I’ve just returned home from the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco where maestro James Conlon conducted the San Francisco Symphony in a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem (Mass for the Dead).  As I’ve usually done when attending performances at Davies Symphony Hall, I arrived an hour early for the concert, scheduled to begin at 8 PM Pacific Daylight Time.  My early arrival allowed me to attend a pre-concert lecture about the Requiem presented by James Keller, the program annotator for the San Francisco Symphony.

Davies Hall Interior Panorama

Davies Hall, Interior Panorama

SOURCE:  User:Leonard G, Davies Hall Interior Panorama (http://tinyurl.com/4xqjly8 : accessed 20 October 2011).

The Requiem is performed by orchestra, a double choir, and four soloists.  Soloists in tonight’s performance were Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano), Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano), Frank Lopardo (tenor), and Ain Anger (bass).  I had heard Ain Anger in a previous concert and was pleased to be able to hear him perform again, at least partly because he originates from Estonia.  You see, I visited Estonia last year and memories of that country’s beautiful capital city of Tallinn were still relatively fresh in my mind.  Estonia has incredible traditions in music and so I wasn’t surprised to learn that Ain Anger was from Estonia or that he had trained his voice in Tallinn.  Furthermore, my maternal grandmother was born in what is now Lithuania, and I feel a connection, however tenuous, with other people from the Baltic States.

The Requiem is a towering choral piece, one that all people should hear at least once in their lives.  Listening to a recording of the Requiem is just fine, but hearing the piece performed live is divinely inspiring.

The Requiem is divided into seven sections, many of which correspond directly to parts of the Catholic Mass.  After all, Verdi created this work as a Mass for the Dead.

  1. Introit and Kyrie (“Entrance” and “Lord have mercy” performed by chorus and soloists)
  2. Dies irae (“Day of wrath” performed by chorus)
  3. Offertorio (“Offertory” performed by soloists)
  4. Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy” performed by double chorus)
  5. Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God” performed by soprano, mezzo-soprano, and chorus)
  6. Lux aeterna (“Eternal light” performed by mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass)
  7. Libera me (“Deliver me” performed by soprano and chorus)

The concert was scheduled to begin at 8 PM and, usually, the concerts of the San Francisco Symphony begin precisely on time.  Tonight, the performance began about 6 minutes late.  Curious, I wondered why.  I shook my head, uncertain.

I settled in my seat to enjoy the concert.  Then, at 8:16 PM, about 10 minutes into the performance, I suddenly felt a sharp jolt to my side and, at first, I thought that someone had vigorously kicked my seat.  A second or two later, I noticed that the lighting in the hall somehow seemed to shift.  I allowed my gaze to move up and I observed that the fixtures high above my head, hanging from the lofty ceiling on narrow cables, were gently swaying to and fro.  I realized that the jolt had not been a kick to my seat.  It had been an earthquake.  Looking around, I could sense that the other patrons in the Symphony Hall had come to the same conclusion.  Nonetheless, the orchestra, chorus, soloists, and conductor, all professionals, continued the concert as if nothing had happened.

After a few minutes with slightly jangled nerves, I settled comfortably back into my seat, absorbed once again in the concert, enjoying the music.  Following the words to the Requiem (my mind moving back and forth between the Latin that was being sung and the English translation in the program), I was thoroughly absorbed in the performance.

Then, an hour and a half later, with about 15 minutes left until the end of the concert, the final section of the Requiem, entitled Libera Me (Deliver Me), began.  My jaw dropped as I listened to the words sung in Latin:

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda quando coeli movendi sunt et terra; dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.

I hastily read the English translation in my program:

Deliver me, oh Lord, from eternal death in that awful day when the heavens and the earth shall be moved; when you will come to judge the world by fire.

The heavens and the earth shall be moved, indeed!  With the ceiling fixtures moving above me and my seat shifting below me, should I now prepare myself for heavenly fire?

At the time I felt this earthquake, I had not been aware that the movement I felt was, in reality, the second earthquake originating from the same location today.  The epicenter of both of the two earthquakes was 1 mile east of Berkeley, about 12 miles from the Davies Symphony Hall where the Requiem was being performed.  The first temblor, a 4.0 magnitude quake, struck at 2:41 this afternoon.  I was at work in Palo Alto at the time and did not feel this earlier upheaval.  Nor had I even been aware of it.  The quake I felt at 8:16 this evening was of magnitude 3.8, and it was shocking enough by itself.

These two events were, fortunately, both minor quakes.  I have not yet heard that either of them caused any damage.

And, when I returned here to my home this evening, I found everything in order.  God is still in His Heaven.  All is still right with the world.