Metropolitan Opera’s Victoria Livengood to join year-end concerts of University Symphony and University Chorus

The University of California, Berkeley’s University Symphony and University Chorus ensembles cap off every school year with a special collaborative concert, and this year’s May 6-7 fundraising performances promise to be especially powerful.

Musical pieces will include composer Johannes Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, and both will feature internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood of the Metropolitan Opera as the guest alto soloist. The University Chorus also will be joined by the Pacific Boychoir.

The University Symphony Chorus in action.

“We will be making some very large, glorious sounds,” said Marika Kuzma, UC Berkeley’s Virginia Lew Professor of Music and director of choirs. She and David Milnes, music director of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, will be at the helm of next week’s concerts.

The Brahms piece uses as its setting a poem by Goethe about a man rejected by society and rejecting mankind who is wandering in the wilderness. It ends, Kuzma said, with a prayer to revive the man’s spirits.

She noted that Mahler’s “huge” Symphony No. 3 is his longest piece and probably the longest symphony in the standard orchestral repertoire. Kuzma said this symphonic work is both intimate and massive and applies orchestral forces such as soaring strings, climactic brass, and thundering percussion to trace the world’s evolution before ending with a reassuring message about the redemptive powers of love.

The size of the orchestra required for the concerts is so large that the seating for its players will be extended past the front of the stage at the Alfred Hertz Memorial Concert Hall, Kuzma said.

Taking a break from rehearsing “Il Trovatore” with the Fort Worth Opera to lend her voice to the UC Berkeley concerts will be opera diva Livengood, a friend of Kuzma’s since their days together in the university chorus and music classes at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“I think she (Livengood) is a wonderful example of someone who, like our current students, wished to pursue a full liberal arts education, who believes in public education, and who was and is totally passionate about music,” Kuzma said.

Opera diva Victoria Livengood.

The benefit concerts will raise money for an endowment fund for the University Orchestra and University Chorus.

General admission tickets are $15. Tickets for UC Berkeley faculty and staff, non-UC Berkeley students and seniors are $10, and UC Berkeley student tickets are $5 each. Tickets can be bought in advance through the Zellerbach Hall Ticket Office online, in person or by calling (510) 642-9988.  Some tickets may be available for cash only at the concert hall door an hour before the performance.

The University Chorus, sponsored by the Department of Music and founded in the 1930s, is comprised of about 80 singers from across the campus community. It is also a UC Berkeley music class that provides them with vocal and ensemble training in a variety of styles of music from baroque to classical to 20th-century and contemporary.

The University Symphony, also sponsored by the music department and a course in its curriculum, is the oldest performing arts ensemble in the UC system. It is open to UC Berkeley students, as well as to other students and community members, and performs 15 to 18 concerts a year. Programs range from symphonic repertoire from Bach to premieres of works by current composers.

Below is a sampling of audio clips from past performances of the University Chorus: