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Friday, July 31, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 12

Sunday, June 29
High (and I mean high) Mass at Westminster Cathedral -- amazing pageantry , vestments, etc. -- music not outstanding (choir was also very far away) -- very bright boy's sound -- rather ugly building inside and out -- awful organ (tubbiest of the tubs) playing Widor Toccata as postlude

Monday, June 30
To Covent Garden for Death in Venice -- once again, due to being in the upper slips (where you could not see easily) it took me a while to get "into" the opera -- once I did, however, I thought it was fantastic -- I like the opera (and enjoyed the production) very much -- Pears is really incredible -- he's on stage practically the whole time at age 65 (we heard he turned 65 the day we were in Aldeburgh) -- he's still marvelous -- Steuart Bedford (conductor) not terribly impressive -- things occasionally got a bit away from him -- overall this was another "occasion" -- Pears will retire soon, so this may have been the last times in that role (which he fills so well) [orchestra in the pit was the English Chamber Orchestra--also in the cast were Thomas Helmsley as The Traveler, James Bowman as the Voice of Apollo]

Tuesday, July 1
In the morning we met with composer John Gardner, composer of A Latter-Day Athenian Speaks -- [Gardner is probably best-known in the US for his Christmas carol, Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day or perhaps his Five Hymns in Popular Style -- A Latter-Day Athenian Speaks is a stunning large, a cappella setting that I first heard Bob Scandrett do with his choir at Western, then got to know through the John Alldis recording (no longer available) -- I then did it with my Choir of the West at PLU in 1986 -- I'd love to do it again!] -- Gardner's still alive and (apparently) composing at age 92
The New Philharmonia Orchestra with Barenboim -- unfortunately we were very far back, so we couldn't see Barenboim too well -- Berlioz Romeo & Juliet not overly impressive -- didn't seem to hang together too well -- Overture to Coriolan -- but then Janet Baker singing Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer was outstanding -- gorgeous voice and a personality that really projects -- too bad we couldn't see her in opera or recital! [another "occasion" to hear her live]

Wednesday, July 2
We went to Winchester to hear Britten's War Requiem -- this is in part a student performance, as well as members of the Bournmouth Sinfonietta (pro) and various teachers -- combined orchestras of Bedales and Winchester College, the Bedales School Choral Society and Winchester College Glee Club, with the Winchester Cathedral Choristers (Martin Neary preparing), conducted by William Agnew and Angus Watson -- Soprano Alison Hargan, Tenor Neil Jenkins (again!), and baritone Julian Smith -- the performance overall was disappointing, largely due to our placement on the side: balances were not good (too much percussion, soloists couldn't be heard as well as they should have) -- also, the acoustic really muddled things up: in the "quam olim Abrahae" the second time around (when it was soft) you could hardly hear the individual lines -- neither of the conductors was outstanding and things did not always hang together well (ensemble problems) -- the orchestra played pretty well, with the exception of the brass, who were very disappointing -- I thought the chorus sang very well: a generally good sound, very well prepared -- even though overall disappointing, much better than a comparable student group would do here [although with the perspective of hindsight, I think our PLU production in 1987 was far better -- our University Orchestra was strong that year, with particularly good brass (and faculty additions), the professional NW Chamber Orchestra provided the chamber orchestra that accompanies the tenor and baritone soloists--I conducted the big orchestra and choir and Jerry Kracht (PLU Symphony conductor) conducted the chamber group--our soloists (Felicia Dobbs, Aelred Woodard, Robert Peterson) were superb--and the choir (my Choir of the West and Choral Union plus the University Chorale) did beautifully, as did the Northwest Boychoir under Joe Crnko -- particularly the performance at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle was outstanding, with the boys up in the gallery]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 11

Friday, June 27
St. Alban's Festival again -- a recital by James Bowman, countertenor -- some strange flatting, particularly in the first part of the concert, but the singing gorgeous -- an absolutely incredible voice -- easy-sounding no matter what the range -- some of the music wasn't extraordinarily interesting -- the gambist wasn't all that good -- Robert Spencer (whom we'd heard with the Deller Consort--I wasn't so impressed then) played very well -- really a good concert [our itinerary mentioned that Christopher Hogwood was to play harpsichord--if so, I didn't mention it and I don't have a program] -- Scandrett and others who knew Bowman from before said his singing was less aggressive, more refined, than three years ago.

