Patrick Dupré Quigley made his conducting debut with The Cleveland Orchestra under less than auspicious circumstances. The founder and artistic director of Seraphic Fire, a Baroque chamber ensemble based in Miami, Quigley took the podium to assay Mozartʼs daunting Requiem with a modern symphony orchestra, 140-voice chorus and four soloists on a summer evening in the off-season, when no one wants to sit inside. With the help of an after-party on Severance Hallʼs elegant Georgian terrace, the program and conductor attracted a capacity crowd that witnessed a masterclass in musicianship.

© Patrick Dupre Quigley
© Patrick Dupre Quigley

Quigleyʼs deep knowledge of and appreciation for the Requiem was evident even before he raised his baton, in an insightful set of program notes and the arrangement onstage, where male and female members of the chorus were mixed rather than segregated, and the soloists were equally variegated (left to right, tenor, soprano, bass-baritone and mezzo) rather than seated highest pitches to lowest. The difference in sound quality was evident from the opening bars, with the chorus delivering an electrifying version of the Introit and setting a high bar for riveting cascades of sound that poured off the stage the entire evening.

Particularly impressive was Quigleyʼs command of such a large choral group, showing fingertip control of the dynamics and maintaining a vibrant, passionate quality in the singing through even the gentlest passages. The opening also set an uptempo pace that sounded energized without being rushed, more celebratory than mournful. Severance Hallʼs magnificent Skinner concert organ lent the piece churchlike atmospherics, but the music never felt stiff or formal, flowing with a spontaneity and level of precision more typical of a small ensemble performing an animated oratorio.

Itʼs rare for a visiting conductor to show the level of technical mastery Quigley achieved in limited rehearsal time. The sound was transparent and expertly balanced, with the large chorus – a volunteer group that supports the orchestraʼs summer concerts – never overwhelming the music or soloists. Almost magically, a scaled-down (but still sizable) version of the orchestra was transformed into a period ensemble, providing graceful melodies and driving continuo that both propelled the music and traded leading roles with the chorus.

The soloists, alas, were not as strong. To be fair, this is not a showcase work for solo singers, and tenor Steven Soph and mezzo Emily Fons might have shown more in other circumstances. Soprano Lauren Snouffler has a lovely voice but never seemed to get on track, in contrast to bass-baritone Dashon Burton, who seemed perfectly in synch with both the music and his part, and was particularly good in dialogue with the principal trombone in the Tuba mirum section of the Sequence. The soloists sounded best when they were singing together as a quartet, reflecting Quigleyʼs operatic approach to the material. 

As the conductor noted in the program, the Requiem was started by Mozart but completed by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr after the composerʼs sudden and untimely death. This circumstance has generated endless debate about who wrote what, exactly, and how much Mozart had worked out and left in rough sketches. But there was never any sense of that in this performance. Quigleyʼs embrace of the full work and nuanced rendering of its glories and revolutionary nature gave it a captivating momentum and sweep, a period piece brought to modern life with respect and imagination. For a weighty classical masterpiece on a star-filled summer night, one could hardly ask for better.