ON March 26, 23-year-old musical director Michael Hudlin will be delivering a concert featuring the music of legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as Caribbean folk melodies.
The music of Mozart's religious mass entitled the Missa Brevis will make its TT premiere for the concert For Faith and Music: A Mass for the People at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Port of Spain.
Growing up in Vistabella, Hudlin was not exposed to classical music but rather calypso and church music. He told Newsday he has a lot of musicians in his family, including his father who plays the guitar. His own life as a musician, at age seven when he began learning the piano, and though he played classical music then it did not register at the time.
In standard three at San Fernando Boys Government he began singing calypso and he won a calypso competition at City Hall for three consecutive years. In 2012 he transferred from St Benedict's College to Presentation College in San Fernando and joined the Presentation College Mixed Choir. It was then he fully understood that he was doing classical music.
"Subconsciously I was surrounded by it all time. But I did love it immediately. It is not hard to fall in love with it. When you have a basic understanding of what is happening (musically) that makes it more enjoyable. But you don't have to be the most educated musician to like classical music."
Hudlin said there is a notion that classical music is "elitist" but that was not the case.
"Back when Mozart was writing music it was for everyday people to listen to or to be played in church. This was their 'pop music' or 'contemporary music'."
The first composition
Hudlin recalled being in Presentation College allowed him to appreciate classical music not only through performing but writing and composing. He began composing at age 14 and wrote a few pieces for the Catholic Church when changes were being made to the liturgy, but he did not think it was good enough to submit.
He wrote his first major musical piece, a Gloria, at age 16 for his Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination while at Presentation College. He later premiered it at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) as both his University of the West Indies (UWI) graduation recital, as well as a fundraiser for his studies toward a Bachelor of Arts in Music at SUNY Plattsburg in 2016.
The first Mozart piece he performed was his Requiem with the UWI Arts Chorale.
"Most people when they think of Mozart they think of opera or his Requiem."
He explained Requiem was one of his last few pieces composed before death and was not completed.
"It is very dramatic, very operatic. You can feel the drama. It really is a beautiful, beautiful piece."
He said people may have a notion that the music is trite and simple, but there are so many sub-layers and so many things performers need to bring out. He added playing Mozart as a pianist is very difficult.
"Everything is so meticulously placed and has a purpose. You miss one note and the entire piece falls apart. There is a level of stress I feel when performing."
He recalled he performed Misa Brevis in G major for his undergraduate degree and also sang the baritone solo.
"I explained to the director that Mozart is a crown jewel and you need to walk ever so carefully and cautiously to ensure nothing shakes or falls."
Hudlin added that he also believes in pushing the envelope musically.
"There is a historically-informed way to do things but also a contextually-informed way."
He said his composition of the Missa Brevis for the concert may surprise people as he is not doing it in a traditional nor typical manner.
The final concert
The event will be his final recital concert required before completing his Master of Music in Conducting—Choral, from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Hudlin explained as a conductor he has to present a show, and the concert will be recorded and sent to the school for a panel to judge it. He also has to do a presentation on the challenges he faced while preparing it, his thoughts, and his work with the ensemble.
And why did he choose this Mozart piece for his final recital concert? Hudlin replied he was looking at what he could do within the covid sphere.
"I love large, grand works, but there is a place for smaller chamber ensembles."
He explained the piece was written for two violins and an organ and cello and bass (continuo). As a small piece, it does not require many singers or instrumentalists.
And Mozart will be getting some Caribbean flavour as the instruments for the concert include the pan. Hudlin said it very difficult to find string players in Trinidad and it is very expensive.
"We must use the resources we have and the resources are the steelpan. They are excellent instruments. I believe people should compose more for the steelpan, not only for Panorama but it is magnificent for the classical sphere. It should be more mainstream."
He said the combination of pan and voices was not a new thing, and Trinidadians have been accustomed to this especially with the work of people like Pat Bishop, Joy Caesar, and Desmond Waithe.
The concert will feature orchestra members of Lydian Steel, two tenor pans, two triple tenors, one guitar, one tenor bass, a timpani (or kettledrums), and a pianist. He described the vocalists in the ensemble as "amazing."
He recalled for the last rehearsal they were singing one of his compositions and he told them to "just ham it up" and not think about the person next to them.
"It was hundreds of times better. It was full of such pathos and emotions."
On the covid challenges, Hudlin said the rehearsal space was more or less open, large enough to allow for physical distancing, and had good ventilation. He recalled it was difficult for the singers to sing while wearing masks and for him to conduct while wearing one.
"Normally I show things on my face. But with the mask, it was just my eyes (visible)."
He promised those attending the concert will experience a good mixture of music.
Mozart’s Missa Brevis will be a 25-minute religious Mass, along with other choral and solo features from composers such as Handel and Kirchner. Selections from the Caribbean folk song tradition will also be featured in a series of solos, representing songs of the community and village life, alongside which religious music often co-exists in the Caribbean.
"The show is going to be something that you don't see often in Trinidad."
After the concert, Hudlin is planning a Christmas show and also thinking of something for the TT's 60th Independence anniversary next year.
"There are things to come."
Tickets cost $200 and are available at (Central/South) 710-9436, (East) 268-9556, (Port-of-Spain) 295-7435. The concert will be limited in seating due to the church's covid19 protocols.