Follow by Email

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Programming IV

This ended up being a LONG one--sorry!

The concert of which I speak below was recorded by CBC for later broadcast, so when we know a broadcast date, I'll be sure to announce it. Even if you aren't in Canada, you can listen via the internet.

Having said I don't as often do programs around a theme, here IS one: my recent concert with Pro Coro Canada on 24 February, One Earth Many Voices.

The theme came about because we were experimenting with a larger set of concerts called, "The Lighter Side of Pro Coro." Originally, our associate conductor, Trent Worthington, did a couple programs with that title (Trent's a talented composer and arranger himself), and the thought this year was to have a full season of six programs, three "Pro Coro Classical," and three "Pro Coro Light." Since I do four programs each season with the choir, and we had a guest conductor (Len Ratzlaff) doing a "classical" program, that meant that in addition to the Christmas program (which can count for the light side), I'd do one other concert that had to fit the "lighter" concept.

I should say, in passing, that from a marketing perspective, the concept didn't really work. We offered full subscriptions (six concerts) or audience members could subscribe to either the "classical" or "light" series of three concerts. Most of our subscribers did either the full subscription or the "classic" series, few opted for the "light" series. At least with our audience, the "light" label by itself wasn't a big attraction. Next season (with seven programs), we go back to either a full season package or a "mini-pack" that subscribers can choose themselves.

I chose to do a program based around folk music, to which we gave the above title (I actually liked, "One World, Many Voices" better, but there you go!).

Now to get more to my programming style, as exemplified by this particular program, anyway.

With most of my programs, I start with a work or works I really want to do, then start building around it. For me, it's all about how the pieces chosen work together: they can contrast nicely, or several works can complement each other. In that sense, I want the audience to either feel the connections I've made or, in going from one set to another, to move to something that feels very fresh. For that reason, once I come up with a work or two that will "anchor" the program, then it's often a matter of figuring out what else will work well with it (I've already spoken of the other things that go into programming--see earlier posts).

Because I didn't want all the arrangements to be traditional (harmonic language, style), I chose to begin each half with something quite different. The first half opened with Jan Sandström's Biegga Luothe, which is based on a Sami "Yoik," or improvised chant. The Sami are the ethnic people in Lapland in the north of Sweden, who for centuries have herded reindeer. Sandström grew up in northern Sweden and for some time has taught composition in Piteå, which has the furthest northern School of Music. A friend, Erik Westberg, has also taught there for a long time and also has his own, professional vocal ensemble. Erik's worked closely with Jan and this piece was premiered by his vocal ensemble. The Yoik is by Johan Märak, a Sami who's been a logger, reindeer herder, and is also ordained in the Swedish church. Since hearing about the piece from Erik in 2002 at the IFCM conference in Minneapolis, I'd gotten a score and it was "on my list" of pieces to do someday. Sandström's piece is challenging for the choir, uses a baritone solo for the Yoik, along with ceremonial drum, and includes barking dogs (the choir singing clusters on the text, "Zagga" in fast mixed meters), and the sounds of the ptarmigan (made by the choir as well). For those interested in the music, it's published by Gehrmans.

To make the opening even a little more dramatic, after I verbally introduced the concert in general and the piece specifically, we played a cut from Erik's CD, Across the Bridge of Hope, found here, which has Johan Märak singing the chant himself and playing the drum, while the choir walked on stage. It's a wonderful piece, well worth doing, if you have a choir that can sing it.

For the opening of the second half, I chose Sarah Hopkins' Past Life Melodies, which many of you may know (if not, check here). It's inspired by aboriginal music and sounds, in three large sections, the first with a broad melody that's first hummed, then sung on ah, then on "yeah." The second has an aboriginal chant that begins while the final chord is held, and gradually adds voices to the chant on each repetition, while the chord gradually becomes a drone on b. The final section has members of the choir doing overtone singing above the drone. Again, for more drama, we spread the singers out in the formation that Hopkins herself recommends, but in the large choir loft above the stage. If you're interested in doing the piece, Hopkins' website offers a recording of her teaching the piece to a choir, including overtone singing, as well as a complete performance.

So, after I'd chosen these two "anchors" to open each half, I had to find the right pieces to accompany them. In many ways, this was a difficult program to do: there are lots of possibilities, I don't like doing programs with lots of "little pieces," etc. I knew I wanted to do some Canadian works and I knew I wanted a set of spirituals (hey, I love them!). I looked at LOTS of Canadian works. Early on I decided I wanted to do a set of French Canadian works as well, so knew I'd end with Robert Sund's (yes, I know he's a Swede!) delightful arrangement of Alouette. So, after asking friends (Pat Abbott, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors, who's well-versed in French Canadian repertoire, and some of my Francophone singers), I decided on a set of three: Donald Patriquin's Ah! si mon moine voulait danser (which uses the traditional French Canadian folk instrument of spoons for percussion along with piano), Dégénérations (more in a minute), and Alouette.

As a passing note, I most often have done sets of three pieces that are otherwise unrelated (Christmas pieces, motets, etc.). It allows for a set that feels connected and organic, but enough variation (in key, mood, etc.) that there is variety. There's no magic number here, but it allows me to do smaller works as a set (and I usually try to get the audience not to applaud in between each one).

Dégénérations is an unusual piece, not really choral, and more of a pop/folk song, originated by the group Mes aïeux, who characterize their style as "funklore." Arranged by Suzanne Lainesse, the song expresses the desire of Québécois to connect with their roots. It deplores the loss of family, speaking of the "great-great-grandmother who had 14 children, the great-grandmother with almost as many, the grandmother with three, your mother, who had you as a mistake, and you, who get rid of the child you conceive. The piece "went viral," so to speak, with huge public demand forcing radio stations to add it to their playlists more than two years after the song came out. We did it with the addition of spoons, a broom, drum, and hockey stick (all as percussion--we had to add a piece of sandpaper to the floor to make the broom sound!) I chose this not because it was great music or great choral music, but because within the context of the program it showed that the "folk" are still creating music. You can find its original in a music video with English subtitles here.

So, for the first half, I have an opening and closing set. I chose to follow Biegga Luothe with a big contrast, two of Astor Piazzolla's tangos, in vocal arrangements by Oscar Escalada: Verano Porteño and Primavera Porteña. Both are published by Kjos. Connected with an earlier post about learning new styles, I got recordings of these pieces (in several versions) as played by Piazzolla himself with his quintet, partly for my own edification, but also played examples for the choir at one rehearsal.

