both are so similar it almost sounds like Durufle is giving homage.

That kind of section-by-section comparison is revealing, but at times a listener could be aggravated by changes in style. Just when the simple, 20th Century flavor of Durufle's “Lux Aeterna” was setting a tone, the music jumped back to Faure.

It is good fuel for arguments and typical of Douglas' efforts to bring life to concerts that could easily be little more than good music.

The performance of the two works was of the concert's most striking elements.

The Academy Orchestra was in the front of the audience, while the organ played by Luke Mayernik was behind. The choir was in the lofts, men to the right, women to the left. It created a surround-sound in the good acoustics of the church.

Baritone soloist Thomas Octave also offered strong work, particularly on “Libera me.”

The amorous title seemed suitable for the Valentine's Day opening, even though Douglas admits it is primarily an attention-grabbing device.

He even played to the holiday spirit by wearing a contemporary-styled red suit.

The concert will be repeated 4 p.m.. Feb. 16 at First Presbyterian Church, Downtown. Admission is $30, $22 for seniors; $12 for students. Details: 888-718-4253 or

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.




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