Monday, March 26, 2018

All Good Things 3 Times!

Two contrasting pieces, two French composers, two conductors, add in one orchestra and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, in one French cathedral and you have a wonderfully interesting week!

Two composers and their contrasting pieces are Francis Poulenc's Gloria, at once playful and stirring and Faure's melodious long-lined Requiem.  Monsieur Poulenc's score has some French cinema / restaurant style music coming from the orchestra.  It was composed in 1959.  At the first rehearsal I thought I would never be performance ready as the musical lines which are playful in performance are just unpredictable accidents in rehearsal.
Francis Poulenc
As an amateur singer, a score full of accidentals and multiple time signatures like this one just makes me fearful!  With some one- finger keyboard pounding at home and time spent with my best friend,, I came to be able to playfully hum all the movements from the Gloria while going about my day.  It really is in my ear, head and heart now.
 In movement 5 I couldn't help feeling that I was walking in Paris at night, the Notre Dame Cathederal near me, crepe stands around the corner, a cabaret in sight and Edith Piaf singing in my ear.  As an overtrack to that comes the soprano plaintively calling "Domine Deus"  (Lord God) "Qui tolis pecata mundi"(who takes away the sins of the world)  Here in the French night, plaintively and uncertainly calling out for redemption.  It haunts me.  I challenge you to listen to the opening bars of movement 5 and see if you are not immediately brought to Paris. Other of Poulenc's movements, such as the 2nd are light and playful, with the composer having imagined monks playing football (soccer).  The light footwork, passing back and forth, and the joy of the game are evident.
Our soprano for this concert was Lara Ciekiweicz.  Lara has a dramatic singing style which immediately draws in the audience.  Lara has a charming practice of sending a card on opening night to the choirs she works with.  I find this to be a nice touch.  In her earlier life, before fame, she was a chorister alongside me with the Mennonite Festival Chorus.

Lara Ciekiewicz

Gabriel Faure  

The second half of the concert was the melodious and comforting Faure Requiem.  The popular Pie Jesu movement is perhaps the best known and is only soprano soloist and orchestra. Faure did write a beautiful requiem here but he really did not give much for the alto chorister to do, and there is no alto soloist either. In  2 out of 7 movements I was forced to stand there, score in hand and mouth closed for practically the whole piece.  In the Sanctus the altos sing only the last two bars, literally!!!!  Does he have unresolved issues with an alto and this is his way of dealing with them?   I don't get it!  Why make us stand there while the sopranos and the men sound so beautiful around us, clearly stating, ALTOS ARE NOT NEEDED and then at the last Sanctus, giving us one note to sing just to round out the chord.  HUMPFF!
The altos do have a nice duet with the tenors in Movement 2, that is, it could have been nice, but as our conductor told us after the first two performances, "Altos you are having trouble with intonation, well, sorry but you are flat, I have to say it, sorry."  Not exactly the thing you want to hear.  I am sure not much changed at the 3rd and last performance but our conductor was much too kind to tell us this.  Maestro Klaz has a firm practice of only stating the positive, once there is nothing left to be done.  He will teach and coax and reprimand right up until the last possible  moment of the last performance but once it is done, he has left it all on the stage and will insist that you were absolutely lovely!
So the very odd thing about this concert is that we performed it 3 times instead of the usual 2 and that we had 2 performance conductors.  This, I have never experienced.  The two conductors, Alexander Mickelthwate and Yuri Klaz  are quite different.  This was Alexander's last choral piece as WSO conductor and most likely the last time I will ever work with him.  Although he is a very pleasant man and not demanding of the choir, he is seriously lacking a downbeat and for this reason I am always nervous when performing with him the last 12 years.   In fact at the second performance the second movement, yes the one where the altos were flat, he was so seriously off the rails that the tenors, orchestra, and altos were all in different parts of the score.  So, this second performance was on a Saturday night, but earlier that same day we had a dress rehearsal with the other conductor, Yuri Klaz, whose tempos were quite different from Alexander's and whose conducting style is so much clearer.  It is a challenge to  rehearse so thoroughly with director 2 but perform a few hours later with director 1, then the next afternoon you are back with 2.   I heard from many choristers that they wish Alexander had attended the third performance as he would have heard a more passionate and much more accurate rendition of the concert.  There was no uncertainty on entries or endings at this last performance which was a big contrast to the other two.
Lara was the soprano soloist for the Faure and Matthew Pauls, the baritone.

All 3 concerts were sold out and this is a thrill to a performer!