To follow the Piazzolla, we went to Indonesia by way of Canadian R. Murray Schafer with his Gamelan, quite a fun piece imitating bell sounds using Balinese solfege syllables (dong, deng, dung, dang, ding) for their scale (C, D, F, G, Bb).

Quite a trip on the first half from Lapland to Argentina to Bali to French Canada!

As I said, I'd also early on decided I wanted to do a set of spirituals, and I also had in mind doing a set of folksongs from the British Isles. So that's how I followed Past Life Melodies on the 2nd half.

From the British Isles, I chose three classics: Vaughn Williams' arrangements of Just as the Tide Was Flowing and The Turtle Dove, plus Gustav Holst's I Love My Love (and in that order). I'd wanted to do Canadian Jonathan Quick's clever arrangement of Loch Lomand for some time, so that became the end of the set. I also had the idea to do one or more of Michael McGlynn's (find him here or here) beautiful pieces or arrangements for his group Anuna. I listened to a lot of his music and found one, My Lagan Love, which was a perfect solo match for one of my tenors (Caleb Nelson). Unfortunately, it wasn't listed on McGlynn's site for sale, so I wrote him through his MySpace site and he quickly replied. Michael was nice enough to send me the arrangement in a pdf file, saying just buy any arrangement on his website to compensate him. Thanks, Michael! Notice this breaks my usual pattern of groups of three pieces--just to show you that I'm never totally consistent!

For my set of spirituals (here I did choose three), the last group on the program, I chose three favorites: Warren Martin's arrangement of Great Day, Norman Luboff's Deep River, and William L. Dawson's Ezekiel Saw de Wheel. I don't know how it happened (since I've always liked the arrangement), but I've never conducted Ezekiel, but what a great arrangement! This made for a very strong, fun end to the program.

However, I also did one encore. I'd originally planned for a set of Canadian folksongs in English, including Harry Somers' well-known Feller from Fortune, but decided the program was a bit too long. One of my singers suggested we use it as an encore (thanks, Janet!) and (being smart enough to recognize good advice), I said yes.

Choosing this program was a slow process. I had a folder and piano music stand that got filled with possibilities (gradually smaller as pieces went back to my files after I eliminated them). I had sticky notes with the groupings written on them (Biegga, Piazzolla, Spirituals, etc.), which I switched around in different potential orders. For a long time I had two Canadian groupings, so when I finally dropped one, that meant other groupings changed positions and even what half of the program they were on. It's a matter of trial and error, seeing how a particular group works with another, seeing how a particular piece works in each group. Music I love had to be put away because it didn't fit as well as another piece. But bit by bit, the program came together.

One final note: when I was at PLU and the choir was on tour (primarily in churches) I almost always gave verbal program notes. This is a great way to "connect" with the audience and with some works (especially contemporary pieces) offered a way for the listeners into the emotional world of a piece in an unfamiliar musical language.

While I do this occasionally with Pro Coro, it's not something I do often or with major works (although I probably will for our upcoming Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil on Good Friday), for this kind of program it's a great idea. So here I asked members of the choir to volunteer to give the intros (making even better connections with the audience, since they get to experience the singers' personalities). My singers did a terrific job (well, I've got a talented and creative bunch!) and the response was great. One of my singers, Gillian Brinston-Kurschat, is originally from Newfoundland, where Feller from Fortune originates. She not only helped the choir and me with proper "Newfie" pronunciation ("Feller from Fahrchun"), but she and her husband Michael came up with a brilliant introduction: she spoke "Newfie" and our British, proper, soft-spoken accompanist Jeremy Spurgeon, "translated." Brilliant and fun.

I'll have more posts on programming, but this is just one account of the sometimes messy, slow job of building a program.

Beautiful ESO concert

While at my "Edmonton home" preparing Pro Coro's most recent concert, I went to hear the ESO's concert with Music Director Bill Eddins. Bill's has a great blog, which you'll find here. Bill writes well, has a great sense of humor, and lends an interesting bent on the orchestral world.

The concert combined three masters: Bernstein's (Symphonic Dances fromWest Side Story), Gershwin (Robert Russell Bennett's great arrangement/symphonic portrait of Porgy and Bess), and the Ellington/Strayhorn take on Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (in Jeff Tyzik's arrangement), along with a new commission by Edmonton-based (but currently in Edinburgh, Scotland) composer, Allan Gilliland: Dreaming of the Masters II--Rhapsody GEB (Gershwin, Ellington, Bernstein). Bill was piano soloist for the Gilliland.

This was both, I think, a great program concept and brilliant performance. Bill has said on his blog that the ESO plays this kind of stuff very well, and that was abundantly true. I work regularly with the principals of the orchestra, whenever we do choral/orchestral works, and always love working with them--they're great people and talented musicians who always want to do the best job they can. There's no "getting through a gig" with them. However, I haven't really heard them do this style, so it was fun to hear and watch them a work with this program.

Bill's an excellent pianist who regularly plays/conducts concertos and he did beautifully here, performing/conducting Allan's piece from memory (as he did with the Bernstein Symphonic Dances).

I've worked with Allan before, since we commissioned him for a Christmas work with Pro Coro several years ago. It was a good piece, but not one that I think will enter the repertoire. Allan's background is as a trumpeter, principally doing jazz and he knows this style inside and out, as well as being an excellent orchestrator. The piece simply works, and will get performances all over the place, I'm sure. His first Dreaming of the Masters piece, for clarinetist James Campbell was also a great success, having been done by the Boston Pops already. For Allan, I think he's found a perfect "niche" in which to work--this doesn't mean he can't do other styles, he certainly can, but this should get his name and works performed on a regular basis. A talented guy!

An enjoyable evening in every way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Richard Westenburg dies

Dick Westenbug just died at age 75.

If you read the obit below, from the NY Times, you'll get a sense of the kind of background and thorough training Dick had, along with the fantastic music-making of his career--he was a terrific musician--but perhaps not enough about his pure love of music and great sense of humor.

I didn't know Dick well--we served on the Chorus America board for several years and always chatted at conferences, but got to know each other a bit better when we both taught (me in the Fall Quarter and him in the Winter Quarter) at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati as guest professors last year. During his time at CCM and after, we kept up an email correspondence about teaching, our shared students, and music.

