Better than most, Virginia Consort conductor Judith Gary understands that sometimes words aren’t enough. Wednesday, September 11 was one of those times.
Gary leads the Virginia Consort, a 35-member chamber chorus she helped to found in 1990. As a memorial to those lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she conducted the Consort in a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem,” one of more than 200 worldwide performances of the piece on September 11. The Consort was joined by local musicians as well as some from Richmond, Staunton and Waynesboro. With an accompanying orchestra for the performance, there were 185 musicians gathered in total, she estimates. The 90-minute event was brought together with only one rehearsal.
“It was a total community effort,” Gary says. “It was very meaningful.”
Held at the First Presbyterian Church on Park Street, the concert drew an audience of more than 1,000.
And while the performance of the “Requiem” was a memorial, and billed as a commemorative performance, Gary says it was not one-dimensional.
“There was another side,” she says. “It’s recognizing and celebrating the fact that we are capable of extraordinary beauty. Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ is an example of this. You hear it, and you are moved by it. The piece itself has the depth required for the event, it’s big enough to contain it. Sadness. Heroism. It’s much bigger than any words.”
Of someone able to conduct such a large group, it is surprising to learn that Gary did not study music from childhood. She acknowledges that she began studying music later than most who become professionals and had to “make up lost time.” A student of music theory and composition at Boston University, Gary fell in love with choral music.
She came to Charlottesville 25 years ago to earn her master’s degree in music history from UVA while her husband studied law at the University. As Gary became increasingly interested in the musical possibilities here, she put her plans for more advanced degrees aside. “There’s a lot to do here,” she says.
In 1990 a group of singers Gary had previously conducted approached her about starting a choral group. She agreed and became the founding conductor of the Virginia Consort, which is entering its 12th season and has grown “far more” than Gary ever anticipated. The Consort now also has three youth choruses: high school, treble and a training chorus.
Among the benefits of being a conductor, she says, is the ability to choose the music that the Consort performs. Always experimenting, Gary is not content to simply re-work the old masters. She looks to add variety to the repertoire, and includes arrangements of folk songs and contemporary pieces. “I enjoy studying the pieces, getting to know them, seeing what makes them tick,” she says. “I have a lot of fun watching the music come alive in rehearsal and performing.”
Next on Gary’s docket is planning for the upcoming holiday season. The Consort expands to 50 members for its annual Christmas performances, and rehearsals begin in a few weeks. Concerts at UVA’s Cabell Hall will follow soon after, starting the first weekend in March. Her schedule is packed.
It seems Judith Gary has more than made up for her “lost time.”