Led by Mark Dupere, Lawrence students rehearse on stage in Memorial Chapel for the April 19 Major Works Concert.
Directed by Mark Dupere, Lawrence students rehearse on stage in Memorial Chapel for the April 19 Major Works Concert. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Alex Alden, a dual degree student from Shorewood, Wisconsin, with majors in music composition and art history, is performing in the April 19 Major Works Concert in Memorial Chapel. He shares the excitement of the annual concert.


The beginning of Spring Term brings a remarkable shift in daily life within Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music. Suddenly, hundreds of instrumentalists and singers are united in a single ensemble, with a renewed vigor and curiosity.

The reason? The annual major works tradition is under way, and this year we are preparing for a performance of Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, an ambitious and highly distinctive work.

Set to take place at 7:30 p.m. April 19 in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the Mass will be preceded by the composer’s Overture to the Magic Flute; both works will be conducted by Mark Dupere. The Major Works Concert, billed as All Mozart!, is free and open to the public.

Led by Mark Dupere, Lawrence students rehearse on stage in Memorial Chapel for the April 19 Major Works Concert.
The Major Works Concert brings together the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra with choirs from across the Conservatory. 

As a singer in the choir, I’ve experienced this beautiful tradition first-hand. The university’s three choirs join the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, forming an ensemble that can hardly fit onstage.

I find myself encountering a curious paradox: while it's harder than ever to hear my own voice amidst hundreds of musicians, I feel louder, empowered by the support of this vast ensemble.

“It teaches us so much about how to be musicians and how to communicate,” said Dupere, associate professor of music and director of orchestral studies. “You have to communicate with Mozart—it’s exposed, and you can hear it immediately if there’s no conversational aspects to the music.”

Pedagogically, it teaches a different set of skills for both ensembles, explained Stephen Sieck, associate professor of music and co-director of choral studies.

“It's the only time the orchestra really has to think about the text setting and word stress,” Sieck said, “and the only time the choral ensembles have to think about being in tune with woodwinds.”

The tradition stands among the most anticipated Lawrence performances, with a history of multiple decades on its belt. Its repertoire is not confined to canonical standards; the Lawrence faculty regularly alternates between traditional classics and important contemporary works. Last year featured This Love Between Us by Reena Esmail, written in the last decade; the previous year was Brahms’ 1868 German Requiem; before that, two works by the contemporary composer Adolphus Hailstork.

Such opportunities are uncommon among other liberal arts colleges, Sieck remarked.

“When you’re at a school of music big enough to do oratorios,” he said, “it really opens up this entire library of outstanding music that composers throughout the centuries have poured a lot of their best work into.”

Billed as All Mozart!, the April 19 concert features Mozart's "Great Mass."
Billed as All Mozart!, the April 19 concert features Mozart's Great Mass.

For nearly a year, planning commences as Conservatory faculty sift through repertoire. Dupere, Sieck, and their colleagues work together to select the piece that aligns best with the abilities of the current students.

The choice of Mozart's Great Mass was deliberate; it boasts numerous soprano solos—a perfect fit for the plethora of talented sopranos in the Conservatory.

“It is so exciting to be able to fully let go and enjoy a different kind of freedom that singing with an orchestra brings,” said senior Tanvi Thatai, a soprano soloist from Sterling, Virginia, double majoring in music performance (voice) and linguistics. “I definitely have some more tools under my singing belt, from ensemble coordination to some of the more technical aspects of singing.”

The frequent soprano solos sung by Thatai and others reflect Mozart’s intention to showcase the talents of his wife, Constanze, who probably first sung the part. In this regard, the Great Mass was very much a wedding gift to his spouse, but it also reflects a look back at his predecessors.

“It is simultaneously so, so Mozart.” explained Sieck, “but there are so many spots in which it is clear that he is a student of Bach and Handel.”

Integrate intellectual and musical virtuosity in a supportive community that will empower you to find your musical path. 

Many scholars regard the Great Mass as the culmination of Mozart's study of earlier contrapuntal music, with nods to Handel's iconic Hallelujah chorus, an emphasis on counterpoint, and the use of a Bachian double choir.

Like Mozart’s Requiem, the Great Mass was left incomplete. Regardless, the work belongs to the missa solemnis (solemn mass) tradition, where composers wrote monumental works better suited for concert than worship.

“This music is glorious, transcendent, and so needed in our time today,” Dupere said.

Each movement expresses a distinct character, varying between devastating chromaticism and optimistic jubilance. With orchestral and choral forces of such magnitude, the music becomes emotionally charged and genuinely moving.

“It’s something to be celebrated when we all come together,” Dupere said.

Indeed, these moments of such immense artistic unity hold a special place in my Lawrence experience. Each one stands as a yearly highlight, and together they form timeless memories.