He had a love and passion for music that was extraordinary, and it never seemed to lose its freshness for him. He was always delighted to talk about music and was fascinated by what I was doing in Sweden (he noted that he had Swedish heritage, but had never visited).

I especially remember standing with him next to John Leman (another wonderful musician we lost last fall) at a hotel in Minneapolis at the IFCM conference in 2002. This was after a young Russian choir had given a great performance (including the Schnittke Choir Concerto) and they met up with Gary Graden's choir from Stockholm. They sang for each other informally in the lobby, then joined together on several pieces they had in common, including Bogoroditse Devo from the All-Night Vigil. What fun to be with those two guys listening to this great, informal performance, both simply delighted to be listening to it!

There's also a wonderful interview with Dick in a recent Choral Journal. Don't miss it--it does give a sense of who he was and what he was about as a musician--and lots of great ideas.

He'll be missed.


NY Times Obit

February 21, 2008
Richard Westenburg, Choral Conductor, Dies at 75

By ALLAN KOZINN
Richard Westenburg, a choral conductor who founded the Musica Sacra Chorus and Orchestra in 1964 and made it one of the most renowned choruses in New York by the end of the 1970s, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Norwalk, Conn. He was 75 and lived in Redding, Conn.

The cause was colon cancer, said Bob Gallo, the spokesman for Musica Sacra.

Mr. Westenburg was a lively, inspiring director who kept close tabs on changing musicological notions about the performance of Baroque works but balanced those prescriptions with his own strongly etched sense of style, usually with stimulating results. His signature work was Handel’s “Messiah,” in which he led Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall most years at Christmastime.

In the late 1970s Mr. Westenburg’s “Messiah” performances were widely considered the best in New York. His choir was a trim ensemble of between 30 and 35 singers, and his brisk readings offered a striking contrast to the mammoth Victorian “Messiah” performances that had become commonplace. In a review in The New York Times in 1977, Allen Hughes wrote that Mr. Westenburg’s interpretation “probably comes about as close as possible to an ideal representation of the work in terms of current musicological information and present-day demands of musical performance in general.”

Mr. Westenburg’s 1981 recording of “Messiah” with Musica Sacra, on RCA Red Seal, was highly regarded in its time and remains a favorite.

When recordings and live performances by ensembles using period instruments became more plentiful, and the Musica Sacra “Messiah” came to seem dated, Mr. Westenburg was not complacent. Although he did not make the move to period instruments, he hired orchestra players conversant with the sound and style that early-music specialist bands produced. And from the 1990s on he seemed intent on reconciling several competing schools of thought about “Messiah,” seeking to retain the sharp focus of his reduced choral sound while at the same time embracing the velvety tone, expansiveness and grandeur of more traditional, large-scale performances.

Beyond “Messiah,” Mr. Westenburg commanded a vast repertory that stretched from the works of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century abbess and composer, to contemporary scores by Ligeti, Messiaen, David Diamond and Meredith Monk. Over the years Musica Sacra gave memorable performances of the Monteverdi Vespers, Haydn’s “Creation,” the Verdi Requiem, Liszt’s “Christus,” the Fauré Requiem and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B minor.

In 1979 Mr. Westenburg started and directed a Bach festival at Lincoln Center — it was called Basically Bach, a play on the alliterative name of the center’s successful Mostly Mozart festival — which ran for a decade. Although his performances with Musica Sacra were at its core, the festival also offered chamber music, instrumental recitals and choral concerts led by other conductors.

Richard Westenburg was born in Minneapolis on April 26, 1932, and won several small piano competitions as a child. As a teenager he became interested in the organ, and in 1954 he earned his Bachelor of Music degree as an organist at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. He completed a master’s in musicology, with a minor in film, at the University of Minnesota in 1956, and in 1959 he went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, Pierre Cochereau and Jean Langlais.

After two years as director of music at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, Mass., he moved to New York in 1962 and enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary. He joined the faculty at the seminary in 1963 and completed his doctorate in sacred music in 1968.

In 1964 Mr. Westenburg was hired as organist and choirmaster at Central Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and he quickly assembled an early version of the Musica Sacra Choir. During his 10 years at the church, Musica Sacra not only performed as its resident choir but gave public performances as well, and began to win a following. So did Mr. Westenburg himself, as conductor of the Collegiate Chorale from 1973 to 1980 and as a popular lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1979 to 1982.

When he left Central Presbyterian Church to become conductor in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in 1974, he brought Musica Sacra with him. But the choir was having financial troubles and canceled its public concerts in 1975. Its “Messiah” performance that year became a symbol of the ensemble’s determination: the concert was held in Mr. Westenburg’s living room, with the choristers and listeners partaking of a potluck dinner before the performance.

Mr. Westenburg assembled a board, and within five years the choir was thriving. When another financial crisis hit in 1994, his choristers, who are paid for their work, waived their fees for a few concerts, which were offered as benefits for the organization. In 1990 Mr. Westenburg became music director at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, again bringing Musica Sacra with him as the resident choir.

In addition to conducting, Mr. Westenburg taught choral music and conducting at the Mannes College of Music from 1971 to 1977, and led the choral department at the Juilliard School from 1977 to 1989. He was also a visiting professor at Rutgers University from 1986 to 1992.

Mr. Westenburg, whose two marriages ended in divorce, is survived by his sons Eric, of Reno, Nev., and Mario, of Redding; his daughters, Kirsten Westenburg Barnhorst of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Nadia Westenburg of Redding; and six grandchildren.


Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Privacy Policy Search Corrections RSS First Look Help Contact Us Work for Us Site Map

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Great post by Kenneth Woods

Kenneth Woods is an orchestral conductor with an excellent blog. His most recent post deals with the issue of having to repeat instructions for your musicians. Good thoughts on rehearsal technique.

I'd recommend you read it (and add his blog to your reader).

My response in the comments section was as follows:

Ken,

I’ve been lurking for awhile and really enjoy your site and posts. I live near Seattle (in Tacoma, actually), but conduct a professional chamber choir in Edmonton (and know John, who’s sung with us quite a bit). This is a terrific post.

