Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bach St. John Passion Performance

     Our local newspapers chose not to review this concert, it seems.  I, at least, have not seen one and this surprises me as I thought they would want to document Jane Glover's WSO evening.
     From my perspective I was happy to have performed the "wohin" section in Aria No. 24 and come out of it unscathed.  I was quite exhilarated by the fact that I did not miss a single one nor did I add in any extra "wohins".  I feel I could take this show on the road, so if you need a Wohinner I'm your alto.   
     In Chorus No. 23 "Wir haben keinen Konig" my companion and I were the only ones to come in on time singing out the "WIR" but to our chagrin no one else came in so it looked like we were wrong.  I was relieved when a tenor approached me after the concert to say, "you know you were right on that entry in No. 24, I didn't come in since she didn't look up at the choir"  He was right about that, the conductor did not cue us for this entry as she had been doing for all the others but I still did not appreciate being left high and dry in front of all those people singing "WIR" as a duet. 
     Backstage, prior to concert, Ms. Glover came to address the choir which not all conductors do.  She said she knew she had not paid us much attention in the dress rehearsal and that was because we were actually quite good and she had other things to attend to.  However, she wanted us to be
1.  more sneering in "sei gegrusset"
2. more ugly in Kreuzige
3. more personal in the Chorales
4.  more lawyer-like in the Hohenpriester choruses

     I think the choir managed to fulfill all 4 requests but since there is not the benefit of a post mortem with her I cannot be sure. 
   The Concert Hall was not sold out and this was a bit of a downer when we first get out there and saw the empty seats but once the orchestra began to weave the magic of the opening chorus started I forgot about that.

     I am not a musician so my opinion will not mean much but I thought the continuo was so well done by our principal cellist, Yuri Hooker, and the oboe playing was absolutely divine.  Principal oboist, Bede Hanley was sitting within arm's reach of me and I was basking in the sound. 
Soloists, Lawrence Wiliford, Christopheren Nomura, Karina Gauvin and German born Eva Vogel all did their parts well.  Although Bach really does not give the solo women much to do, the arias they do sing are gorgeous.    
      So that is another Easter concert season finished.  Advent seems a long way off.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bach Dress Rehearsal

     Lawrence Wiliford - tenor
     Have just returned from the Bach Dress Rehearsal and must say there were some improvements since last rehearsal.  Our little "wohin" group is now standing together instead of us 3 altos being so far away from the tenors and sopranos.  We are closer because the 3 of us have been plucked from the alto section and plunked down in the middle of the tenor and bass section.   We are standing there throughout the whole Passion which makes it a bit awkward for us in that when Maestra Glover gestures towards us for an entry it is the men she is gesturing and not the altos.  When she means us she gestures far to the left of us, so that took a bit of getting used to but it is so much better to be able to do the "wohin" with the Nonet together.   That part of the rehearsal went well.
     Glover continued to instruct the orchestra on finer points and demanded more from the choir.  The choir had some very feeble unacceptable entries that will have to be corrected for tonight.  Most notably in "lassest du diesen los" and "wir haben ein gesetz", the Chorales did not have enough text and intonation was a problem in some parts.  Gratifying, though was that Chorale No. 28 will be sung a cappela which must say that the intonation was fine enough.
      The soloists, most notable the Evangelist Lawrence Wiliford, are the real bright spots of this rehearsal and I hope the choir will do their part tonight. 


Mendelssohn ist Vergangen

The choir of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg has completed their Mendelssohn Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang and is on a high!  The performance went well, it was majestic, and emotional.  The orchestra was superb. 
I am so grateful that in 2011, when so many local Mennonite churches no longer have a choir, our choir can continue to perform these wonderful works.  The Lobgesang, being new to all of us in the choir, was a risky and unconventional choice for Good Friday but we did it justice.
      There were some dramatics leading up to Good Friday's performance.  On Wednesday the soprano soloist called our conductor, Yuri Klaz (pictured above), to say she had no voice.  Hmm , what to do?  Yuri calls our de facto General Manager, but who in fact is a very dedicated volunteer who pulls these concerts together with rarely any recognition, (and her name is INGRID.)who manages to fly in a gifted soprano from Montreal who has ties to our congregation, Ellen Wieser who does an admirable job of rescuing us at this late hour.   
     Our conductor was visibly emotional at the post-concert reception and was grateful to the choir for the concert's success.  The post-concert high continues.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rehearsal #1 with Orchestra (Bach)

