For Brent Baldwin, good music is good music. It doesn’t matter what century it came from.
In his role as artistic director of the Texas Choral Consort, he’s decided to feature Brahms’ mighty German Requiem as the centerpiece of the chorus’ upcoming concert.
But Baldwin has also put something new on the program: The premiere of a piece by 30-year-old Caroline Shaw, this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music and one of only a handful of female composers to net the prestigious award.
“I like to mix it up,” says Baldwin recently over coffee while taking a break from annotating a score.
Baldwin has amassed more than 140 singers and a 38-piece orchestra to tackle Brahms’ vocal masterpiece in two performances Aug. 17 and 18.
The Brahms is a work he’s wanted to tackle since taking the helm at the consort in 2007.
“Brahms’ Requiem is an expansive, powerful piece,” Baldwin says. “It embraces all the wonderful harmonic layering of the Romantic era, but it also has lots of juicy chords and tight harmonies.”
Philosophically, Brahms’ version of the traditional Mass for the dead is a tradition-breaker.
The composer assembled the libretto himself using the German Luther Bible rather than using the Latin of the usual musical settings based on a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. Likewise, Brahms, who worked on his Requiem between 1865 and 1867, excluded any overt language of Christian dogma and instead chose language focused on the spiritual well-being of the living, not the dead, a more humanistic homage to the inevitability of death.
“People today forget how what sounds classical and traditional to us today really caused so much ire in its own time,” Baldwin says. “Brahms’ humanism was radical, and it’s easy for us to forget that.”
Baldwin, 43, is himself a bit of a tradition-breaker, too.
A native of the picturesque but tiny coastal Maine town of Round Pond — coincidentally also the hometown of singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves — Baldwin spent his youth playing in alt-rock and punk bands. He then headed to art school before finally taking up formal music studies. He landed in Austin in the mid-1990s, pursuing graduate studies in vocal conducting at the University of Texas, where at the time Grammy-nominated choir leader Craig Hella Johnson was on the faculty. Baldwin also began working and studying with composer Dan Welcher.
Austin’s alt-classical scene was just beginning to percolate then with genre-crossing ensembles like the Tosca String Quartet carving out a niche for themselves and indie composers Graham Reynolds and Peter Stopschinski emerging as well.
Baldwin is now an entrenched part of Austin’s indie classical scene. In fact, the Shaw song that the chorus will premiere this weekend is actually a movement from the upcoming “Mozart Requiem Undead” project, an ambitious collaboration between the consort, Golden Hornet Project, Fusebox Festival and Texas Performing Arts. A diverse and noted coterie of alt-classical composers has been charged with completing Mozart’s original unfinished Requiem, including Shaw, Reynolds, Stopschinski as well as Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, Grupo Fantasma’s Adrian Quesada and Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the famed Sergei Prokofiev.
Baldwin will conduct the consort when it sings the newly imagined Mozart masterpiece next April.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of new music to work through, but it’s going to be thrilling for everyone,” he says.
The nonprofit consort maintains a no audition admittance policy, though singers do pay modest registration and sheet music rental fees to participate. (A smaller ensemble chorus is open by audition only. The consort’s orchestra musicians are professional.)
And so perhaps not surprisingly, given Austin’s free-floating musical talent pool, in addition to many nonprofessionals, the consort includes many professional vocalists — folks who also sing with Grammy-nominated choir Conspirare or teach at UT or perform with Austin Lyric Opera.
Featured soloists for this weekend’s concert include baritone and UT Butler School of Music professor David Small as well as soprano and opera soloist Suzanne Ramo. And Conspirare regulars Cameron Beauchamp and Gitanjali Mathur are on the choir roster.
“You can’t deny the sheer joy of a large group of people singing together,” Baldwin says.
Brahms’ German Requiem
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17, 3 p.m. Aug. 18
Where: Northwest Hills United Methodist Church, 7050 Village Center Drive
Tickets: $20 ($15 students)
Information: 512-900-8517, www.txconsort.org