Last season’s Louisville Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony featured a choir of 115 singers—a generous number, to be sure. But this week’s concert finale, a performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” will more than triple the number of singers on the Whitney Hall Stage. Under the direction of University of Louisville’s director of choral activities Kent Hatteberg, an estimated 380 singers will crowd the stage with the orchestra to bring maximum volume and impact to the iconic cantata.
Hatteberg admits it’s a big undertaking.
“When we first started talking about this, [music director] Teddy Abrams said he wanted a big choir, 300-350. And someone in the meeting said where are we going to put them?” said Hatteberg. “He said, we’ll deal with that later. Let’s just get the choir. I took it and ran with that.”
The ensemble is composed of members of several choirs, including Hatteberg’s own University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale. They’re joined by Voces Novae, the Louisville Chamber Choir, the choirs of Male, Ballard, Eastern, South Oldham, Floyd Central high schools and the Youth Performing Arts School, and the Louisville Youth Choir. For the student singers, especially, it’s an opportunity to perform with professionals and develop a closer relationship with the orchestra.
You can stage “Carmina Burana” with a smaller choir, but Hatteberg said the sheer number of singers allows the orchestra’s musicians to really let loose on the legendary “O Fortuna” movement, which can be heard in a number of action films and even before U of L football games.
“It’s a huge orchestration and there’s lots of percussion in it. There’s a big gong and a lot of bass drum and to have a sheer number of singers helps to let the choir be heard and to let the orchestra play,” he said. “If you have a choir of 150 and you double it to 300, you don’t double the volume. But if you have trumpet players playing full out, it takes a number of singers to be heard if the trumpet players are playing at the same time. The numbers should help.”
Working with nearly 400 singers brings its own complications to the role of choirmaster, Hatteberg said. It’s a lot harder to blend in than you might think.
“A 300-voice choir can be a little unwieldy unless you have really crisp diction, really clear enunciation, pure matched vowels across the board. And that takes a lot of preparation and it takes a maturity on the part of the singers to really watch,” said Hatteberg. “Sometimes you might think, well, 300 voices. My voice doesn’t matter much. But if you sing in the wrong part, it matters a whole lot.”
The Orchestra performs at 10:30 a.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.