Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Requiem Rehash

So, I have completed my Requiem weekend and the post-concert highs have long worn out but I thought I should post something about each performance. First, on Good Friday 2012, was the Mozart Requiem with the First Mennonite Church Choir (FMC Choir). This concert was highlighted by playing to a standing room only crowd which is always a wonderful thing to process into! Our conductor lowered his baton and the sombre introduction began only to be marred by a sour clarinet note. I thougt the Maestro would begin again as his wrist went limp and his baton dipped and his face - let's just say, were I the clarinetist, I would not have slept well that night. Inspite of this beginning the performance went very well. It was very passionately led by our conductor and emotionally sung by the choir. Orchestra supported us all superbly and a special note of thanks must go to our concert mistress, Karen Barg. On Saturday was the performance of the Brahms Requiem with Alexander Mickelthwaite, the WSO and the Mennonite Festival Chorus. The day began rather frighteningly with a collapse in the tenor section during our dress rehearsal that morning. Rehearsal was halted and ambulance called. By performance time he was still under observation in hospital. The Concert Hall was not sold out but it was a respectable showing.
Unfortunately I did not feel that the choir was at their best. Something seemed missing in each voice section. Perhaps it was the misfortune of the morning and maybe it was just me but I felt there seemed to be some kind of spark missing. Still there was nothing missing from the Maestro. Alexander sang along or at least mouthed the words, to the whole entire Requeim. He seemed in his element and we altos appreciated his looks of rapture at many of the alto solo passages. He guided us beautifully, being more attentive to a chorus than I have previously known him to be, but then maybe we needed it more.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mickelthwate in Harmony with Brahms

     Yesterday we had our first rehearsal with our performance conductor, Alexander Mickelthwate.  It was a piano rehearsal only so no orchestra to get in the way of the choir and conductor.  In the lead-up to this I tell some new comers to the choir that Alexander does not make too many demands on the choir and will most likely pronounce everything "good, good, good", the Maestro shows up and begins to surprise.
      The first surprise is how excited he is about Brahms!  He said it is in his top 4 favourite list.  The first change he makes is in our opening bars.  He wants it much slower than we have been rehearsing it and with  much more patience and emotion. We repeat the opening bars several times until it is perfected  . He really brings out the romantic elements of the piece, which of course is the whole point of Brahms!!  Brahms is forever yearning and it was nice to have our performance conductor keep reminding us to "be patient, take your time, take lots of time."  Usually conductors are saying "even though you are singing piano you must keep the tempo" or  "don't slow down just because it's a low dynamic"  etc, etc. so we are used to our internal tickers moving us along but here, with Alexander Mickelthwate we were given permission to sink into it and take all the time we need to sing with feeling, "Selig sind die da Leid tragen".
     Another wonderful surprise is that he had us change many of our vowel sounds.  We had rehearsed with a straighter brighter vowel and - hip hip hooray - the Maestro wants us to use a rounder vowel.  Not too much "a" in Selig.  The rounder vowel suits us much better! 
     Surprise number three was that when the Altos sing out the theme, "Herr, du bist Wurdig" he did not ask for a lighter sound as some conductors request.  He wanted a robust, dark alto sound, which of course is what we altos do best so we are in perfect agreement.  He also did not seem surprised that the Altos were given so many themes to sing but conducted us as if it were our natural right to belt out the significant texts!
Alexander gave full permission for the Altos to be Altos and to deliver all that Brahms gives us.  I could feel Brahms smiling too!
Now on to 3 rehearsals with the orchestra and then performance on Saturday Night at the Centennial Concert Hall.