The first Orchestra Rehearsal for the Bach's St. John went down like this:

1. Maestra Glover was exacting with the orchestra, as she had been with us the night before.  To the violas,  "Just because my back is turned to you doesn't mean I can't hear you."  Having the 1st violin section play 8 or so bars over and over until everyone in the section got it.  Those satisfying things that make such a difference between a "so, so" performance and a stellar one.

2.  The "Wohins" in movement 24 went as badly as I had expected.  For one thing the three of us altos are all alone at one end of the stage with the cellos and double basses while the 3 tenors (no not those 3 tenors) and 3 sopranos are at the other end with the first violins.   I cannot hear the other 6 at all.  The fact that I am an AMATEUR singer is coming out quite clearly.  It shows in that: a) -when I am not hearing the other two voices in the chord I have trouble fitting in my note.  b)my internal organs convulse when the Great Glover says, "alright then let's do No. 24".
      She was not too impressed with our Nonet and made it clear to us that we would have to work on intonation.  "We will rehearse it one more time now, and this is just because of you, I really don't have this kind of time to keep working this thing."
     My rehearsal conductor was somewhat reassuring in the post mortem saying, "It was good, I mean I didn't hear that the intervals were there, but you came in on time and who cares about the notes." 
     I cannot help but wonder, if I have this much internal organ trouble without an audience in the house, will I need CPR on Saturday night?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jane Glover and the St. John's Passion

I have entered Concert Week and I am in the midst of the experience of a lifetime.  I have not sung a St. John's Passion with this much depth before, and this is my 6th experience.  (I had missed one in my previous posting of Bach's St. John's which was 1986.  at my age there is much to forget)
     Last night was our first rehearsal with the great Jane Glover.  With her exacting manner and clear and precise, British accented speech, she was able to shape the Passion in a way we have not experienced before.  She spent most of her time with the Chorales, which is a surprising as there are several large and somewhat difficult choruses in the work, but her emphasis was on shaping the chorales into the monumental human condition statements that they are.  In her opinion one could spend 3 months just learning the chorales.  We were to feel the guilt of our sins and the injustice of an innocent going to die for them and then "tell me about that, but privately."   Prior to each Chorale, and there are 11 she would say, "I invite you to put yourself in it."
      One of several shaping tools is dynamics and here she tried to wean us off of our habitual "mezzo quel que chose" as she put it.    We most definitely have to work on our pianos and pianissimos, although somewhat difficult with our 90+ singers.  I encourage you to listen to this beautiful example of a Bach Chorale, just so you know how achingly beautiful a Bach chorale from this Passion can be. 
      We made so many markings last night that I am not sure I will be able to keep my seatmate, who was absent, up to speed with all we learned last night.  We did not rehearse the "wohin" movement, as several from our Nonette were missing.  We will tackle it tonight and I am most nervous about it as well as eager, since I look forward to her further revelations on the piece. I am comforted by the fact that she herself admitted it is a difficult piece to get right.
     She is the third revelation of St. John's telling of the suffering of Christ.  The first being St. John himself who wrote down this powerful narrative, then Bach who set it to the most glorious music thereby richly enhancing the story and now Jane Glover who has added further revelation by her detailed and impassioned immersion into the text. 
     Prior to an instruction we were sometimes referred to as "my friends" which softens us up for all her demands.  I am actually thrilled by all the demands, it feels good to be worked so hard and expectations set so high.  It was thrilling.  There is nothing blase about the Crucifixion story and there was nothing casual about her approach to it. 
    Then there was the revelation of a clearer separation between the crowd choruses shouting "crucify, crucify" and the choruses of the high priests, for example, "Schreibe nicht".    Now the music Bach wrote for each does automatically denote a difference since in the Schreibe Nicht we are accompanied by flutes which don't really suggest a bloodthirsty crowd and fits the higher learned priests but when the choir treats both as aggressive rabble rousing choruses the lines between the crowds and priests are blurred. Yet this is often how it is done and never has someone provided such a clear image as to how this chorus is to be sung.  Ms Glover asked us to sing it "lawyer-like", we are the rational  people telling Pilate, "listen don't write He is the King of the Jews, but rather He SAID, he is king of  the Jews".   Somehow it is so satisfying to be able to communicate this attitude with one's singing voice, and then to also be able to be the angry mob shouting, "Not this one, rather Barabam". 
     We will back to rehearsing with Ms. Glover tonight and will do our best to bring some shape to our phrases, clarity to our words, and varied dynamics instead of our "mezzo quel que chose" .  Our homework was to read the words of all the chorales and internalize them.  She urged us by saying,  "I would rather you sang some wrong notes than not mean these words you are singing."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wohin? Where to indeed!