This issue of having to repeat yourself is certainly an area of frustration. Like John, as a choral conductor who works fairly often with orchestra, my experience has usually been that orchestras are much quicker to remember a comment than amateur choirs, in particular. With my own groups (I’ve done amateur community choirs, a symphonic choir, 21 years of university teaching, and a couple professional-level groups, plus guest conducting with the Swedish Radio Choir, a top-level professional choir), I’ve always tried to get them to make changes asked for immediately and to make sure they don’t make that particular mistake again (or to continue to do the asked for articulation, phrasing, etc., without my having to ask for it again). This is a constant battle, not one that I’ve ever been able to solve for all time, but we’ve always made progress.

A related area is that of being able to generalize from one instruction to all similar places in the music–if I ask for a particular articulation and the same or similar music comes back later, the singers or players should automatically apply the same articulation.

I think instrumentalists are also taught better to read everything on the page (not just notes, but dynamics, articulations, etc.). The number of singers with this discipline are few and far between. Years ago when I was conducting the Seattle Symphony Chorale, I remember being astonished in an audition when one bass read everything on the page–something I hadn’t heard in about 100 other singers auditioning. Again, something we need to work on teaching our ensembles.

I think of all of these kinds of things as “disciplines,” those things we teach our ensembles to do as a matter of course. In the same way, I need to have my own disciplines of approach–something I have to work on, too! For example, I find if I’m pressured for time (I wrote about this recently in my own blog), I tend to rush: talk too fast, rush through instructions, pace a little too quickly. This accomplishes the opposite of what I want, since some members of the ensemble will miss or misunderstand instructions, miss where we’re starting, etc., resulting in wasted time and their frustration. Just another area for me to be aware of personally.

Another area of discipline for the conductor is telling people where to begin again after stopping. I actually tend to do better with orchestra, since there are fewer ways to give out the information: bar number, rehearsal letter, “after A, one, two, three, four bars,” or “at the key change.” I also know I have to give players time to put down their instrument, take the pencil, make markings, take up their instrument again, play. With choral scores (unless I’m doing a choral/orchestral work, where I always work from the full score and give instructions as above), one can do all of the above, plus “page/system/bar,” using text, etc. This is purely MY problem, of course–I simply need to be more consistent. I have a friend who, with choral scores, uses a system where the instruction, “page 4, second system, bar 3,” was abbreviated 4-2-3. He taught this to his choirs and it worked quite well for him. I haven’t been so disciplined in my approach!

On the other hand, with all the ensembles I’ve worked with for a period of time, we’ve improved in our basic disciplines over time. And as they get to know me and what I value and prioritize (in sound, phrasing, articulation, etc.), the faster we get where we’re going and the fewer times I have to ask again for one thing or another.

No matter what the level of your ensemble, it’s clear that the more we can teach our ensembles this kind of discipline and focus, the more we’ll be able to accomplish.

Wish I had the magic answer!

Richard

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Teaching musicianship

We all have “performance imperatives” with our choirs and usually limited time to achieve them. However, with a choir in an educational setting, there’s also a need to think about the development of musical skills in your individual singers. A pure focus on performance may result in singers who’ve been a part of some great concerts (which is important), but few skills to carry them on to the next phases of their musical lives.

We also have to accept that in many cases, we’re the primary teachers of these skills. Even with a high-level university ensemble (such as the choir I conducted at PLU), not all my singers were music majors (and therefore not taking classes in theory/ear training). And even for my music majors, those courses may not develop the kinds of skills they may need most in the real world after graduation.

So, how do you do this?

I’ve tried lots of things, but much can be accomplished in the normal flow of rehearsals. First, I believe you learn to read by reading (this doesn’t mean that various systems of solfege aren’t effective, just that sight-reading regularly—even without any system— makes you a better sight-reader). So consequently, I want my singers to read through the music we’re going to do the very first time. This means, whenever possible, to keep going, using as little (or much) support that is necessary from the keyboard. But don’t spoon-feed or teach by rote! This can’t happen in all situations (different for every choir), but if they can’t read all parts at once, have the whole choir read just one at a time. Do it at a slower tempo. Take away text and sing on a neutral syllable. Just do rhythm and chant text. If your singers never get a chance to try to read music, how will they ever learn? The point is, let them read! Make them read!

I’ve also used different materials with my choirs specific to sight-reading—Bach chorales (we bought a set of chorale books), Nancy Telfer’s books (we also bought a set of those), and I’ve sometimes just taken music out of our library that we were not going to perform, simply to read. It doesn’t take much time to do this within the rehearsal—just a few minutes. Taking music out of the library took more time (getting music out then collecting it, whereas the other books were always in their folders)—but most of that time was administrative (choosing music, getting it out of the library, organized and back into the library)—but was a great way to give the singers not only reading experience, chosen for their current abilities, but to expose my future conductors to more repertoire.

On a personal level, I didn’t begin my university studies as a good sight-reader (or much of one at all). But I sang in virtually every choral grad recital I could—usually with little rehearsal time. I went to workshops, like the ones I mentioned at Western Washington University, or at ACDA conferences, where I sight-read. With a group of friends, we set up a madrigal-reading group (combined with dinner), which was great fun. While my ear training courses helped, most of my abilities came from . . . lots of sight-reading (what a concept!).

A different area than pure sight-reading ability is the question of how quickly an ensemble can get a program ready for performance. Years ago, when I was conducting my first community choir with Seattle Pro Musica, I was part of a study group organized by Bob Scandrett (of WWU) to England—this was an amazing trip (I’ll write about it in another blog)—but one of the things that astounded me was how quickly the British choirs worked and how few rehearsals they had for a given program. Sight-reading ability is a part of this, of course, but other musical skills (ensemble skills, ability with different languages, etc.) as well as expectations also play a part. I was inspired to push my choir harder and, when I got back, put together a very ambitious season. I’m not at home, so don’t have the particulars at hand, but did more programs than usual, cutting the number of rehearsals per program, and didn’t do easy repertoire (I remember the first program was C.P.E. Bach’s Magnificat and Handel’s Dixit Dominus). This had some success, although I (in my youthful enthusiasm) over-shot the mark. However, I did learn that if I normally scheduled, let’s say 9 rehearsals for a program, and now did 7, it didn’t make any difference in the ultimate performance. If they had more rehearsals, they simply worked more slowly. We’d still reach the same preparation point with two rehearsals to go, for example, with 7 rehearsals versus 9. There are limits to this, of course, but you might be surprised by how much more quickly your singers can work if they have to, and get used to it.

