Yorgos Kouritas Conducts Mozart’s Requiem at Saddleback College

Conductor Yorgos Kouritas with the Saddleback College Symphony. (Photo: Provided by Yorgos Kouritas)

MISSION VIEJO, CA – The acclaimed Yorgos Kouritas, Concert Conductor and Violinist, Director of Instrumental Studies, Associate Professor Music Department – Division of Fine Arts at Saddleback College, and conductor of Saddleback’s Symphony Orchestra, and chorus director Scott Farthing of the 100 voices of the Saddleback Choral Program joined forces to present a performance of the magnificent Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on May 11. Dr. Kouritas, who has won the prestigious American Prize in Conducting, has rich international experience having conducted various orchestras in the U.S. and Europe, among them the Richmond and Winnipeg Symphonies and the Manhattan School of Music Symphony.

As the Director of Instrumental Studies at Saddleback College he also conducts the Wind Ensemble and teaches lessons in violin and viola. Conducting Mozart’s Requiem was a tremendous challenge “not only musically but also because it is a very emotional work, very different from most of the bright crystal works by Mozart,” Kouritas told The National Herald. “There are no flutes or oboes which makes it a really dark piece. And the two corni di bassetto (basset horns, in the clarinet family) give it a very special color. Almost all the orchestras will use clarinets because the corni di bassetto instruments are very rare to find.”

Lengthy rehearsals that lasted a few weeks were well worth the investment as the Requiem is “one of the most spectacular masterpieces, a piece that every conductor dreams of conducting one day,” Kouritas told TNH.

The Requiem was commissioned by the eccentric Count Franz von Walsegg as a requiem mass to memorialize the recent passing of his wife. The count was an amateur chamber musician who routinely commissioned works to composers anonymously, as was the case with the Requiem, and tried to pass them off as his own later on. Mozart composed part of the Requiem in Vienna in 1791, but it was not finished by the time of his passing on December 5, 1791. An autograph manuscript shows the finished orchestrated Introit (entrance from the Latin word introitus) which is part of the opening of the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist for many Christian denominations. A completed version by Franz Xaver Sussmayr was delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg in1792. Mozart had only received half of the payment in advance while the other half was due upon completion. Mozart’s premature death left his widow Constanze scrambling to find a composer to finish the Requiem secretly so she could submit it to the count as having been completed entirely by Mozart in order to collect the final payment.

Mozart’s brilliant creative talent, turbulent life style and the trials of his devoted wife Constanze were masterfully portrayed in the Academy Award-winning film Amadeus that was directed by Milos Forman. The movie was an adaptation by Peter Shaffer from his stage play and follows along the same plot story with the only exemption of replacing the count with the Italian composer Antonio Salieri whose jealousy of the much more talented Mozart pushes him to masquerade in order to convince the financially strapped Mozart to accept the commission of the Requiem.

The Saddleback College Music Department is considered one of the finest in California offering a complete lower-division curriculum for transferring music majors, numerous performance groups and a full concert series with faculty and guest artists. Some of the finest musicians of the Pacific Symphony are instructors at the college while others such as distinguished violinists Eric Silberger and Martin Beaver have hosted master classes. Kouritas himself has participated in master classes with some of the most well-known conductors including Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, JoAnn Falletta, and Michael Jinbo. Kouritas’ next concerts are set for October 5 and 6 at Saddleback College.