By MIKE CHAIKEN
When the Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents “Joyful Voices with the Hartford Chorale” starting next Thursday, there will be a longtime fan of the ensemble standing on stage with them.
Matt Worth, who is originally from West Hartford, will be the guest baritone as the HSO takes on Fauré’s Requiem, and excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. The symphony also will be performing Higdon’s “blue cathedral.”
In a phone interview, Worth – who is a graduate of Juilliard School of Music and who has performed with the Minnesota Opera, the Festival Opera, Washington National Opera, and the Pittsburgh Opera—was asked what he liked about Handel’s Messiah?
“It’s something we know… and adore. And there’s a reason why it’s been around for three centuries… It’s (due to its) complex nature. Every time I listen to it, I find something new and exciting about it.”
“Also,” Worth said, he likes, “the enduring melodies, the feelings, the emotions it still manages to draw out of us.”
As a performer of piece, Worth explained, “My biggest thing is there are a number of pieces in it where there are these coloratura runs— a lot of fast notes happening over a short period of time…. (Before the Hartford Symphony performance) I have 10 days to sit down and really work to make sure my voice can really move as fast as it needs to make this piece as crisp as it can be. So that’s the biggest challenge for me— not the long lines, but the fast moving nature of a lot of these runs that I really need to batten down the hatches and work on.”
Although he performed Messiah before, Worth said it’s not just simply a matter of showing up on the night of the concert and singing.
“There is muscle memory,” said Worth of performing the piece. “But as any athlete will tell you and the parallels between being a singer and an athlete are innumerable—as we grow and return to things—just like a golfer returning to a course— it’s very important we remember how we did it before. But then, as well, as we advance— it’s important to figure out how are we going to do it now.”
“So my voice has changed since the last time I performed Messiah, three years ago,” said Worth. “Now it’s going to be an entirely different experience. So do I take this a little bit faster, this a little bit slower, this with a little bit more inflection?”
When Worth steps on stage at The Bushnell next week, it will be his first time performing with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Although, it’s not due to a lack of effort on his part to connect with HSO.
“I’ve been performing for 10 years since I finished at Juilliard 10 years ago and I’ve been trying to find the right project to do with the Hartford Symphony—my home symphony—and we finally found a good one,” said Worth. “And I’m so excited to be performing with our home orchestra.”
In addition, Worth is performing with another fixture on the music scene in Connecticut—the Hartford Chorale.
“They’re out of this world… Ever since I was a kid, this was an organization I’ve admired for their beauty and preparation. It’s going to be a real treat to get on stage with them.”
Worth’s performance resume shows a career that not only includes vocal pieces from the classical repertoire but a good deal of contemporary opera, such as Ricky Ian Gordon’s “Green Sneakers” and an upcoming production of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s “JFK.”
“I love that opera is a living breathing art form right now,” said Worth when asked about his fondness for contemporary opera. “For a long time, from the end of Strauss some time in the early 20th century to the year 2000, it wasn’t a living breathing art form. We were doing antiquated works.”
“But in the 21st century, what we found is this influx of young American composers who are writing pieces that speak to our every day lives and that’s the stuff I love interpreting. We get to bring something current and contemporary to the stage.”
“That doesn’t mean taking things and setting them in a 7-11 parking lot but rather that we get current issues to speak on,” said Worth.
“This piece that I’m doing right now in Atlanta, ‘Soldiers Songs’… is an amazing piece. It speaks about an American kid growing up, aspiring to be a soldier, going off to war, coming back, and feeling the loss of his own son. It’s something that speaks to us in the year 2015 as to what is going on here today,” said Worth.
“Doing this sort of work is really important,” said Worth. “I feel like I’m home in it.”
Although contemporary opera is showing the form is alive and well, Worth said there is still a bit of an identity crisis.
Worth said he recently watched the Country Music Awards and noticed something about the genre. “Country music isn’t quite sure what it is right now. It delves into pop music. It has some old school roots to it. It’s got all of these sorts of iterations ,of what country music is.”
“Classical music right now is that very same way,” said Worth.
“There is a great composer named Jake Heggie, who just had a piece premiere in Dallas, who writes in this neo-romanticism. It sounds like advanced Puccini or advanced Verdi. It’s beautiful but then there’s composers like David (Little) who does write some pretty complex music. It’s challenging to the listener. It’s challenging to the performer. That’s part of the appeal. It’s not just a first listen. It’s like watching a really encrypted art film that you probably want to watch two or three times to really understand what the piece is about.”
“That’s what we’re doing in a lot of ways with 21st century opera,” said Worth.
In addition the music challenges, and the current events depicted in the stories, Worth said he likes that he gets to set the performance standard with contemporary pieces.
“When I perform ‘The Barber of Seville,’ when I perform ‘Don Giovanni,’ ‘Faust,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’… it’s going to be compared to these fantastic performers of the past.”
“The great thing about doing this sort of work (contemporary opera) is there is no one to compare it to,” said Worth. “In fact, what I’m doing is, creating something that in future performances, people will say, ‘Remember when Matt Worth did this… and when Matt did that.’”
“Creating something allows me to put my own stamp on it,” said Worth, “and it’s fantastic.”
“Joyful Voices with the Hartford Chorale” will be presented by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Dec. 3 to 6 at The Belding Theater at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets start at $35, and $10 for students with ID.
For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or go to www.hartfordsymphony. org .
By MIKE CHAIKEN