With this in mind, at PLU I also tried different things to deal with these issues. I certainly pushed my choirs to sing lots of repertoire (and music that would really challenge them), but added other things as well. On an occasional basis, since we had chapel services at PLU and the choirs would sing several times a semester, I’d simply hand out something as an anthem the day before and we’d learn it (other times, of course, we’d do music from our current repertoire). Richard Nance, my choral colleague, and I also started an evensong series, doing evensong services in conjunction with campus ministry, two times in the fall term, three times in the spring, rotating in the various choirs (but primarily the two mixed choirs). We used the evening prayer service in the Lutheran Book of Worship (which is beautiful) but on a musical level, frankly, were very Anglican! We did a nice variety of “Mags and Nuncs,” from Stanford’s Bb, A, and G settings, Howells’ Coll Reg, Rutter’s lovely homage to Stanford, etc. We also chanted the Psalms, primarily in Peter Hallock’s beautiful settings. Again, we didn’t use a lot of rehearsal time for this—the point was to do it as service music and to prepare quickly. I will repeat again as well—this also gave my students exposure to a great repertoire, something important for them either as singers or as future conductors.

Another project to push them to work quickly was challenging them to learn a mass in one week (4 rehearsals, Mon-Thurs, our usual schedule) and sing it in Friday’s chapel service. We did this two years in a row, one year the Schubert Mass in G, then next Mozart’s Missa Brevis in D Minor (K. 197, if I remember correctly). For both of these we also used student instrumentalists. Were these ready-to-record performances? Of course not, but you’d be surprised (and so were they) at what they could do. The following year we were doing the Fauré Requiem in conjunction with another choir and the Tacoma Symphony in the fall. So we also did it (in Rutter’s edition/small orchestration) in our All Saints chapel service, using a mix of faculty and student instrumentalists. The following two years we did first the Rutter Requiem (chamber version) and then the Howells Requiem. We took more than a week for this, of course! The Rutter was only done on that one occasion, whereas the Howells ended up on our tour program.

These are just a few ideas of how to approach training better musicians in your choir—feel free to add your own ideas and experiences—or argue with me—in the comments section (don’t be shy!). But I think the over-riding message is: get your singers to read regularly and challenge them to prepare/learn more quickly. These things all take time and in the short term may slow down your preparations for your own “performance imperatives,” but in the long term you’ll be able to do much more with your choirs—and you’ll also have singers who walk away from their experience with you with musical skills that they’ll use throughout their lifetime.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sweden – February 7/8, 2008

Thursday
We went by the first hour of RK rehearsal (along with EEKK) for Rachmaninoff Bells, led by Risto Joost. I have to say, I’m even more impressed with Risto’s work. Of course, it helps that he’s fluent in Russian, but also understands the style/sound elements in this music. One wouldn’t guess that he’s so young: his rehearsal is relaxed, yet demands a lot of detail work, and he’s clearly in command. Very enjoyable, and I think the combined choirs will sound quite spectacular (and quite Russian) for these performances (in Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki).

We only spent an hour at the rehearsal, since we had to catch the train to Uppsala for that evening’s performance of the Cherubini Requiem with Orphei Drängar and the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra. The hall, part of a conference center that just opened, is interestingly set up: conference facilities below and two LONG escalator rides to the concert hall, which is on top of the building. Uppsala doesn’t have tall buildings and it’s relatively flat, so I imagine the view (the “lobby” goes all around the hall with lots of windows) is spectacular. Of course, since we were there after dark, it was a little difficult to tell! Hopefully we’ll see it this spring in the daylight. The hall itself isn’t that beautiful. Other than red seats, everything is grey. However, the sound is pretty good—clear, but without much extra resonance to give a bloom to the sound.

The program opened with Berwald’s Symphony Serieuse in g minor. Berwald’s an important Swedish composer (remember, the Radio’s hall is Berwaldhallen), but I wasn’t particularly struck by this work.

The second half was Cherubini’s Requiem in d minor for male choir and orchestra. This isn’t a work that’s often done—it’s fairly challenging for the choir, and there just aren’t that many good, big male choirs. OD, of course, is a good, big male choir and they performed really well. Folke Alin did the choral preparation and his work, as I’ve said before, is excellent.

Paul Mäggi, the Estonian conductor of the chamber orchestra, is also very good. His gestures are understated, but clear and expressive. The orchestra (strings 6-5-4-4-3, double winds, 2 trpts, 3 trombones and timpani) also play very well.

I’d listened to the work long ago (long enough that I remember it was on an LP!) and don’t remember being that impressed, but after this performance, I’d put it on my list of works to do someday—should the performing circumstances be right!

Friday
Today was prep day to leave—doing laundry, cleaning up and other mundane tasks—but we also looked forward to hearing the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Symphony Orchestra under their chief conductor, the (barely) 27 year old wunderkind, Gustavo Dudamel, who will also become Music Director of the LA Philharmonic in 2009. Check out this YouTube video of him leading his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Bernstein’s Mambo—and this interview during the London Proms.

All I can say, based on watching this concert (and I say “watching” advisedly—we were seated in the front row of the choir stalls directly behind the orchestra, so we had a dead-on view of Dudamel the entire time), is that the hype ain’t hype—he is that good.

It was an interesting program, opening with a premiere (they’d just done the world premiere in Gothenburg before coming to Stockholm)—Paula af Malmberg Ward’s Operatic. She came out to introduce the material—essentially a set of variations, with Dudamel and the orchestra then playing examples. The piece itself is strong, lots of interesting musical ideas and a wonderful orchestration. It also included the orchestra members speaking a text by Ward, which she’d had translated into Spanish.

Next on the program was the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra, with the great Norwegian cellist, Truls Mørk. A fantastic piece I didn’t know, it was premiered by the 20 year old Rostopovich in 1952. Mørk and the orchestra gave a wonderful performance—just stunning. After many times being demanded back to the stage, Mørk played a simple Grieg melody (I recognized the tune, but couldn’t place it--I think it was one of his songs), softly, slowly and incredibly beautifully. A gorgeous way to go off after the virtuosic Prokofiev.

After intermission, Dudamel turned to the Nielsen Fifth Symphony. Another work I was unfamiliar with, and another spectacular performance. Having not heard it before, I can’t compare with other performances, but it’s no cool, Nordic work, at least not in Dudamel’s hands.

Dudamel is fascinating to watch: intensely musical, his gestures dramatic, varied, and always to the emotional point of the music. See him if you can!