The 10 o'clock Special [the King's singers were on at this time the previous evening as well] was James Tyler's ragtime group -- very good, but the novelty (after hearing Munrow's stuff at Stour) had worn off -- Tyler's just as good as with Munrow, however -- Tyler played Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5 (on the banjo!) which was amazing.

Saturday, June 28
In the morning a rehearsal of [Paul] Patterson's Requiem -- Roy Wales conducting the London Chorale and London Mozart Players -- I liked the piece very much -- much of the writing is Penderecki-style -- lots of percussion (5 players) -- the choir and orchestra, unfortunately, didn't seem very interested in the music -- the end of the piece very beautiful, boys entering with a very nice theme -- the boys not very good (from Coventry--some politics there, I'm sure).

Afternoon: to St. Albans with Rick [Asher] and Neil [Lieurance] -- a Gerard Hoffnung exhibit -- he's absolutely brilliant and they had all his originals there -- incredible!

Evening -- the English Chamber Orchestra with Meredith Davies conducting -- for the first time I had trouble getting excited and listening attentively -- I hope it isn't downhill from here! Enjoyed Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for strings very much -- but after that it's mostly a blur -- absolutely boring performance of a boring piece: Franck Organ Chorale [I don't know which one, but I don't think they're boring now] -- even the Poulenc Organ Concerto seemed fragmented -- we were also too far back this time to watch players or conductor [remember, longest nave in England!] --

10 o'clock Special -- Too cold to listen to [Peter] Hurfurd's madrigal group outside, so a bunch of us went to the nearest pub for Irish coffees -- in my mood tonight, very much more enjoyable!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 10

Wednesday, June 25
Back to London -- to Southlands College of Education -- nice campus -- very cordial greeting by Eve Halsey and the Bursar, etc. -- in the evening to Cosi fan Tutte, Colin Davis conducting [Covent Garden again] -- we enjoyed it very much, although the combination of heat and the upper slips made it difficult -- Colin Davis' conducting was excellent -- as with Solti, he has excellent control at all times -- his conducting very clear and expressive -- it was particularly interesting to see him balance things in the many ensemble numbers: very actively controlling singer dynamics -- the two female leads [Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Fiordiligi and Anne Howells, Dorabella] were a bit disappointing: voices a little too wobbly and unagile to make the lines really sound "Mozartean" -- "Come scoglio" did't quite come off -- the triplet runs sounded like an arpeggio because you could only really hear the first note of the three -- the other singers [Rudiger Wohlers, Robert Kerns, Richard Van Allan, Judith Blegan as Despina] were good - the tenor was very uneven (he was a replacement that evening) -- at times he sounded marvelous and sometimes he had strange intonation problems.

Most everyone else went to hear the Saltarello Choir -- mostly a blase or negative reaction -- Neil made a tape for us, however, and they really sounded quite good -- perhaps there were some non-musical things that affected everyone's attitude

Thursday, June 26
We would spend the next three days at the St. Alban's Festival:
To St. Alban's (organ festival) to hear the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the King's Singers -- St. Alban's is an interesting little town -- lots of newer buildings, but not too tacky -- the Cathedral is huge (longest nave in England) -- very interesting both inside and out because you can see where older parts of the building were added on -- beautiful dark-stained wood ceilings -- all around the altar, beautiful stone carvings -- an absolutely ugly sculpture of a white bird (or gull?) hanging above the organ console -- the Academy gave an absolutely beautiful concert: Telemann's Don Quixote Suite beautifully done (they need no conductor--a conductor would just get in the way) -- 7 violins, 2 vlas, 2 celli, & bass -- a Vivaldi cello concerto played by the 1st cellist -- marvelous playing of a Handel Concerto Grosso -- particularly the double-dotted things in the opening movement -- Bach's 3rd Brandenburg Concerto started with not quite as good ensemble as in the other music, but soon settled in -- written out 2nd movement for violin and continuo: not interesting, didn't seem to go anywhere or really develop anything -- the last movement marvelous -- they used only two cellos, the bass playing the 3rd cello part -- last thing on the program was an early Haydn organ concerto, not a very interesting piece -- not played particularly well (not enough variation in articulation) -- a chamber organ was used -- orchestra overall played marvelously: gorgeous tone, they seemed involved and as if they were really enjoying it (maybe the lack of a conductor!) -- I wonder if the leader takes over the interpretive duties, or if that is a group effort.

