LEWISTON, Maine – A perfect classical and spiritually appropriate Holy Week experience at the Gendron Franco Center, on Cedar Street in Lewiston, on March 25, was an experience to remember, with the Maine Music Society.
Attending a Mozart concert is always a wonderful experience; but to experience The Vespers (Vesperae Solennes de Dominica) and Requiem, by Mozart, performed by the Maine Music Society and Orchestra led by John Corrie, was a magnificent Holy Week classical gift. The Maine Music Society performed The Requiem in D minor, K. 626, a requiem mass by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, directed by Artistic Director John Corrie, and The Vespers, on March 24 with a March 25 matinee.
Beginning with the program’s introduction in French and English by Connie Hitchcock, chair of the Maine Music Society, while the audience was seated in the venue that’s engulfed in Franco-American history, created the perfect setting for the Mozart concert. In fact, the matinee performance was a blend of spirituality, with local culture and classical excellence. Both the orchestra and choral group directed by Corrie, obviously understood the exceptional experience they had in performing this Mozart program. Bravo! It was a classical music extraordinaire afternoon to remember, with standing ovation.
Mozart composed part of the Requiem during his dying days in Vienna in late 1791, but it was unfinished when he died on December 5, the same year. (The movie and play “Amadeus” is the fictional account of Mozart’s composition.) The Maine Music Society also performed The Vespers, composed while Mozart was working in Salzburg, Austria. Soloists featured during the performance were Sarah Bailey, soprano, Jazmin DeRice, a mezzo soprano, Martin Lescault, tenor and Carl Steidel, bass. A particularly “bravo!” performance in the concert program was The Vespers Laudate Dominum, sung with operatic excellence by Sarah Bailey.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1751-1796) was musical genius and one of the world’s most prolific and influential composers.
History of the Gendron Franco Performing Arts Center, in Lewiston, has special Franco-American roots in the city.
Lewiston’s Gendron Franco Performing Arts Center, was the former sanctuary of the St. Mary’s Church and the perfect venue for this spiritual performance, with solos, chorus and orchestra. Maine is fortunate to have such brilliant talents performing this complicated Mozart concert. I especially appreciated the English libretto translation of the Scripture, included in the program.
St. Mary’s Sanctuary is beautiful. The church (Ste Marie) was the second Franco-American parish in Lewiston. When construction began, the existing SS. Peter and Paul Parish (SS Pierre et Paul) was divided, in 1907, to support the religious devotions of the growing French-speaking congregation.
The building replaced an earlier small chapel that had been erected at the corner of Lincoln and Chestnut Streets, to serve the Franco community of Little Canada, which was some distance from the SS Peter and Paul Church on Ash and Bartlett Streets, also in downtown Lewiston.
The church was not finished until 1927, by which time several other French parishes were established in Lewiston – Holy Cross (Ste Croix) and Holy Family (Ste Famille) in Lewiston and St Louis (St Louis) in Auburn. Work had also begun of the grand basilica of SS Peter and Paul.
The church continued to serve the French-speaking community of Little Canada until many of Maine’s parishes were consolidated, and churches, closed in response to declining congregation sizes and clergy retirements. St Mary’s closed in 2000, and today houses the Franco-American Heritage Center, and the Gendron Franco Performing Arts venue.
Executive Director Mitchell Clyde Thomas and the Gendron Franco Center non-profit Board of Directors have developed a welcoming venue for the community to enjoy Lewiston’s history and culture. A monthly La Rencontre (a “Gathering”) offers lunch and cultural programs for the community. Check the website for more information: La Rencontre
During the Mozart concert’s intermission, the Gendron Franco-Center culinary experts served Franco-American tourtiere and crepes, in the Heritage Center, function room.