In late October of 2019, 20 church music students of the mdw’s Department of Organ, Organ Research and Church Music set out for Trier, Germany’s oldest city, having been scheduled to participate there in Pontifical High Masses for All Saints and All Souls as well as in a concert on 3 November 2019. It was the third time that mdw choir directing professor Thomas Kiefer, who is also Domkapellmeister (director of music) at Trier Cathedral, had proposed such a trip including student involvement in a major concert at the Cathedral and then worked together with the department heads to make it possible.
This concert revolved around two German composers and their respective musical takes on death: the programme featured Das Deutsche Requiem by Johannes Brahms and Requiem aeternam by the Trier-based composer Joachim Reidenbach. These two works were rehearsed and discussed beforehand in Vienna, leaving the students already well prepared when they travelled to Trier. Once arrived and settled in with their host families, they spent their first evening there rehearsing with the Trierer Domchor (Trier Cathedral Choir) and the Kathedraljugendchor Trier (Trier Cathedral Youth Choir). The week was generally dominated by rehearsals, since the mdw students were slated to direct the adult and youth choirs on All Saints and All Souls. Particularly the Messe pour deux choeurs by Charles-Marie Widor represented a special challenge due to the choir’s great distance from the cathedral’s organ and the resulting acoustic delays. But the Messe cum Jubilo by Maurice Duruflé likewise required a considerable amount of rehearsal, since the students were initially unaccustomed to the acoustic conditions in this large cathedral. Further highlights of their journey were two guided tours: the Deutsches Liturgisches Institut (German Liturgical Institute) provided students with insights into its publications, tools for use in church services, and professional development opportunities, and cathedral organist Josef Still introduced the students to Trier Cathedral’s main organ. This 30-ton, 5,600-pipe organ of the swallow’s nest variety, which was built by the organ-building firm Klais in 1974, floats high above the nave and directly below the vaulting; the entire thing is impressive even just in terms of the construction that suspends it. The mdw students also had the opportunity to try out this organ themselves, provided they were sufficiently immune to dizziness to make their way to its console. Joachim Reidenbach, composer of Requiem aeternam, introduced the participants to his composition and told them how it had come to be. And the choir rehearsals were likewise quite instructional, since Reidenbach’s piece required coordinating a distant choir, the large organ, one soloist, one speaker, the large choir of 120 voices, and an entire orchestra. Finally, the concert at the Cathedral (which was packed full with 1,300 people in attendance) marked the crowning conclusion to an interesting and active week from which everybody returned with numerous new impressions and experiences. And as they now look back, all of the participating students agree that they’ll certainly be up for another trip to Trier!