King's Singers were excellent -- all are extremely good showmen -- their "act" is very well worked out and very funny -- musically they are excellent: good ensemble and pitch -- excellent voices (although I got tired listening to the blond countertenor) -- most impressed with the bass of the group (2 countertenors, 1 tenor 2 baritones, 1 bass) -- his voice was very full and open-throated -- a perfect bass line for the group to build upon -- [Paul] Patterson's Time Piece is amusing -- I'll have to ask him if it's all right to adapt sometime for another group [Bob Scandrett did exactly that] -- a highly enjoyable day

This was early in the King's Singers' careers, at least as far as Americans were concerned. The note on our itinerary said, " The King's Singers are graduates of King's, Cambridge, who sing a wide variety of repertoire for small male ensemble, from 16th century to the Hi-Lo's"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 9

Monday, June 23
I'd introduced Bob to Roy Wales, so the tour included some things at the University of Warwick, where Roy was teaching at the time.
Sightseeing in Ely and Coventry -- Ely's Cathedral is fascinating, especially the "octagon" suspended up in the center of the Cathedral -- I would have liked to see them do that! -- we just went to the hotel in Coventry before going out to Warwick to meet with Roy Wales -- Roy showed us all the campus, we had a very nice dinner -- afterwards we went to the piano teacher's house (very modern, but nice with a swimming pool) for a soiree/party -- the evening was extremely enjoyable, but the real highlight was the Fitzwilliam String Quartet -- they are the resident quartet at Warwick, having held a similar position at York the year before -- the quartet has a close connection with Shostakovich and has done the premieres of his last three quartets -- they talked about Shostakovich and then played the 15th for us, which was really marvelous -- they are all very young and very good -- the first and second violinists have been with the quartet only this year -- they will all be going to Russia next fall to meet and work with Shostakovitch for about a week -- this was just another of the marvelous, unexpected, un-duplicatable experiences we have had on the trip.

Tuesday, June 24
We looked over Coventry Cathedral today before going on to Stratford -- this cathedral has more emotional impact for me than all the others we have seen thus far -- the bombed out cathedral and the new building together create quite an effect -- the new building is by far the most impressive contemporary church I have ever seen -- it is extremely beautiful, with much beautiful and striking contemporary art -- see it has intensified my feelings about Britten's War Requiem [which was written for and premiered at the Cathdral] -- it must have been tremendously moving in that building -- I hope the Winchester performance, if we get to go, is good [I was able to conduct the War Requiem at PLU in 1987--a great experience--and my choir then toured England in 1988, including a concert at Coventry--for those students who performed the War Requiem the year before, it was an extraordinary emotional experience]

Stratford is a nice city (or town--whatever) -- pretty, looks like it really appeals to the tourists -- the play (Henry IV, part II) was good -- Falstaff, particularly, was excellent -- I don't know if I'm really crazy about the play itself, however -- I was also much more impressed by the Ashland [Shakespeare Festival] productions I saw than this one -- for one thing, I really enjoy watching the plays in an Elizabethan theatre -- the other part may simply have been the initial problem of getting used to/understanding the English accents -- an enjoyable evening, however.

Monday, July 27, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 8

Saturday, June 22
To Aldeburgh, the festival founded by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears:
To Aldeburgh--a performance of Hail, Bright Cecilia and Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha's Wedding Feast -- it could have been me today, but I thought the Purcell was dull (a dull piece, that is) -- the choir I thought performaed very well, the soloists unevenly: Charles Brett (Countertenor)and Christopher Keyte (baritone) performed very well, the others I was sort of indifferent to (except Pears) -- Anthony Rolfe Johnson and John Shirley-Quirk were among the other soloists [don't know why they didn't impress--they're among my favorite singers] and Peter Ashton conducted -- Pears really seems to be aging [he was 65 at the time], but it's quite an experience to see and hear him live -- can't wait to hear him in Death in Venice! -- Hiawatha was much more interesting than I thought it would be -- the piece is repetitive, but has nice tunes, etc. -- the chorus and orchestra (English Chamber Orchestra) sang and played very well -- really impressed with the orchestra: marvelous sound, beautiful ensemble, particularly strings and brass -- I could listen to the orchestra all day

We saw Britten!! [we were in our coach ready to go and a convertible Rolls Royce went by with Imogen Holst driving and Britten and Pears in the back] -- he looks much better than I (at least) expected -- he apparently is allowed to work for an hour or so a day and has written two new works since the illness -- I hope he has many more pieces to come [unfortunately he died of heart failure in December, 1976]