This was a great way to end the winter part of my Swedish adventures this year. It’s late and I have to get up at 5 AM to catch my plane to London and on to Edmonton, so goodnight!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sweden – February 5/6/7, 2008

Monday
. . . was a relaxed day with nothing scheduled. A time for a bit of score study (upcoming Pro Coro concert), catching up with email, and since it was a fairly nice day, time for a walk, too. That evening we also saw a documentary on the violinist Maxim Vengerov on tv, called Living the Dream. It’s just terrific and well worth seeing if you get a chance (I see it’s available through netflix, if you’re a subscriber).

Tuesday
We went to Risto Joost’s rehearsal with RK on the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil. Risto is a talented young Estonian conductor (b. 1980) who has studied both choral and orchestral conducting in Tallin and Vienna. A counter-tenor, he has sung with a number of groups, including the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (which achieved prominence under Tõnu Kaljuste) under Paul Hillier in 2001-02. In 1999 he founded his own chamber choir, Voces Musicales, and has guest-conducted an impressive list of ensembles, including the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tallinn Baroque Orchestra, Tallinn Youth Orchestra, as well as the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Estonian National Male Choir, Swedish Radio Choir, Ars Nova Copenhagen. Since 2005 he’s also been in Jorma Panula’s conducting class in Stockholm—I saw him briefly in the class on Wednesday.

Risto speaks perfect British English, also Russian and (since he studied in Vienna) I assume at least German (and probably some other languages as well). He led quite a good rehearsal of RK, first running through the work before break (RK has sung it many times), then working on the last three movements plus number 11 afterwards. Quite a few RK members were ill (either missing or sitting out), so the quality of what the choir was doing was a bit rougher than one would ordinarily expect (at the very end of the rehearsals there were 3 out of 8 altos singing). Risto dealt with it very well, concentrating on language, rhythm, and the sound he wanted. He also uses his voice to demonstrate well. I’m sorry I won’t be around to see what he eventually does with the concert.

After lunch, I met with Arne Lundmark to talk a bit more about what I’ll be doing in the Spring, finalize repertoire, schedule, concert dress, etc. As I’ve said, I think Arne is a very good person to have in this position with RK now. As a very fine singer himself (he still teaches voice one day a week at the Royal Conservatory, and works as a soloist), and former long-time member of EEKK, he understands both good singing and good ensemble singing. He also understands the choral world and what it means to have a world-class choir. To hear him sing, get Eric’s 3rd CD in his series of contemporary Swedish choral music, in Sven-David Sandström’s Etyd Nr. 4, som e-moll (a truly gorgeous piece, one of my favorites and one of Sven-David’s most Romantic works). Arne sings the baritone solo beautifully.

Wednesday
I’d been in touch with Cecilia Rydinger-Alin earlier about her schedule and today was the day I could visit the Royal College of Music. She’s been promoted to Professor of orchestral conducting now (a big honor) and runs the program there (Jorma Panula, who is also Professor is also there, but less frequently). Today there was a guest teacher, Are Sandbakken (Tues/Wed/Thurs) from Oslo, to teach the conductors about working with strings. Are is former principal violist for the Oslo Philharmonic, where he played under Mariss Jansons (see this recent laudatory article about Janssons in the Washington Post) and many others, and now teaches chamber music at the Royal Conservatory in Oslo. He’s done these master classes for several years in Stockholm and has a wonderful, warm, and extremely musical approach. I only saw part of his class with the students, but here he was working with them on repertoire (Stravinsky Concerto in D, Grieg Holborn Suite, Elgar Serenade for Strings) they would conduct later that day with orchestra—at this point the students conducting pianos with Are playing viola. He’s very good with gesture, always asking for (and demonstrating) musical gestures that communicate with (not against) string technique. When I first arrived, Risto was just finishing work. The next conductor worked on the Grieg Holberg Suite, and here Are was also concerned with good eye contact, as well as finding ways to work with a Romantic-era rubato (after the break he was going to play a recording of period piano playing, which I missed, since I went to lunch with Cecilia). More than anything else, he communicated the joy of music making—he’s clearly a talented and inspirational teacher.

While the class had a break (they were working just with Are from about 10 AM until 1:30 PM or so), I went to lunch with Cecilia. As I’d talked about last year, she began as a choral conductor (and remains one as conductor of Allmänna Sången, her chamber choir in Uppsala), but after completing the diplom program with Eric, began the orchestral conducting program. Her position at the Conservatory is about 60% and she still keeps some guest conducting as well. She and her husband, Folke Alin, have three children, so that keeps them busy, too! Folke is one of the two choirmasters at the opera, in addition to coaching (in fact, he did most of the choral preparation of the production of Orphée which we saw), and for many years has been accompanist and assistant conductor of Orphei Drängar, the great men’s chorus in Uppsala. We’ll get to a performance of the Cherubini Requiem with OD and the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra in Uppsala tomorrow evening that Folke has prepared. Cecilia and Folke are both candidates for the position of conductor of OD (along with Mats Nilsson—I wrote about his last year) and won’t find out until early May who has been appointed to the position. Cecilia’s also a talented and devoted teacher—at some point I hope to observe her teaching as well, perhaps later this spring.

After lunch I watched a bit more of the class with Are before they took a lunch break, then joined them again at 3 PM when the students worked with the orchestra (strings 3-3-1-1-1 with three professionals—two violins and cello—and the rest conservatory students). In this case, Are let the students work without interruption, just taking notes to give them later. When possible, I like to do this, too, to let the conductors develop their own rhythm in rehearsal (I’ll never forget a master class I participated in with a teacher who will remain nameless, who’d never seen me work before, and stopped me in the 2nd bar of the piece—nice way to find out how someone conducts!). The string ensemble was good, as were the conducting students. As I mentioned last year, the students here get to work with members of the Radio Orchestra and another professional orchestra, so they get a fair amount of practical experience with professionals (as do the choral conducting students, who work once a week with a 16-voice vocal ensemble made up of professionals, most from RK or EEKK). This is important, and something I wish could happen regularly in American universities.

I only was able to stay for about an hour and a half, not the full session, then headed back to meet Kathryn for dinner.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sweden – February 3/4, 2008

Saturday
This was a St. Jacobs /Gary Graden /Urmas Sisask weekend, and a delightful one.

