Requiem celebrates new life inside MSSU's performance hall

Mar. 29—David Sharlow at the end of 2022 had an inkling that Taylor Performing Arts Center would be available for a key annual concert. With that intel, the chair of the university's department of performing arts picked a piece that would fill the mostly empty air above the seats with compelling, enchanting music.

"At that time we hadn't fully rounded out the program yet," Sharlow said. "The idea was to get people more involved in the performance, so we proposed making this a big opening gala celebration."

The bulk of an almost $3 million renovation of the performance hall has been completed. MSSU officials are ready to raise the curtain for the first concert to be held inside the renovated space.

That first performance will be a symphonic concert set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The university's Masterwork Series will feature the Southern Symphonic Chorus and Southern Symphony Orchestra performing "Lux Aeterna," by Morten Lauridsen, as well as a selection of other works from Beethoven, Bach and Tchaikovsky.

A night of music

The Masterwork Series concert, in its 12th year, usually features a significant, notable work performed with the community's help. Last year's concert featured Handel's "Messiah" in its entirety.

The centerpiece of this year's concert, "Lux Aeterna" is a requiem inspired by the loss of the composer's mother. According to a summary from, the work differs from traditional requiems by composers such as Verdi and Mozart in that Lauridsen's work is filled with lightness and tranquility.

Best known for "O Magnum Mysterium," Lauridsen is one of America's best-loved modern composers, the website reports. He is a National Medal of Arts recipient, was the composer in residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale and has worked as a professor of composition at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years.

According to information from the San Francisco Choral Society, "Lux Aeterna" was written in 1997, the year Lauridsen's mother died. Lauridsen said his mother introduced him to music, playing jazz and singing to him as a toddler, and teaching him to play piano as a child.

Sharlow said the requiem is filled with beauty and brightness not usually found in such requiems. Traditionally, requiems are interpretations of a Catholic Mass for the dead.

"The music itself is so rich," Sharlow said. "The dissonances are prepared and resolved in the same way Palestrina did during the Renaissance. It is so purposeful, and each movement fits together beautifully. It concludes with an 'alleluia, amen' that is so vivacious and beautiful."

Because the work is relatively short, it has been paired with a program that features students and community members performing notable works.

—The Missouri Southern Wind Ensemble will be featured in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony 1, Movement 1 in C Major.

—Cheryl Cotter will be featured in a clarinet concerto written by Philip Sparke.

—Madison King will sing Bach's "Ei! Wie Schmeckt" accompanied by Rene Spencer, Kathryn Nenadal and Glenda Austin playing period instruments donated to the university.

—The orchestra will perform "Panthera Fanfare," a piece written by Brandon Robinson, the university's director of bands.

Completed construction

The curtain-raising is figurative, not literal — the actual curtain for the stage is still being prepared in Springfield for installation. Everything else is ready to go, however. The renovated space features:

—Larger, more comfortable seats in a different configuration. Using the bigger seats reduced the overall capacity from about 2,200 to 1,715, but the capacity keeps Taylor as one of Joplin's largest theatrical venues.

—Repairs to the stage's rigging system for equipping lights, flys and other performance staples.

—Repairs to walls that had developed cracks and become unsafe.

Brad Hodson, executive vice president for the university, said the work was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. The university received a $2.5 million state appropriation and about $600,000 in private donations for the project.

"The work went as anticipated, with the upgrades to the hall, including seating, carpets and paint, going exactly as expected and under budget," Hodson said. "We are really pleased with the work."

The hall was shut down in 2019 after the discovery of cracks in the walls. That discovery also halted work that was already underway on the stage's rigging system.

Cost increases put the project out of reach until Missouri lawmakers in 2021 approved the $2.5 million expenditure.

The space was used earlier this year for a faculty and staff meeting, where the work got rave reviews, Hodson said.

"It was exciting to hear comments from faculty and staff about how comfy the seats were, and how they liked the renovation," Hodson said. "We got great feedback."