To the ruins of Framlingham Castle for a band concert in the evening (Military Band School) out of doors -- the band wasn't actually very good -- the most interesting thing on the program (except for the Beethoven) was Holst's Eb Band Suite, conducted by Imogen Holst -- that lady has a lot of spirit! It was actually, I thought, the best they played all evening -- to top the evening off (and did it top it off!) we had Beethoven's Battle Symphony--Wellington's Victory, which turned out to be an awful piece (that of it that we listened to) but which came complete with bands marching in from different directions, trumpeters on the castle walls, and some of the most exciting fireworks I've every seen: I as watching extremely closely because it looked as if they would come our way any minute! An absolutely marvelous day and evening -- I only regret we couldn't spend more time In Aldeburgh -- another experience, however, impossible ever to duplicate


Saturday, July 25, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 7

Friday, June 20
It continues--more opera at Covent Garden!
Today a reading session at Oxford Music--picked up some interesting things--The opera tonight, Verdi's Falstaff, John Matheson conducting and Geraint Evans in the title role--This is one of Evan's titular roles and he was excellent--[Zeffirelli both directed and designed costumes and scenery]--Matheson's conducting was also excellent--very clear and, as with Solti, very much in control--Actually, the best conductors I think we have seen (from a gesture viewpoint) have been opera conductors--I wonder if the conductor for Death in Venice will keep the record intact? This seems to bear out Sam Krachmalnick's statement that the opera house is the best place to learn how to conduct--he says that with all the things that can (and do) go wrong in opera (as well as conducting lots of recitative) a conductor, if he is to survive, must develop a technique that communicates--with all this in mind, I wish we could see Norrington work with an orchestra or opera.

Saturday, June 21
to Wye again--a concert with the Stour Festival Choir--Handel's Dixit Dominus (interesting because we're doing it this year) and CPE Bach's Magnificat conducted by Mark Deller--really not a very good performance, but choir really seems to be made up of locals and this could be a huge accomplishment for them--announced the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers for next year--Mark Deller is an absolutely awful conductor--waves his arms furiously, always ahead of the beat, ritards not subdivided, the baton where no one can see it, etc., etc., etc.--I have a feeling the Festival will die when Alfred leaves [not true! see the link to the Stour Festival above with a lovely article by Mark Deller, also including some very nice pictures near the time we were there]--Neil Jenkins [tenor soloist] sang absolutely beautifully--we went to congratulate him after the concert since he had been so nice to us at Norrington's second rehearsal [he'd sung in the Norrington Monteverdi] and he ended up offering us a ride--he's really extraordinarily friendly--tea at the Dellers--an absolutely beatiful Tudor home--everyone, Jenkins, Paul Elliot, Honor Shepherd, etc.) very friendly, interested in what we were doing, etc.--very enjoyable time.
As you can tell, Bob again outdid himself. And as with David Munrow (and later Benjamin Britten) we managed to see Deller work not too long before he died (1979). Our experience that evening was even more special:



Olantigh--an historic occasion!! madrigals from five countries with the Deller Consort and lutenist Robert Spencer at a beautiful mansion, only 100 or so people there--the last year these concerts are at Olantigh (economic pressure--an absolutely incredible (and long) speech by the owner and lady of the house complaining at the government's policies that made it impossible for them to continue in this house)--the retirement of Alfred announced from Stour, Mark taking over--Neil Jenkins singing Rule Brittania and almost laughing during each verse, etc., etc.--It was an experience both sublime and ludicrous--it was like being in the middle of a family quarrel in which you don't belong [we arrived in our coach, while the other audience members came dressed to the nines]--certainly an experience that can't be duplicated!

Friday, July 24, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 6

Thursday, June 19
Bob Scandrett must have given us a bit of a "talk" that morning! This was me, just short of age 25, rambling on about what was on my mind. I decided to put it here verbatim--there's a lot of youthful philosophizing, but it's a view to who I was at that point in time (and perhaps only interesting to me!). It's worth remembering how passionate I was at that stage in my life--something that luckily has survived, although it's waxed and waned a bit throughout my career.
Bob, your "sermon" this morning was much appreciated. It really is easy to become too critical. For the past two years or so I have been actively working at "revving up" my critical faculties, and it is hard to turn them off. It is also far too easy to compare yourself and your groups to others. I'm still in the midst of trying to push my standards higher and higher (and hopefully, my abilities). I'm constantly re-evaluating how I and my groups do things. Ideally, I want a performance both technically and emotionally perfect. Naturally, you never quite get there . . . and when you come close, your next few performances never seem quite so satisfying (or at least, so it seems). I know Roy mentioned once that after reaching a certain point or level of performance that the average performance didn't excite him much. The same things goes for the music we perform. Music by less than major composers can become much less interesting to us than the attention it really deserves. Of course every piece can't be a masterpiece and every performance can't be magnificent (I'm really diverging from your "sermon," but it feels good just to ramble on a bit).

