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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sweden – January 24/25

Today’s rehearsal was perhaps the most tiring—for me and the choir. I ran the Pizzetti without break, only doing a bit of rehearsal—it’s so important for the singers to get a sense of the whole and how it fits together. The bigger challenges came with lots of time, more detailed work and many repetitions of parts of both Penderecki’s Agnus Dei and Stabat Mater. I think we got lots of good work done, but have to say I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I accomplished. These are by no means the most difficult pieces, but there are places that simply take lots of repetition to get right (or did today, at any rate). And it has places where I have to hear exactly what’s going wrong (and why) and I simply didn’t feel I did this as well today. The choir’s focus wasn’t as good today either—whether that came from me or from them, I’m not sure, but we’ll hope for a better day tomorrow. It’s important to remember that we’re all human (certainly I am!) and we all have to deal with the great days and the not so great ones.

Almost immediately after the rehearsal, we headed next door to Berwaldhallen to hear the Radio Orchestra and their 33-year old Music Director, Daniel Harding, do a concert just before they head off to their tour to the Canary Islands. The program began with a Rameau Suite from Hippolyte et Aricie. Obviously, the orchestra plays modern instruments, but they worked at elements of period style. For me (and even more for Kathryn), though, Harding’s approach was too aggressive and the sound of the strings, in particular, harsh. It didn’t engage either of us. The second piece on the program was Berlioz’ La mort de Cléopâtre, which I didn’t know, with mezzo Malena Ernman. This was much better and Ernman was really wonderful (although covered occasionally by the orchestra). Physically, she’s imposing, very tall and athletic looking, with a big voice which she uses well. She must have an amazing stylistic range, as she’s done contemporary opera (Sandström’s Staden), Mozart roles, and the lead in Cabaret. Nice to get to hear her.

The second half was Beethoven 5, and here Harding’s sense of drama, overall structure and pacing, and dynamic approach was fantastic. It was a wonderful performance.

Friday morning’s rehearsal with RK was much better. I opened with the Pärt again, concentrating entirely on intonation—as most of you know, the magic of Pärt‘s music is often in the silences and of the mood that is created over a span of time (or perhaps better put, creating a sense of timelessness). But that will be created with Kaspars when both choirs are together with him and the organist, so I worked on another area of importance in performing Pärt: really pure, clean intonation. With Pizzetti, we still needed to simply sing it more (again, only about 3 of the singers have done it before), but also to concentrate on intonation—there are some tricky places in this work. After break, the Stabat Mater came first. Here I worked “backwards,” something I do sometimes, beginning with the last section, then once it’s secure, doing the next section back until secure then connecting to the last (singing to the end), etc. This process continues until you’re fairly early in the piece. (Another way of explaining it: If there were five sections—ABCDE—I’d work E until secure, then D until secure, then sing D through E; then work C until secure, followed by running C-D-E, and so on). Since it’s our natural tendency to start work at the beginning of works, the last sections are sometimes slighted. This procedure means the final sections of the work get the most repetition. For this piece, I thought it was particularly helpful. The opening section of the Stabat Mater also needed work on intonation: the basses (in three choirs) sing a low A with each taking a syllable of the text and then sustaining it (I: Sta, II: -bat, III Ma, IV: -ter, I: Do, etc.). Since each part is sustaining a different vowel, and each vowel has its own structure of partials (sorry, non-musicians—you can just skip over this!), it’s tough for the singers to match each other’s pitch while singing different vowels. Just an acoustic phenomenon! At any rate, we closed with the Agnus Dei, first working on a few sections that were problematic, then running it. Good focus from the choir (which probably means I did a better job) and a good rehearsal to end this part of the project. It’ll be a slightly different choir next week (or probably two of them) for Matthew Passion Tuesday and Wednesday and Rachmaninoff The Bells and two folksongs on Thursday and Friday.

A word about RKs schedule: this isn’t always typical for them, but sometimes the way concerts are scheduled (particularly when they’re with the orchestra, or when there are tours), rehearsals for particular programs are scheduled all over the place. Here’s what they’re doing now through the spring:

Week 4 – the work we just did (Pizzetti, Penderecki, & Pärt)
Week 5 – Matthew Passion (2 days), Rachmaninoff Bells (2 days)
Week 6 – two more rehearsals on The Bells (with EEKK) and two on Rach Vigil (AKA Vespers)
Week 7 – one rehearsal on Vigil, last rehearsals on Bells and two concerts
Week 8 – off
Week 9 - one rehearsal on Vigil, then tour to Helsinki for both programs of Rach
Week 10 – this time they take both programs to Oslo
Week 11 – Kaspars arrives and they have rehearsals with him and the concert of the “three P’s” – also one rehearsal for Matthew Passion
Week 12 – final rehearsals for Matthew Passion and two performances
Week 13 - (week after Easter) off
Week 14 – I’m back again, for three rehearsals on Verdi Quattro Pezzi Sacri (which Peter will do on their Netherlands tour with the Netherlands Chamber Choir) and some time with the Pizzetti again (which they’ll do with the Netherlands Chamber Choir, but also on their own); and one rehearsal on Sandström April och Tystnad and Werle trees (for a domestic tour)
Week 15 – Peter arrives for work on the domestic tour program (all 4 rehearsals)
Week 16 – one rehearsal for tour, then 4 concerts in Sweden
Week 17 – me again, three rehearsals for my spring concert with them
Week 18 – mostly free, but one rehearsal for Larsson’s Förklädd Gud (God in Disguise)
Week 19 – 2 rehearsals on spring concert, one that I’m doing on the Brahms Requiem (for a tour later with Valeri Gergiev and the Rotterdam Philharmonic), and the spring concert on May 9
Week 20 – I do one more rehearsal with them on Verdi Quattro Pezzi and Pizzetti before they go to Holland and meet Peter for their tour for this week and the next. Then in Week 22, they return from the tour and do the Larsson they rehearsed back in Week 18

It’s a small glimpse into the scheduling world of RK.

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