It’s a pretty sure bet that 9.9 out of every 10 people in the audience at this weekend’s performance of “Carmina Burana” will have never heard it done in the chamber version, as the Tucson Chamber Artists will perform it.

TCA Conductor and Music Director Eric Holtan will be one of them.

“I only know the fully orchestrated version so this is going to be a new experience for me, too,” Holtan said late last week.

It’s a good thing baritone Hugh Russell will be among the trio of soloists for the TCA’s three performances. Russell has performed the chamber version several times including with a choral group in his adopted home of Chicago.

“There are many things that sound similar to the full orchestral version,” said the 41-year-old Canada native. “I think it is easier to think of it as a completely different beast rather than think about what is really different and what’s not there.”

The chamber version, a highlight of the third annual Tucson Desert Song Festival that kicked off last weekend, will be performed by 32 members of Holtan’s TCA professional choir, a pair of pianists and six percussionists led by Homero Ceron, principal percussionist for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

The fully orchestrated version has 10 to 15 times more instrumentalists, including a full complement of string players. The choir in that version can number well beyond 100. Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra was the last to perform the work in Tucson, bringing in choristers from Tucson Girls Chorus, the Tucson Masterworks Chorale, the Catalina Foothills High School Chorus and the Catalinas Community Chorus. When you added in the full contingent of the orchestra, there were 240 people on the Catalina Foothills High School stage and balconies for the November 2009 performance.

But Russell, who says he will be on his 114th “Carmina Burana” by the time he takes the stage Friday night, says you won’t be missing much without the full orchestration.

“You still get that sense of all the percussion going on in this sort of clanging, wonderful cacophony,” he said. “It’s different but it’s the same intention.”

Soprano Hye Jung Lee will make her “Carmina Burana” debut this weekend — her second role debut in Tucson during the 2015 song festival. She was a last-minute replacement last weekend for the ailing soprano Heidi Grant Murphy to sing Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” and Poulenc’s “Gloria.”

She was familiar with the Strauss having sung it while she was a graduate student at Indiana University in 2012. But she had never sung the Poulenc. (See review of Sunday’s concert and interview with Hye Jung at

“It’s so great in its way as it’s very much like a ritual whether it’s sacred or secular,” she said of “Carmina Burana,” then added that being part of a big choral event like this weekend’s concerts “feels like I get to be a part of some kind of community, bigger than myself, rather than just playing my character as in opera.”

Holtan said the essence of Orff’s score remains unchanged in the stripped-down version.

“We still get the full array of the colors and volume of the percussion, but all of the colors of the orchestra the violins and bassoons are all executed by the piano parts,” he said. “Many people walk away from ‘Carmina Burana’ feeling like they went through something very physical or visceral. But my sense is that visceral feeling, you’re going to feel it more with just the piano and the other percussion instruments. Without all the other colors involved, I think it is going to be a more visceral experience for people.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.