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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sweden – January 21/22/23

Monday
Today was mostly a prep day for the beginnings of rehearsals tomorrow—except for a wonderful middag meal (lunch, dinner, supper, whatever you call it) with Gary Graden at his favorite fish restaurant, which was indeed marvelous. Gary and Kath had an appetizer of sill (herring) and main course of halibut with potatoes and Dijon hollandaise sauce—wonderful, they said! I had a pike/perch filet (similar to walleye) served over spinach with a béarnaise sauce and rice, also marvelous. A lovely house white wine accompanied the meal and a small dessert of chocolate mousse with mint (and a strawberry as well) and coffee or tea finished it off. Tremendous food and great conversation, as always. Gary has two interesting concerts the first week in February with his friend, Estonian astronomer/musician/composer Urmas Sisask. I’ll report about it then.

Tuesday
This morning was my first rehearsal with Radiokören (hence RK as the abbreviation—in Swedish the article is usually attached at the end of the word—in this case the “en” at the end Radiokören serves to mean “The Radio Choir”). Even though I know them and they know me, there’re always a few nerves leading to the first rehearsal (but no real worries). There were a number of subs for this concert (7 or 8 out of 32—although most have sung with RK before—perhaps many times before), which always means you have to think of bringing the choir into ensemble again. While there are wonderful things about RK being part-time (considered 50%), it means that not all singers can sing every concert.

I found out from Eva Wedin that RK hadn’t sung the Pizzetti (ever!) and in fact, when I asked at the beginning of rehearsal, only 3 singers had sung it before—surprising to me. If you don’t know the Requiem, it’s a gorgeous piece, written in 1922-23, inspired by Pizzetti’s studies of early music, but with his own musical language.

In a situation like this I can’t really plan a detailed rehearsal—there’s just too much that’s unknown about how it will go. So I knew I’d start with Pizzetti, see how far we could get, and plan to do the Sanctus (which is for triple choir) before break so they just had to change formation once. After break I’d do the Penderecki Agnus Dei, then finish with as much of the Stabat Mater (which is also three choirs) as I could do.

As it turned out, we were able to do all of those pieces, although there’s still work to do, of course. The choir’s very quick and are good readers, so we didn’t have to spend much time on notes, although both Penderecki pieces, especially the Stabat Mater, have distinct pitch challenges.

I think for young/inexperienced conductors this part of rehearsal technique is difficult. Score study and hearing what’s going on (especially with as many parts as in this repertoire) is a big challenge—and then to respond to what you hear with a good diagnosis of what is wrong (where intonation falters and why, which pitches are incorrect, where rhythmic difficulties are, etc.) and how to fix the problem. While a guest professor at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music last year, even for some of my grad students this was difficult: being good students, they’d plan a detailed rehearsal (what would go wrong and how to fix it) but too often follow the plan even if not all elements of the plan were necessary. If they’d simply sung through the music first, heard what was happening (comparing it to their inner conception of how it should sound), they could then formulate what to do. As it was, they wasted time “fixing” things that didn’t really need to be fixed. Of course, I understand that this is a necessary stage—thinking through possible problems and how to fix them is a good thing! But they still have to remain open to really hearing what’s happening and responding to it—a skill that builds slowly. The more experience one has, the more efficient one’s rehearsal technique can be—although of course rehearsal technique is part craft and part art: there are many ways to get from here to there! Mathematicians will tell you that there are a number of possible solutions to a given problem, but some are more “elegant” than others. It’s the same with rehearsal technique, I believe. Enough already, this belongs in a separate blog, not in a Swedish report!

At any rate, it was a good first rehearsal on this repertoire. Remember that I have four three-hour rehearsals (actually, Friday’s will be cut short because about half the choir is singing for the funeral of a former head of the music section of the Radio) to get this music and Pärt’s The Beatitudes ready for Kaspars Putnins and the Latvian Radio Choir, who have two rehearsals before their concert together on March 16 (plenty of time to forget things, too!). So lots to do to make sure they’re as secure as possible.

With the experience of today’s rehearsal, tomorrow’s can be planned in more detail.

Wednesday
I went over early to the Radio to do a little checking for other possible pieces for the spring concert, which still isn’t finalized (but will be soon). Also to check a particular notation in the Penderecki Stabat Mater, which is a part of his St. Luke Passion—I looked at the full score and the notation meant what I thought (quasi spoken), but that isn’t really much help. I'll just prepare the choir well with the actual pitches and Kaspars can easily change to as much “speech” and little pitch as he wishes.

Since I knew better where problems are, the rehearsal could be more thoroughly planned. It was a tougher rehearsal than yesterday’s, though, because of much more starting and stopping for details (always more frustrating for the singers). There’s still work to do on the Stabat Mater, and the Pärt (which we essentially just sang through) will need work tomorrow to make intonation better—if you’ve sung/conducted any Pärt, you know it’s deceptively simple: the intervallic leaps and exchanges between parts (crossing voices) is never as easy as it seems, even for such a good choir. Beautiful music, though.

Tomorrow will be some more detail work, but starting to put big sections together as well. Hopefully Friday can then be mostly running pieces and movements to get as much sense of flow as possible. Each day I also try to vary tempi and rubato so singers are prepared for whatever Kaspars wants.

Tomorrow evening after rehearsal we’re going to the Radio Orchestra’s concert, Daniel Harding conducting a big Rameau suite, and Beethoven 5—all before they head off on a tour to the Canary Islands. On Friday evening, thanks to Ragnar Bohlin’s wife Tamara, we have comp tickets to Gluck’s Orfée at the Royal Opera (Ragnar said Tamara got the last two tickets). We also stopped by Konserthuset before rehearsal to get tickets for Gustavo Dudamel’s concert with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra the night before I leave. We ended up getting seats in the choir loft, not the best place to hear the orchestra, but terrific for a dead-on view of Dudamel—it should be fascinating to watch this young phenomenon conduct a Prokokfiev cello concerto with Truls Mørk (the fantastic Norwegian cellist) and Nielsen Fifth Symphony.

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