Uwe Grodd, music director of Auckland Choral, is only too happy to report on the health and vigour of this group that has been one of the city's musical institutions for more than a century.

Today he talks of "rejuvenation, which is a really important thing".

"You need new blood and new energy," he adds. "Now, with some younger voices and more focused vocal coaching, the choir has achieved a very big and more flexible sound. I'm very proud of that."

Next Saturday, Grodd and his singers, together with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, present one of the masterpieces of the choral repertoire, Beethoven's 1823 Missa Solemnis. The late Edward Said wrote of the "interrogating music of this towering work" and Grodd feels this music should fall on particularly receptive ears this year. "It's important to put the Missa Solemnis into its relevant historical context but also into the context of the 21st century. The arts have to engage with what's happening in the world today, in order to remain relevant.


"We can't just sit in an ivory tower tinkling away at pretty tunes. See what's happening in Europe now with the migrant crisis. Looking at the situation, I feel passionately about Beethoven's plea for inner and outer freedom. He once said the rewards of peace are calm and joy, qualities we really need in the world today."

Grodd points out it was the Missa Solemnis that was performed at the dedication of Dresden's Frauenkirche, a Baroque architectural masterpiece, so painstakingly rebuilt after its destruction in the 1945 bombing raid.

"This music is the ultimate symbol of unity and peace. Beethoven struggled at the score for so many years, and it's significant that its dedication reads, 'From the heart may it return to the heart'."

Writing on the London music scene in 1877, George Bernard Shaw asked whether "some of our numerous choral societies might find courage to attack the little known Missa Solemnis, one of the most remarkable of the extraordinary works produced by Beethoven in his latter days".

Grodd laughs. "This is a work that stretches resources to the maximum," he agrees. "Beethoven explodes the whole traditional concept of a Mass, in a concert hall, with a huge symphony orchestra. He felt he no longer had to worry about what difficulties he presented to his musicians; and he did the same with string players in his late quartets, and they too have become major works in the repertoire."

Grodd is pleased with the quartet of soloists for next Saturday's performance, ranging from Korean soprano Hyeseoung Kwon and British mezzo Jacqueline Dark, to our own Simon O'Neill and Martin Snell. The conductor doesn't hold back from describing O'Neill as our star. "We haven't been on the Town Hall stage together before and I'm very excited about it. Simon has this sense of inner drama that only great tenors have. He can effortlessly produce high notes that send shivers down the spine and the deepest meaning of the words always comes across in the emotion of his singing."

Bass Martin Snell, who returns from Europe for the concert, is "one of the most generous singers" Grodd has worked with. "When Martin sang in The Dream of Gerontius two years ago, I put him up high on stage," he explains. "When he made his entry, it took your breath away. Whenever Martin sings, his presence takes over the room, even if that room is the size of the Town Hall."

What: Auckland Choral
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, October 31 at 7.30pm