Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.24.08

Sacred Music
A Mass original for the Concert Choir

Two years ago, Croatia’s greatest composer, Igor Kuljeri?, was dying and wanted to complete his masterwork, a Croatian Mass. Just weeks after the work’s premiere in Zagreb, he died.

Zvonimir Hacko

Eugene Concert Choir director Diane Retallack wanted her choir to perform the American premiere of this major 21st century choral-orchestral work, and she asked the conductor of that premiere, Zvonimir Hacko, if he would conduct it here. Few know that Hacko lives part-time in Eugene — he loves its beauty, strong artistic culture and the family-friendly anonymity he enjoys — when he’s not in Vienna working as music director of the European Master Orchestra. Hacko, impressed by the ensemble’s achievements, agreed. He told EW about the work and its composer.

“Igor Kuljeri«c is a seeker of light and truth. He is basically a Slavic Nationalist and a neo-Romantic and has incorporated the flavor of his native folk music and Slavic church tradition into his scores just like Prokofiev or Dvorak or Shostakovich or Bartok or Kodaly did. The beauty of Kuljeri«c is that he is original, so no one really sounds like him, and I believe his works will become better known as time goes by.”

On the Mass: “The piece is a masterwork: It is inspired, substantial, well written, dramatic, engaging. The Mass states the old truth about life and death and our faith in the transcendent but does so in a fresh, original way.

“Kuljeri«c was digging deep; he was wrestling with major issues of life. He, in fact, knew that he was dying; several of us did; and that is the reason why we worked so hard to realize this enormous project. At the end of the premiere he came to thank me with tears in his eyes.”

The music is by turns dramatic, passionate and consoling, and it’s quite listener friendly. The concert also features 20th century Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly’s 1936 Te Deum for Buda Castle, which commemorates Budapest’s liberation from the Ottomans in 1686. Like Haydn and Bartok, Kodaly drew on Hungarian folk influences but here also incorporated elements of medieval church music to forge a stirring nationalistic drama.

It requires considerable artistic courage to program unusual works, especially when one poorly attended big concert can sink a season. So let’s salute ECC for boldly staging this important event. I hope music lovers will take a bit of a chance themselves to give this concert a try and reward artistic risk taking as well as refresh their ears with new and unusual sounds.


Eugene Concert Choir with the Oregon Mozart Players, conductor Zvonimir Hacko and four guest singers present the American premiere of Croatian Mass. 8 pm Saturday, April 26. Hult Center • $19-$34.