Urmas Sisask is an Estonian composer, not nearly as well known (even in Estonia) as his other countrymen such as Tormis and Kreek. Born in 1960, he graduated in composition from the Tallin Conservatory in 1985, but his most important developments happened in 1987-88, when on his own he was studying Gregorian chant, early polyphony, dance rhythms from the renaissance, early baroque monody, madrigals from the 16th century, and the music of Tormis and Pärt. Combined with his love of astronomy, he developed a theoretical system that gave him a “planetary scale.” Finally, this came down to five pitches: F#, G#, A, C#, and D (he later discovered, to his surprise, that it is identical to the Japanese Kumayoshi mode). In 1988 he composed his Gloria Patri, which consists of settings of 24 Latin texts for choir and vocal quartet.

Saturday night’s concert consisted of 18 of these 24 hymns, in a concert lasting a little more than an hour. Gary performed it with an octet (of which he was a member), rather than a larger choir, which worked fantastically from the standpoint of tuning (they were seated in a semi-circle, using music stands with stand lights). Since the music is primarily 4-part, most of the lines were doubled, except for more obvious solo lines. This was accompanied by a series of slides projected on a screen at the front of the church of gorgeous images of galaxies and star clusters taken from the Hubble telescope. The effect was wonderful, particularly since the concert started at 3 PM with ambient light from outside the church gradually turning to total darkness by the end of the performance. It was meditative and inspiring.

The music itself is minimalist, perhaps closest to Pärt, but still its own, unique style. There’s a lot of repetition of short phrases and all the pitches are limited to the scale listed above (Gary says for tuning purposes, they think of most of the music as in f# minor, with some pieces more clearly D major). The early music influences are obvious, with some Gregorian lines, a fugue, a passacaglia, Venetian school double choir, and some with dance rhythms.

The performance was terrific: wonderful sound, tuning, dynamic shape, and drama, within the limits of the music. The entire atmosphere worked together, the ambiance and great acoustics in the church, the projections of the galaxies on the screen, the change from outside light to darkness—and midway through the piece you could also sense that the audience had become “entrained,” tuned together through the music (there were about 300 present). Having done Pärt’s Passio (particularly in one performance at St. James Cathedral in Seattle where the clergy followed the Stations of the Cross during the performance) and Ivan Moody’s Passion and Resurrection in Edmonton, I know it’s not easy to create such an atmosphere, to allow the audience to enter that particular world. Very magical.

Afterwards, we went with Gary and a few of the singers to an Italian restaurant not far away. It had begun to snow during the concert, so we walked through the falling snow to the restaurant. They couldn’t seat all of us at the same table, so Gary, his wife Maria, and Kathryn and me sat together with Urmas. Urmas was a little shy at first, I think partly because he doesn’t speak English or Swedish (and we certainly don’t speak Estonian), so we communicated in German. He gradually became more and more animated, so one could get a true sense of his excitement for his work, for looking at the stars, and his impish sense of humor. We talked about the differences between performing with the full choir and a small ensemble and he said the fifths (and his eyes sparkled as he demonstrated the effect) “buzzed,” they were so in tune. Quite simply, a delightful time getting to know him a bit better and enjoying our wonderful friends. Walking back through the falling snow just added to the magic.

Sunday
This afternoon’s concert was a solo piano performance by Urmas of his own music, the same slides providing a visual accompaniment. He gave program notes before each piece (in Estonian, of course) with Jaan Seim translating. Jaan is a long-time singer in EEKK and currently the choir’s president—he’s also Rektor (principal) of the Estonian school in Stockholm. Urmas’s piano music is varied and based around his experience of the planets and galaxies. Urmas had said the night before that he’s not a professional pianist, but he’s accomplished. He often “conducted” (the music, the piano, the universe?) with his free hand, and created some quite interesting musical effects. In a few pieces he played inside the piano as well. There is still evident the influence of early music, but the music is clearly conceived for the piano. His sense of humor was also evident, particularly near the end. In one of the pieces, which he said demonstrates the notes present in the universe that one cannot hear, be began with his piano bench far to the left of the keyboard, “playing” in the air. He gradually moved the bench to the right, first playing just the right hand of the two short phrases in the lowest register of the piano, gradually moving up the keyboard, octave by octave, until he was on the right side of the keyboard, again “playing” in the air. He gave three encores, the first a neo-baroque piece, quite lovely. The second, called “Big Bang” (he gave the title in English) was a massive cluster, which he let die away . . . then jumped up with a grin and bowed. The final “encore” consisted of him sitting down seriously at the keyboard, pausing for a moment, gently closing the lid, then jumping up with a grin again for a bow. The smaller audience (about 100) loved the performance. I heard lots of Estonian afterward in people greeting Urmas, but lots of Swedes, too. His small number of piano CDs sold out rather quickly, so Kathryn and I didn’t get there in time.

As I’ve said before, Gary does some of the most creative and interesting work you’ll see and hear anywhere. It was great fun to be a part of it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sweden – January 29/30/31 February 1

Tuesday
Today was a shifting of gears for RK, from Pizzetti, Pärt & Penderecki last week to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. As I noted last week, given their schedule, this is a regular occurrence for them. Still, there was some adjusting from the big sound required for Pizzetti and Penderecki, at least, to a “slimmer” sound for the Bach, which took awhile to accomplish.

As usual, I have to guess what an orchestral conductor might want, with no instruction or marked score. Daniel Harding is conducting, so having heard his Schumann Das Paradies und die Peri last year (where he took extraordinary care with text and phrasing—often asking the orchestra to listen to the choir for guidance—and asked the strings to play with little vibrato) and his recent Rameau Suite (strings without vibrato and a very dramatic approach to the double-dotted sections), and his general musical approach, which is dramatic and exciting, I’ve guessed that he’ll want a similar sound from the choir, particularly with less vibrato, but with great attention to text. I would say that one general weakness of Swedish choirs is diction—quality of sound and intonation always takes first place—so that’s one area to concentrate on.

I also decided to run short scenes with the recitatives connecting them, so pacing and connections are clear. Perhaps not necessary, since most have sung the work, but I knew that RK hadn’t done the work in a long time and the singers (usually singing for the Radio during Holy Week) may not have done as many outside performances either. Conny Thimander did an admirable job of singing the Evangelist recits—particularly since it was unexpected and 9:30 in the morning at A=440!

