Nontraditional requiem springs from life's experience

L.A. Cicero requiem

Hervé Kieffel will conduct a choir and orchestra at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 4 in a performance of his requiem at Memorial Church. The work is based on sacred texts but is a nontraditional requiem service.

If he'd written a woodwind quintet, he wouldn't be getting as many questions about his choice of musical genre, concedes Hervé Kieffel in the program notes he wrote for Friday's world premiere of his composition Lux Aeterna: Requiem and Remembrance.

But the 45-minute requiem, which began as a self-imposed homework assignment in a music class Kieffel took as a graduate student, evolved into a work deeply rooted in his life experience, said Kieffel, who earned a doctorate in engineering-economic systems at Stanford. He is a consulting professor in the School of Engineering.

Kieffel will conduct a choir and orchestra in an 8:30 p.m. performance of his work on Nov. 4 at Memorial Church. The concert, presented by the Catholic Community at Stanford, is based on sacred texts but is a nontraditional requiem service. Sung in both Latin and English, the work combines classical and contemporary elements and plainchant.

Three events helped fuel his after-hours writing, Kieffel said. Foremost was the death of his father, Claude Kieffel, who died following a hiking accident shortly after his son arrived here from his native France in 1992. Kieffel was devastated by news of the beating death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998—an emotional experience that led Kieffel to depart from the canon and leave aside references to a wrathful God. Years later, Kieffel was deeply shocked and jarred by the stabbing death of a homeless man, whom the mathematician/composer knew from his volunteer work at a San Francisco soup kitchen.

His friends are intrigued by the fact that a young man—Kieffel is now 38—would choose to write a Mass for the dead, he said. But channeling his complex emotions about death into a dialogue was a way for him to give life to his experience of the world, Kieffel said. "I am a big believer in living life to the fullest."

The performance is free and open to the public.