When most people observe a major career anniversary — say, their 20th year in their profession — they might treat themselves to a special meal or take a day off.
But Cailin Marcel Manson, who is marking 20 years as a professional conductor, had a different idea: He celebrated this milestone by conducting one of the world’s choral masterpieces inside one of the world’s foremost concert halls.
On March 11, Manson led a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall, directing the New England Symphonic Ensemble, four professional soloists, and a 152-voice choir. In doing so, he made his debut at the famed concert hall — and he brought the Clark University Choir with him.
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Produced by MidAmerica Productions, which is in its 40th year of bringing performances to Carnegie Hall, the concert was the culmination of a four-day residency in New York for Manson and the Clark students, as well as for the other choral groups who would join them on the Carnegie stage: the Germantown Concert Chorus from Philadelphia; the Keene Chorale from Keene, New Hampshire; the Yavapai College Master Chorale from Prescott, Arizona; and, from Clark’s backyard, the Auburn [Mass.] High School Chamber Singers. Manson founded the Germantown chorus and currently directs the Keene Chorale.
“The choir sounded phenomenal,” Manson said, pointing out that the group was entirely made up of people who did not audition to be there (except for several professional tenors and basses brought in to balance the sound). “These are people who sing with their heart because they love and want to sing. The standard of excellence is a testament to the work and dedication they put into it.”
The Clark students arrived in New York on Wednesday, March 8, and met the other members of the Requiem choir. The combined group rehearsed for two days in a ballroom in their hotel, then had their first (and last) rehearsal on the Carnegie Hall stage just hours before the concert.
“It was wonderful to be there with my students and to share it with so many members of the Clark community,” Manson said. A special reception was held before the concert for Clark alumni, friends, and family (including parents of students in the choir).
“Hearing the combined sound of the choir and orchestra for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget,” said Graham Pelligra ’23. “We have been pouring our souls into this work for months — I think it brought us all a lot closer, and it really showed in this performance. When we were halfway through our dress rehearsal, I knew that the Clark choir, as well as all of the other incredibly talented musicians in that room, were meant to be there.”
Manson said he was glad to see the five choirs work together so well. “They were laughing and joking and listening to each other, and the beautiful thing was that they all came from different spots” — not only geographically but also in life stages, with singers ranging from high school to their 70s.
“There was a unifying nature about it,” he continued. “Everyone was together and caring for each other. Making music as an ensemble is incredibly powerful.”
“We made some magnificent music that I am so proud of,” said Madison Richards ’22. “Singing in such a large group is always a very poignant experience. Everyone is working toward the same goal: to produce music that will move people. Accomplishing that is an unbeatable feeling.”
For Manson, whose week in New York was filled with rehearsals and meetings, his Carnegie Hall debut was surreal — and joyful. He later learned that the Verdi Requiem has been performed at the venerable hall 82 times since 1896, and he is only the second Black person to conduct the work there (the first was 50 years ago). “I’m glad to be an increase in that number.”
When he walked onto the Carnegie Hall stage, Manson said, “It felt like my 50th time. I belonged there. And I had music to do.”
The Clark University Choir is co-hosting, with Mechanics Hall, the Clark University Choral Invitational on Monday, March 27. Four high school choirs and several community choruses will join the Clark Choir for a concert featuring Beach’s Gaelic Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem.