May 15, 2013 Updated: May 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm
When the downbeat is given to begin the Colorado Springs Philharmonic's season-ending performances of Verdi's "Requiem" this weekend, one man will have more at stake than anyone else in the Pikes Peak Center.
Music director Don Jenkins will not be on stage, but his Colorado Springs Chorale will be in the artistic spotlight.
Jenkins, 78, arrived in Colorado Springs in 1960 as a music professor at Colorado College. There he led the choral program until his retirement in 1999. Along the way, he co-founded the now-defunct Colorado Opera Festival and took the reigns of the chorale in 1967.
Only one chorale season remains in his illustrious musical career. His retirement will be official July 1, 2014.
"It's OK," he said. "I need to get off the trampoline. One of these days, I'm going to spin off and crash into the hard ground. I'm not there yet. I want to leave while I can still do stuff."
As the man responsible for preparing the chorus for Philharmonic conductor Josep Caballe Domenech, Jenkins gets a final stab at the work that, more than any other, defined his musical life.
The Gazette: When you think of the Verdi Requiem, what are the first thoughts that come to mind?
Jenkins: Humanity, passion. It's a journey from darkness to light, and then you are liberated at the end with that great final prayer. The terror in the piece is just part of life. You get past it. It's transcendent.
Gazette: Is the choir you are preparing to perform the Verdi basically the Colorado Springs Chorale?
Jenkins: Yes, with several guests. The Taylor Choir from Grace Church. We've added several men from Soli Deo Gloria. We have about 10 of Deborah's (Teske, Jenkins' daughter) people, CVAE (Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble). And, of course, we have our own Chamber Singers. We have 171 singers. The chorale's about 120. It's the most I've had in Pikes Peak Center.
Gazette: You will hand off this choir to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic's Caballe Domenech for the final rehearsals and performances. How do you make sure that the turnover will be seamless for everyone?
Jenkins: First off, I'm using the full score so I know what the orchestra's doing. I know where the heavy brass is. I know where the light flute obbligato is, and I bear that in mind always. I try to be definite in my gestures the way an orchestral conductor is.
Gazette: Are there differences between being a choir preparer and an actual conductor?
Jenkins: I love both of those. I still rehearse it as though I was going to do the performance, but I love preparing a work for someone else. You prepare the singers for several alternatives. The principal conductor comes in and changes things here and there. It's OK. People have different visions. I met with Josep about two months ago. We talked generally about stuff. He didn't give me metronome (timing) marks.
Gazette: Isn't this a bit like fledging your beloved child and sending him off into the cold, cruel world?
Jenkins: And that's nice. I like that image. (He laughs.) I've conducted the Verdi Requiem myself often with orchestra, and I've prepared it for every other conductor the original Colorado Springs Symphony had, except Lawrence Leighton Smith. . I'm not at all worried about Josep, and if there's a real difference from what we practiced, I've made the chorale ready for it.
Gazette: Many critics called Verdi's Requiem just another one of his operas. How does that sit with you?
Jenkins: It was his language, and it's very dramatic, but, no. There's a compositional craft form in it. It's not drivel. It's not one soprano's glorious moment after another. The way he puts it together, it belittles the work to call it "another opera."
Gazette: No doubt you are looking forward to April 2014 when you'll be conducting some shorter works with the chorale for the farewell concert the Philharmonic has planned for you. But the Verdi is one of the five or so great choral masterpieces.
Jenkins: This is an exclamation point for me, it absolutely is - to work on the Verdi Requiem for a last time and understand what I've been thinking about it for 50 years.
Gazette: Has your relationship to the work changed over the decades?
Jenkins: I think I understand it more. I think I understand it. (Big laugh.) I'm able to leave the page and get people to do stuff. It's in my head now, my heart.
Gazette: You're not known for emotional display. But when the Requiem comes to its humble and beautiful conclusion, might we see tears streaming across your face?
Jenkins: (Laughs.) I know what you mean. I'm steeling myself. . It'll be a profound moment - (I'm) sure it will - when it finally goes away.