A New Chapter for the New Jersey Chamber Singers
Updated: Nov 30, 2018
By Jess Ventura, Marketing & Community Engagement Intern, Monmouth Arts
During the holiday season, choirs and orchestras step into the spotlight to present live concerts and albums filled with favorite iconic choral offerings. This year, the New Jersey Chamber Singers (NJCS) is following in the holiday tradition, right on the heels of its new live concert recording of the choral masterpiece Mozart Requiem.
2018 has been a momentous year for the Chamber Singers, celebrating 40 years of choral performances. Since its inception in 1978, NJCS has solidified itself as the premier vocal chamber ensemble of the Jersey Shore through performances on some of America’s biggest stages, including the Philadelphia Academy of Music, Alice Tully Hall in New York City, and the National Cathedral. The group’s performances have included works that span across the songbook of Western music, from Renaissance to Contemporary.
This live recording of Mozart Requiem is conducted by Dr. Reid Masters, an alumnus of Rutgers University’s DMA Choral Conducting program, who currently serves as the Artistic Director of NJCS. Masters' desire to perform the Requiem dates back to his childhood, a “grounding identity moment” that opened his eyes to his enduring love of music. “When I was a wee child back in Texas, I performed Mozart’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall with my school, and it was such a crucial moment in my life. It felt like I was at the right place at the right time doing what I was supposed to be doing,” says Masters. While his personal love of the piece influenced his choice for the upcoming album, his true intent was to pay homage to the original compositional style of the Requiem with a more intimate feel and seldom-heard orchestral color.
“Why I really wanted to perform Mozart Requiem was to take it and challenge the way you typically hear it,” says Masters. However, challenging the way it is normally presented to an audience doesn’t mean that Masters’ interpretation is a departure from convention. While Mozart Requiem is commonly performed by larger ensembles, the reduced number of performers on this album is actually appropriate for the circumstances it was written for. “Mozart Requiem was composed in 1791 for a funeral, so I wanted to keep this piece honest by making it not only historically informed, but educational as well,” says Masters. “I envisioned Mozart Requiem being played as it was intended, with an intimate chorus, basset horn players, and musicians familiar with the Baroque style like it was back in 1791.” With the ensemble’s sensitivity and devotion to the artistic styles of the past, the group wanted the listener to feel like the music is echoing through the walls of the medieval churches of the 17th century.
Though the New Jersey Chamber Singers has already dabbled in the world of creating and releasing an album, Faure Requiem, in December 2017, its newest labor of love has moved its organization, both creatively and professionally, to the next level of artistic development. “Our previous album was a self-published work comprised of tracks spanning over seven years of raw material,” explains Masters. “Mozart Requiem, on the other hand, is completely different because it is an honest live recording with no do-overs, backed by Affetto Records who will internationally distribute the album. With this, we have crossed our boundaries."
The ensemble’s recording of Mozart Requiem is not simply the culmination of a season of preparation, but the culmination of years of hard work as they have advanced in their capabilities as a dedicated ensemble of artists. According to Masters, Mozart Requiem has propelled the Chamber Singers into the next chapter of its identity, opening the doors for endless possibilities around the world. “Mozart Requiem has placed our organization in a completely different category,” he says. “Forty years ago, we began in infancy, and through the materialization of miracles and patrons who believe and support us, we gained momentum and visibility, signed a record deal, and reached national and international markets. After ten years of directing this ensemble, I’ve seen our group improve drastically, so this rite of passage is more than well deserved.”