"'Music for the people"--I really do believe that "good music" (if it really is good), well-programmed, and well-performed, can excite the average listener. I program my concerts very carefully (Gregg Smith--several years ago at that WWU summer workshop--really made me think about that) and that is fun for me to do. I can spend hours doodling out potential programs. I've had good success so far in terms of reaction to my programs--many people, hearing we were doing Bach's Mass in B Minor, said, 'But its sure long, isn't it?' I feel that the piece has such variety, connects dramatically so well, that it shouldn't seem long. We weren't as successful in sustaining the drama as I would have liked, but we came close. The reaction was very positive. Even my father, who's not especially sophisticated about music, said that the concert went very fast for him (I'm not quite sure why all of this came into my mind).

Thinking of Rilling also reminds me how lucky I am and have been in having many "teachers." Neil, of course, has been a tremendous influence. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be in music at all. When, during my junior year at Shorecrest HS, taking voice lessons from him, he suggested I might like to teach music, I was flabbergasted, I hadn't even considered it. He's been an influence all along, partly because of his own great curiosity. And of course, if it hadn't been for Neil, I wouldn't have met Bob Scandrett, which would also have impoverished me. Listening to Western's [WWU's] choirs has provided a helpful alternative to studying at the UW. I also owe a tremendous amount to Rod [Eichenberger], probably much more than I realize. Gregg Smith's workshop came at a time when I was semi-disgusted with music and thinking of dropping out. Smith really got me thinking--it was a tremendous influence at the time. It was also at this time I was considering transferring to Western--and most of the reason I didn't was that I got to know Rod much better at the party after the Gregg Smith workshop [Bob gave Rod and I the assignment to make the punch, which then became considerably more alcoholic!].

I'm glad in retrospect t hat I stayed at the UW. At the UW, I was still able to keep up with things going on at Western (because of Neil and people I knew attending Western). If I had gone to Western, however, I doubt that I would have kept up with things down in Seattle, and would have lost a lot. Also, I would have been "in competition" with Scott Andrews [Scott and I were in the same class, and had coincidentally gone to the same church in Seattle--see my profile of Helen Pedersen at Haller Lake Methodist] and probably (I being very non-aggressive then) would have backed off. Also, in Seattle I got church jobs very much easier.

The trip to Europe with the [UW] Chorale [in 1971] was also a huge learning experience, including the month and a half after the tour, seeing Ehmann, Rilling, Willcocks and others. The summer experience with Rilling in Eugene [Oregon Bach Festival in 1972] was a tremendous change. Rilling's approach to rehearsal, conducting techniques, etc., were almost the exact opposite of Rod's (and closer to what fits my personality best). [I've thought since then that the experience with Rilling was so positive, because I began to realize that I didn't have to be Rod to be successful--I could find a way within my own personality.] I also found that Rilling does not compromise his goals--he demands that things be the way he wants them and quietly, but persistently, he gradually gets what he wants, or close to it.

Nancy [Zylstra] also played a big role. She had developed a much more critical ear than I, which forced me to listen more, and more critically to my own and other's efforts. She also (as an instrumentalist) interested me in instrumental music and started my interest in learning how to get results out of orchestras. Listening to the University Symphony rehearsals [see an earlier post on Samuel Krachmalnick], I started to really enjoy and understand orchestral music.

Backing up a bit: after getting to know Rod better, I hung around his office a lot, mostly listening to the talk between him, Larry Marsh, Bruce Brown, Ted Ashizawa, and others. From this, I absorbed an incredible amount. Rod also had stack upon stack of sample copies, reference copies, etc., which had collected or sent to him by publishers. He asked me if I would file them, and in return, I could keep any duplicates he had. In doing this, I not only acquired the beginnings of a library of scores, but started learning the basic repertoire. Even if I didn't know the piece, I usually knew that it existed. [If, for example, I filed a piece by Hindemith, I'd look through the file to see what else Hindemith had written] . The various grad students were also a help in learning various things singing in their recital choirs, etc. [I think I sang in almost all the grad recitals at that time--it also taught me to sight-read].