Not knowing specifics from the conductor, I can only give my ideas for drama in the turba (crowd) choruses, and hope that the shape, dynamics, pacing and diction are in the right direction. Certainly it’s better to have some musical shape than to hand off a bland preparation without any musicality at all! Otherwise, the conductor has to work very hard to get anywhere—if the choir is prepared with a musical conception, even the wrong one, it’s easier and faster to change. On the big choruses, I did the same. The chorales are the most difficult area to guess what Harding will do—there are so many different ways to approach fermatas, pacing, and dynamics. I worked alternating different ways of dealing with the fermatas and dynamics (just through gesture—RK is very responsive and there was no point talking about it or putting dynamics in their score), and worked on diction in some specific places, particularly with emotional words, but most will have to be left to the rehearsals with Harding.

As a side note, this isn’t unusual, and I’d guess that my experience is typical of what most of us face when preparing a chorus for an orchestral conductor. Of course, the final result would be so much better if the chorus was properly prepared before the first piano rehearsal with conductor with dynamics, articulations, breaths, tempi, and rhythmic values at the end of phrases (is it a quarter note, or an eighth note?). NO orchestral conductor would go into their first rehearsal of an orchestra without bowings for strings, and many travel with their own set of parts, with additional markings for articulations, dynamics, tempo changes, etc. Why not with the choir? My guess is: they don’t know enough about some of those choices (diction, where to put final consonants) and would rather leave it to the choral director. Or they’re satisfied enough with what they get from the preparation. We all know, of course, that it could be much better!

There are exceptions to the above, of course. I prepared the Brahms Requiem for John Nelson in 1994, and he sent his own full score so I could copy all his markings (which were thorough—of course, John was originally trained as a choral conductor, so he knows all the “tricks of the trade”) and also a recommendation for a particular recording as a guideline to his approach to phrasing. That makes our job so much easier (and the final result better)!

Wednesday
In the morning we went to Michael Tilson Thomas’s 2nd rehearsal of Mahler 6 with the Stockholm Philharmonic. This was thanks to Ragnar Bohlin, who also got us tickets for the performance on Thursday. Ragnar and his wife Tamara were there, along with Michael’s partner, Josh. A very interesting rehearsal, one long run-through of a movement they’d done the day before, then lots of detail work. During the break we went back with Ragnar and Tamara to meet Michael in his dressing room for coffee. He was incredibly gracious. While he and Josh had been in Stockholm briefly a few years ago, this was his first time conducting here. The Philharmonic does long rehearsals—in this case 10-12:30 (we left at the lunch break), an hour’s lunch break, then another 2 1/2 hours. Great fun to watch his rehearsal.

In the afternoon, back to RK and more St. Matthew. This time I didn’t work at all on chorales and did only short lead-ins for the turba choruses. I split the rehearsal, Choir I for the first 50 minutes, full choir for the middle of the rehearsal, then Choir II for the last 50 minutes. If you know the Matthew Passion, you know there are a number of choruses for just choir I or II. So this served several purposes: to work on those choruses without the other half of the choir having to just sit there; to focus on smaller details of phrasing; and with only 16 singers present, to get further towards the chamber sound necessary for the work.

Thursday
I met with Gary Graden briefly in the morning to take care of some business and set up some things for later. I also met Lisa Rydberg, the violinist on the Folkjul CD, who was there to discuss repertoire for an upcoming trip to Hungary with the St. Jacobs Chamber Choir.

Now to new repertoire with RK and another shift of gears, to Rachmaninoff’s great Klokorna (The Bells) and two of his three folksongs, op. 41. A big shift of gears! We’d unfortunately just gotten (Tuesday) the scores with transliteration—I think I mentioned earlier the only score I had was with Cyrillic—but very fortunately, Maria Goundorina was present to be expert help with the Russian text. Maria is Russian, finishing up in the diplom program at the Royal Conservatory, working with Anders Eby. I saw her work last year when I attended one of Anders’ classes—she’s very good (and had led the rehearsal with EEKK on Tuesday). So I began with the two toughest movements of Klokorna and we alternated working on music and text. Tiring work, and some of the choir members (we had rented scores) had scores with stuff scribbled throughout, so spent more time erasing than marking. I also paced too fast—when I have a lot of work to do in a short period of time, I sometimes push pacing beyond where I should, or where it helps—but we still got a lot done. I let the sopranos and tenors go with about 35 minutes left so we could begin work on op. 41, number 3, which has just altos and basses. Good work, but I pushed too fast and sensed the choir was a bit frustrated.

Immediately afterward we walked to Konserthuset and met Tamara, who had the tickets for the Mahler performance. Ragnar was staying with the kids tonight and preparing for a lecture the next day—he’ll hear the concert on Saturday. Tamara was glad to have the evening off from the opera to attend—and noted lots of her colleagues in the audience.

The format was a 30-minute lecture from MTT on the Mahler, then a full intermission, followed by the performance, without interruption. MTT is a very good lecturer, demonstrating examples at the piano, and with a hilarious account of his meeting Alma Mahler when he was about 10 years old at his godfather’s antiquarian bookshop in Los Angeles. She had come in to see about the value of some manuscripts she owned (oh, just a few trifles like the scores to Mahler 9 and Berg’s Wozzeck). MTT described her still amazing personal charm (at 87), when introduced to him she flirted a bit, talking backwards over one shoulder or the other. This is impossible to describe in words, but hilarious in effect—and apropos, since Alma’s ‘theme’ in the sixth symphony is almost always performed more slowly than Mahler asks—Michael said her way of flirting and talking led him to always strive to perform it at the asked-for, faster tempo.

The performance was fantastic. MTT got a great sense of style from the orchestra, which of course changes rapidly in Mahler’s usual mix of both high and low culture. Individual sections and soloists were also wonderful, especially the first horn, who was simply amazing tonight. All-in-all, a great performance—we were lucky to be there. We went back afterwards to say thank you to MTT, who was as gracious as ever, although I’m sure looking forward to getting somewhere for something to eat and drink! Many thanks, too, to both Ragnar and Tamara.

Friday
My last rehearsal with RK on this trip today. One of the choir members confirmed what I’d thought about last rehearsal, and asked for things to move a bit more slowly, so I tried to do that. We worked on the other two movements of Klokorna before break, then concentrated on the most difficult afterwards. I left time at the end to finish working on op. 41, number 3, then let altos go so basses could work on number 1, which is for just them. It’s been an intense couple of weeks of rehearsal! Next week, Risto Joost takes over for his own performance of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil and more rehearsals on Klokorna. It’ll be interesting to watch him work.