Carmina Burana

   On the evening of April 6, the Indian River POPS Orchestra joined the Robert Sharon Chorale at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens to perform one of the most epic compositions in music history: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The result was a glorious hour of music, characterized by solid solos, dramatic turns and memorable melodies.

   Intentionally or unintentionally, you’ve heard at least a portion of Carmina Burana. The epic chorale and orchestral piece, composed between 1935 and 1936, has been sampled in countless commercials for brands such as Hershey’s and Gatorade, as well as on television, in movies and in other music. But the tangential popularity of the piece should not devalue it within the classical music world. As New York Times critic Ann Powers once wrote: “Carmina Burana exists between the high and the low, the modern and the traditional, reminding listeners just how seductive such border crossings can be.”

The Indian River POPS Orchesta percussion section played a crucial role in the success of the Carmina Burana concert.

   The inspiration for Carmina Burana came from a collection of medieval poems, also entitled Carmina Burana, that revolves around the theme of the wheel of fortune. From the source material, Orff organized 24 of the Latin poems into a libretto; the English translations of the libretto were projected at the Indian River POPS/Robert Sharon Chorale concert to the delight of the (presumably) non-Latin-speaking audience.

   The composition comprises three major parts, with two smaller, parallel movements at the beginning and the end. It opens with the two-pronged “Fortune, Empress of the World,” which includes “O Fortuna” for which Carmina Burana is best known. To say “O Fortuna” hits the listener like a ton of bricks does not do justice to the climactic nature of the opening notes. The musicians and singers explode into sweeping phrases before pulling back into a haunting crescendo.

   Carmina Burana then continues into its three major sections: “In Springtime,” “In the Tavern” and “The Court of Love.” All three sections are characterized by a number of soprano and baritone solos, dynamic melodies and surprising drum parts, which Orff employed to evoke physical responses within the listener.

   The orchestra, under the direction of Owen E. Seward Jr., and the chorale, under the direction of Dr. Robert Sharon, massaged every ounce of nuance from Orff’s composition. Seward’s orchestra handled the numerous tempo and rhythmic shifts like professionals. A special shout out to the drum section, which got a hearty workout given Orff’s preference for percussion. As a whole, the chorale successfully evoked the emotional range prevalent in the text. Individually, the soloists attacked their respective sections with aplomb, especially soloist Suzanne Galer.

   Though this performance was a one-night event for the Indian River POPS Orchestra’s 2013-14 season, plans are in the works to revive it for next year. In the meantime, concerts still ahead for this season include “The POPS on Broadway” on May 3 and “America Remembers” on May 24. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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