Mozart Requiem Undead" was a lot of things.
It was Graham Reynolds in a cowboy hat hammering a piano; It was Peter Stopschinski with slicked-back hair in a tux; It was the hundred people lined up outside the stone wall of the French Legation Museum, waiting to get in because somehow a lawn with a wall can go over capacity.
"Undead" started the all-free 2014 Fusebox Festival on Wednesday night, with a remix by acclaimed composers and rockers.
The setup was huge. Some 200 singers of Texas Choral Consort, soloists from the Convergence vocal ensemble, an orchestra with guitars, piano and a drum kit (which got clobbered at one point by, I think, a falling amp).
In the end, it was about the people. The dozens of young ones whose parents saw a chance for free culture and came out in droves. And "en plein air," no less, with a thousand other listeners at exactly the right time of year, an hour before sunset.
And more often than not, it was about Mozart too.
Last year’s Pulitzer-winning composer Caroline Shaw played things surprisingly safe, sticking close enough to the original material that you might have to listen side by side to pick out the differences. Ditto for Australian composer Kate Moore.
But others attempts gave tribute without the caution. Bang on a Can’s Todd Reynolds wrote a bubbly, effervescent "Dies Irae" that had something new to say, with added percussion sections, clipped vocal solos and big dynamic swings. And Wilco’s (formally trained) drummer Glenn Kotche (lately of Delta faucet commercials) broke up the triumphant flow of the original "Rex Tremendae" by trading quiet percussion parts and bursting waves of choir.
Golden Hornet Project’s Stopschinski (who came up with this whole idea) and Reynolds, bookended the piece with strong works that managed to bring out an individual voice alongside Mozart’s. Reynolds’ "Introit" began with a dark, reverb-y abstraction that gave way to solo piano and the mournful entry of Mozart’s choir part and added a sombre bass drum. Stopschinski’s "Lacrimosa" went full gypsy-campfire jam — which was a lot of fun, and also signalled a breakaway from the first half. Then came the rockers.
Adrian Quesada’s "Domine Jesu" put the drum kit’s pedal to the floor, sped up Mozart’s catchy chorus, and knocked the whole thing out of the park. It straight up rocked. But like every mixtape, you’re gonna want to skip over some tracks.
DJ Spooky just dropped a beat on the choir — nothing new here. (Although I was sitting next to some composers, one who hated it, and another who liked it because, she said, you could dance to it.)
Justin Sherburn’s "Sanctus" started really smart, went into a funny horns and woodwinds breakdown, but then seemed to channel "Pachelbel’s Canon."
Someone should give Brent Baldwin a medal. The Texas Choral Consort’s conductor somehow kept all of this together.
And it was a brilliant project and an inspired venue. The sound piping through speakers, was clear and natural (and that’s not easy to achieve). Just as Stopschinski’s excellent final movement stormed menacingly through, gusts of wind eerily rippled through the trees. Who, sitting in the grass at that moment could help but ask: Where is Austin’s outdoor classical music festival?!