I auditioned (after a quarter spent observing) for Sam Krachmalnick's graduate orchestral conducting class and have learned a tremendous amount from it. Working on Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms symphonies and Carmen [the recitatives] really opens up your viewpoint towards choral music.

The groups I have conducted: the two church choirs, the Thalia/Aeolian Singers [the two chamber choirs that became Seattle Pro Musica], and the Bach Ensemble have given me marvelous experiences. I've learned something from just about every rehearsal and performance and have kept Nancy up many a night analyzing why the rehearsal failed or succeeded.

Looking back, there has been an improvement since my first efforts. I hope, too, that this experience [in England] and others keep pushing me, that I never become too satisfied with what I do, that there's always something more to learn, something that can be done just a little bit better.
A few days later, after re-reading the above:
This is a few days later, reading this over. I don't really know why the tour or your "sermon" set all this off, but it's kind of interesting for me. Thinking further about the whole issue of criticism, however, I feel that when listening to others I particularly need to be developing my ear for flaws, comparing, listening as if I had to do the corrections. I don't think it's really spoiled my enjoyment of any of the concerts, or made me close my mind to what I might hear. There is such a fine line that you must ride--I hope I can "straddle the fence" so as to get the best of both and not the worst!
[Back to Thursday the 19th]
One of the things arranged for the day was a reading session at Novello. A number of evenings were free, so to a certain extent we could plan what we'd like most to do. London being London, there were always many choices! So a group of us went to Covent Garden that evening for a performance of Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, with George Solti conducting.

In the first act I was bored stiff--simply couldn't get into the music or over the fact that we were at the very top of the opera house (upper slips)--in the second act I really started to enjoy it, however--the music really is marvelous and the singing was very good [the cast included James King, Heather Harper, Helga Dernesch, Donald McIntyre, and Robert Tear]--very large orchestra, including extra brass (in the upper stalls) and 10 french horns (4 doubling Wagner tubas)--music is interesting" sometimes sounds like Wagner, at others exactly like Mahler--watching Solti (which I did with the opera glasses all evening--we were right on top of him) was fascinating--he is very good--clear and expressive, perhaps sometimes too angular, but totally in command--he doesn't allow much time for stretching out a phrase, the motion is always forward--the drama and long line are foremost (particularly necessary in an opera this long: 6:30 to 10:30 PM with two half-hour intervals)--enjoyed the whole evening very much.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 5

Tuesday, June 17
To Canterbury -- the ruins of the Abbey of St. Francis--they were extremely interesting, giving a ground plan, as it were, of how a cathedral is built . . . Canterbury Cathedral is absolutely amazing--I could easily have spent much more time there--their exhibit on the restoration of the cathedral both stone and glass are being eaten away by pollutants) was fascinating--I wish I had money to pay for it all.

Concert with the Deller Consort--it's hard to react to this concert--[Alfred] Deller is a legend to me--the renaissance pieces are very individually prhased, with very sudden crescendos to bring out moving parts--I felt like the music suffered, we being as close to them as we were [as I remember, the concert was in a room or building, not too large, off the Cathedral]--it seemed like it would have worked much better in a place like the cathedral--also, the music seems to me to be better listened to at a distance--the music does not seem like 'personalized' music, but music which should happen during worship--nice performance of the Purcell funeral music--Deller, Honor Shepherd, and Maurice Bevan [soprano and baritone who were long associated with Deller and his consort] are all still singing marvelously--I was particularly impressed with Deller: he sounded better to me than he has recently on records--he stilll has a very full, open sound and amazing control--it's nice to know singers can maintain their voices that long (probably only by singing every day, however).

