Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beethoven, Mass in C Major

Ah Ludwig!  That most ironic of men.  A great Deaf Composer, who conducted his own 9th symphony without hearing a thing, nor the applause that erupted afterwards. 

The Mass in C Major, however, did not receive applause from the man for whom it was composed.
Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy is said to have approached Beethoven after the performance asking, "My Dear Beethoven, what is it you have done here?"  It seems that ever since then it has been an underperformed work, but I am happy to say that I am in the midst of rehearsing it.   I stand apart from Prince Nikolaus in that I find the Mass, simply beautiful.  Although a much easier sing than the later composed Missa Solemnis, it is still absolutely divine in beauty.  The opening of the quiet awe-filled sanctus can put me in tears.  It is not dramatic but has a melodious orchestral beginning and then a few bars of acapella choir - gorgeous!  The  Kyrie eleison sets a beautiful tone in the call for mercy arranged for both choir and soloists.
The Mass is much more singable than the 9th Symphony, which I love to perform based on the sheer thrill of the performance but vocally it is very high and very fast for all voice parts; feeling like a scream fest much of the time.  In the 9th Beethoven appears to be more of instrumental composer than a friend of the singer.  In the Mass in C, the alto will feel none of that, however, I have heard the sopranos complaining about spending too much time sitting on their G's and A's.  Do I feel sorry for them?  Not a chance, they are sopranos after all, and if they aren't enjoying those high moments then what are they there for?
I will be performing this work with the First Mennonite Church Choir in Winnipeg on November 27th. Rehearsals until this point have been quite slow going, with much note pounding, but we are approaching the time where the conductor can spend time colouring and shaping our lines and I look forward to that!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

James A. Richardson International Airport Opening

     A performance like no other.  Choir and Orchestra drive to certain shopping centre where they are put on buses and driven to the new James A. Richardson International Airport.  After we passed the security gates, we were ushered into the new facility, which I must tell you is gorgeous!  I would say it is the best part of Winnipeg.  I think we should just keep the tourists here for their entire visit. 

     Choir and Orchestra are then put behind a black curtain, which we learned is actually called a  kabuki.  At dress rehearsal there was much talk of the kabuki and the accurate dropping of it.  The poor sod assigned the task of doing the kabuki drop appeared to feel the pressure and needed the dress rehearsal, which was earlier this day.  He wanted to watch the Maestro's downbeat several times so he would be sure to drop it at the right time.
     Now at Performance time we can hear Tom Jackson's deep voice inviting Winnipegers on board. and when he intones, "Ladies and Gentlemen prepare for take off"  the Orchestra, from behind the curtain begins the dramatic Strauss"also sprach zahursta"  As that ends Alexander Mickelthwaite gives the downbeat for "O Fortuna" (the opening number in Carmina Burana) and the nervous kabuki string puller drops the curtain and a collective gasp is heard from the crowd as chorus and orchestra launch into the work.
   In the interests of time the flirting number where the sopranos beg to be looked at was dropped.  Poor girls.  The Robust, "tempus est iocundum" was left in and this is where baritone soloist.  Mel Braun  did a whole-hearted job that increased every one's enjoyment of the piece!
   The choir was in fine form, most notable were the sopranos who are asked to come up with several high B's at a piano dynamic. They did it in most ethereal fashion
     Although we were singing for the Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, we didn't actually see him as the stage lights were much too bright to see him during our performance and as it was a high security affair we were whisked on and off the stage like the hired help we were and could not so much as say, "good evening" to the man.   The last time I sang for a Prime Minister I was 10 years old, and at that time I actually saw and spoke with the man.  That man shucks, I'll let you guess.

     Thus ends my first performance of excerpts from Orff's Carmina Burana.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First Orchestra Rehearsal - Carmina Burana

Yippee!  I thought I was having fun rehearsing this before, but last night with the orchestra I actually got the giggles!
The part where I feel like I am singing in an Italian Restaurant was even more hilarious with full orchestra backing and I mean full orchestra.  All the horn players, a piano and even Mr. Triangle Man was there klinging away. 
Alexander Mickelthwate requested more words from the choir which is rather amusing since there is not a word in it that any audience member will know, but yes I realize that good enunciation will add greatly to the crispness of the performance but I feel like giggling when I am seriously and accurately singing out, "Na za za" which is a nonsense word even in the Latin/German mix we are singing.
Alexander confessed that his favourite part of the piece is when the Sopranos are singing, "Seht mich an"  (Look at me), this follows the part where all the women are asking for their make-up to help attract a man.  Once the make-up is applied it is left to the sopranos to call out for attention while the Altos have given up.   The Orchestra sounded great and appeared to be having as much fun as the chorus, there were smiles all around.  In the end Alexander,  in usual fashion, pronounced it all "good, good, good."
One more rehearsal at the airport itself, and then the performance.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Carmina Burana

The first  performance of the new choral season will be at the official opening of the James A. Richardson International Airport in October 2011.   We will be performing selected works from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana together  with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Mickelthwaite for an audience of invited guests only, so I can't even sell you a ticket.  For security reasons we will be brought in by bus, not sure if they will issue fake nose and glasses.
The Songs of Burana or Carmina Burana are poems that were found in a Bavarian monastery in 1803 but the poems were written way before that in the 11th and 12th centuries.  Before you get the wrong idea let me say there is nothing monk like or spiritual about these poems.  Our choir is only performing excerpts from it but I have not encountered anything sacred in it.   It is a fun sing with some bawdy lyrics.
Speaking of lyrics., they can be a bit challenging.  Some of the poems are in Latin, some in a old Bavarian style German which hardly resembles classic High German in any way.  Our conductor spent some time living in Bavaria and although he spoke High German he could not speak with his landlady as she spoke only Bavarian German which sounded like gibberish to him.

In No. 8 Carmer, gip die warwe mir" (Friend give me the paint)  we women are to act like 18 year old flirts as we ask our friend to pass the paint so we can make up our face and attract a young man.  This is all fine and good for the college kids amongst us,  but when you get to my age  all the paint in the world can't help in that department so the lyrics feel ludicrous.  Women my age should not be batting their eyelashes in public and any come hither looks coming from my part of the alto section would have our young tenors running the other way.  Still we try.  Of course it is the Sopranos who at the end of each verse sing out "Seht mich an jungen man"  (Look at me young man) oh brother - sopranos; always clamouring for attention.

No. 1 and No. 10  the O Fortuna Choruses, are by far the most common numbers in this work.  Many a movie score has used them and advertising as well.  At the first rehearsal I just felt foolish singing this but by now I feel rather part of an epic.

All this music to these old poems was written by Carol Orff.  The music is not difficult and the excerpts we are singing do not have much subtlety to them but it is great fun to sing in a raucous fashion.

In the No. 22, Tempus est iocundum, there is a section where I feel like I a singing in a cheesy Italian restaurant with red and white checkered cloths on the table and Chianti bottle candle holders in the middle of each table.  There is a moustached accordion player beside me, smiling broadly.  I have way too much fun singing this part and am quite surprised my conductor has not told me to shut up - yet.

Does this music speak to my soul?  No.   Does it overwhelm me with it's beauty?  No.  Am I having fun?