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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil

We just had our performance last night with Pro Coro Canada of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil and it went very well, with an audience of just over 1000 enthusiastic people. It’s certainly one of my favorite works—one of those masterpieces one never gets tired of doing.

The choir was expanded from our usual 24 voices to 34, with additions from our pool of extras (including fellow blogger John Brough) and also Len Ratzlaff, Chair of the Music Department at the University of Alberta, a true choral leader in Canada, and excellent baritone (also recent guest conductor of Pro Coro), as well as Paul Grindlay.

Paul has worked with Pro Coro a number of times as a soloist and I knew he’d sung the Vigil before. His participation, which added greatly to the choir’s depth at the low end (important for this work!), came about in part from a programming decision.

The Vigil is a bit short for a concert (around an hour), so I’ve usually felt it needs something else on the program. Also, if one divides the program with an intermission, the Vespers portion of the Vigil (numbers 1-6) make a logical first half, but a bit short, with the Matins and latter portion of the Vigil (numbers 7-15) making the second half.

The question is, what else does one do before the Vigil? I’ve done a lovely piece by Peter Hallock, Phoenix (which one can find on Choral Arts’ CD recording of Hallock’s works, which I highly recommend for some beautiful pieces), but it isn’t a great programmatic pairing. I’ve also done Tavener’s Svyati for choir and solo cello, which works fantastically from a programmatic perspective, but fries the basses’ low notes with an incredibly long pedal low E.

So this time, knowing Paul’s ability as both soloist (for example, he sang the role of Jesus when Pro Coro did Ivan Moody’s Passion and Resurrection several years ago) and chorister, I approached Vladimir Morosan of Musica Russica to suggest Russian liturgical works for bass solo and choir which would be appropriate at this time of the church year, or to do with a performance of the Vigil. Vlad is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful in this repertoire, and sent me about 9 or 10 pieces, I selected 5 or 6 to send to Paul, and we ultimately settled on two by Chesnokov, including a magnificent intercession for bass deacon and choir, "Spasi Bozhe, liudi Tvoya" (O God, Save Thy People). I also chose Chesnokov’s well-known "Spasenie Sodelal" (Salvation is Created) to go in between the two other works (thanks to David Garber for the suggestion). This made a great grouping and gave the first half of the program (we went off stage after the Chesnokov to give a little break before beginning the Vigil) the kind of weight it needed to balance the second half.

As I mentioned, the performance went extremely well, certainly the best of the five or six times I’ve conducted the Vigil, and the choir kept intensity and endurance right through to the end (not easy, as you know if you’ve sung it).

Just a great experience.

After Easter spent in Edmonton, I have auditions on Monday evening for the chorus for Monteverdi’s Orfeo (a production I’ll conduct next fall here in Edmonton), board meeting on Tuesday, then back to Stockholm Wednesday evening. Kathryn (who just got here yesterday in time for the performance) goes home for another week of work, then joins me in Sweden on April 4. More from Sweden soon!


John Brough said...

Thanks for the concert Richard - it was definitely one of my career Pro Coro highlights. It felt very 'easy' to sing, which is quite the feat, considering the work involved!

Now, time to practice for my Orfeo Audition!

Richard said...


My pleasure!

I'll think about doing a post re: rehearsing the Rachmaninoff--it's definitely a challenge.

Peter said...

Belated congratulations on an amazing concert. I echo John's comment that this was a career highlight for me as a singer. I have been getting nothing but rave reviews from people who came to hear us - many of them people I had no idea were there. I am looking forward to next season with considerable anticipation.

Thanks for another great year!