     Tucked into the Bach  St. John's Passion is good old number 24.  It is a Bass Aria.  The Bass quite beautifully and often chromatically calls out "Hurry, hurry you oppressed souls."  Oh but were it only a bass aria one could be happy, but alas, while he is singing this there is a small chorus part that calls out "Wohin?  Wohn?"  (Where to?)  .  This is a part all choristers dread.  It is impossible to get everything right.  Some intervals are easy, some are hard but it is difficult for an amateur like myself to figure out  which interval is coming up as they come up so quickly, and since the bass is constantly singing "hurry, hurry"   the chorus is completely panicked and behaving as though we are truly lost; which we are.  This fits in  quite well with the whole drama but for some reason conductors prefer it to fit in musically.   They would like the right interval to occur at the right time.  The wohins are never on a downbeat, of course, that would be too easy, so there is a constant uneasy feeling.  A smart conductor will never have the whole choir sing, as they say it should be done quietly,  but really it is because it would be impossible to have 30 voices  saying the right wohins at the same time.  So, typically a small group will be asked to do this.  (except of course in the video I linked above where mere children manage it  I play this to myself often when I need taunting.)
        I have sung in the small wohin group several times and still have not perfected it.  Woe is me, this Easter weekend will be no exception.  Bill, my 2011 conductor was in the audience in 2010 when I cackled out the wohins quite chicken- like so he should consider himself  forewarned.   The thing is, although I have sung it several times I am not confident in my own sense of timing, so if I feel anyone in the ensemble take a sharp breath, as one must with these wohins I will assume they are right and  also breathe in and after that quick breath I will sing the "wohin" whether Bach says so or not.
     In 2010 my conductor, Yuri, graciously gave us each and every wohin as he knew full well that we would never be able to do it without him pointing his chin and hand at us for each and every entry.  We were spoon fed all the way, which was fine and good for a church choir performance but this 2011 performance will be at the concert hall with dear, Jane Glover, and the WSO who may feel that she has other things to do besides hold our hands.  Given the fact that we are singing "Where to?"  it is probably okay if singers call this out randomly like some lost souls who are really and truly seeking.  The bass does provide the answer after every series of 8wohins which is "to Golgotha".  When the audience hears the ensemble chaotically  shrieking their way through this piece they will feel like they are at Golgotha, place of horror, and I will certainly be doing my part to create the atmosphere.
     I could perhaps ask the conductor if we could sing this from off-stage.  I will tell her it is because the wohins should be coming gently from out of nowhere.  This will save me from actually standing up there visible to the entire concert hall as I lurch through the piece.  The whole thing has a rather desperate quality to it.  I notice on my John Elliot Gardiner recording that there is no such trouble.  I could bother the good Maestra with another suggestion, that she play the John Elliot Gardiner recording while I lip synch, in that big hall no one will notice that my lip movements do not match the singing.
     If any of you have "wohin" experience perhaps you would like to pinch hit for me?