The Machaut [Mass] was very interesting--I'm really going to have to study it seriously when I get back--the performance was exciting--there were times when the rhythmic accentuations seemed wrong (particularly word-acccents in the Gloria and Credo)--I'll have to ask what edition Deller used, and what kind of re-barring he has done--I'll also have to talk some more to Randy McCarty (director of the Western Wynde Consort in Seattle) about that Berkeley group--he says there's an early music group there which performs everything from original notations (individual parts) without barlines--he said it made an incredible difference in the rhythmic freedom of the music--it might be an interesting experiment to try with a a movement of Byrd 4-part Mass when we do it this fall--I could copy out individual parts without bar lines (checking with the original parts) and see if we could even perform it that way--should be interesting--I'll also be interested to hear Halsey's recording session of the Byrd with instruments. [I didn't try the Byrd with individual parts, but later with Palestrina Sicut Cervus--it was OK, but a group of singers would have to spend considerable time working this way, particularly with similar part books and notation as originals, not simply transcriptions of older notation, to make it truly effective]

Wednesday, June 18
Watched a session with [John] Aldiss in the morning with the Chamber Choir of the Guildhall College--unfortunately, most of the men were gone due to exams--it was very disappointing--Aldiss didn't seem interestat at all and unprepared--he didn't know how he wanted Italian double and triple vowels in Monteverdi divided, etc.--seemed to be searching for something to rehearse--didn't get much out of it--I really wish we could see him in a different situation (such as with his professional choir)
[the above was with the group--afternoon and evening were just Nancy and me]
Then to BBC for a live broadcast--guitarist doing some Spanish renaissance pieces and Villa Lobos (beautiful pieces)--and clarinetist and pianists doing Paul [Patterson's] clarinet piece and Brahms' f# minor sonata--Paul's piece very good, very lively--more 'traditional' than I expected--then to the Royal Academy where Paul teaches, he showed us around--very interesting--approximately 800 music students there--about the same at 3 other music schools in London: Royal College, Guildhall, and Trinity (where Roy [Wales] went to school)--We then watched Roy rehearse Webern's Concerto for Nine Instruments, very interesting, extremely difficult--I think I'll have to get the cantatas to study.

In the evening to the Dutch Ballet [contemporary]--I don't really know what to say: the grace, strength, and beauty of the performance was outstanding--I hope we can see some ballet when we get home.
I should note that I wasn't quite 25 when I went on this study tour. However, I founded Seattle Pro Musica (or the group which would become Pro Musica) in 1973, when I was 23. After one season with my chamber choir, I started a group called the Bach Ensemble, which included both singers and instrumentalists. We did a different Bach cantata once a month. At the end of that 2nd season, we combined both groups to do Bach's Mass in B Minor, and incorporated as Seattle Pro Musica the same summer of this tour.

Monday, July 20, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 4

Saturday, June 14
Some of us spent the morning at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

In the afternoon we attended Louis Halsey's rehearsal, which began with a Mozart concert aria (Wendy Eathorne, soprano). The concert was in the evening. I wasn't especially impressed with Halsey's conducting technique, but thought the orchestra good. "The horn player (Ifor James) was the savior of the evening--beautiful tone, very exciting playing--he was very relaxed, seemed like he was just up there to enjoy himself--not a hint of the nervousness that afflicts most hornists--even missing a few notes in the final movement didn't seem to bother him, he just played right on (actually, I'm talking about the concert now, rather than the rehearsal). Anyway, he played marvelously." I wasn't as impressed with the chorus, but noted that perhaps they were suffering from comparison to the just-heard Schütz Choir and Christ Church Choir.

Sunday, June 15
Today a trip to Wye for the Stour Festival to hear David Munrow's Early Music Consort at 3 PM. Munrow was an early music pioneer who we just managed to hear live--as he committed suicide in 1976.

This was a fascinating program:
a piece with recorder and drone by Munrow absolutely incredibly played--the runs were so fast they were hard to follow in the church acoustic--that's probably the effect intended, however, Rick recorded it--I'd really like a copy [I don't have one]--then renaissance dances for broken consort, all very well played (and danceable--if I do any of this kind of music, I'll have to enroll in a renaissance dance class)--a baroque guitar suite--beautifully played--James Tyler's virtuosity is stunning (on lute, guitar, and banjo)--he looks all the time like your typical banjo player: a smile on his face the whole time--he was fun to watch as well as listen to--the violinist played a Biber passacaglia--the piece itself went on a bit long--Biber seemed to want to show every possible thing that one could do over those 4 notes--he played very well, but I couldn't help but compare every baroque fiddle player I hear to Eduard Melkus--his performance of the Biber Mystery Sonatas in Eugene [in 1972 at the Oregon Bach Festival] was eye-opening . . . the second half of the concert followed with a selection of rags arranged by Tyler for guitar, two banjos, violin, bass viol, and bassoon (David Munrow played a French bassoon!)--they were well done and a lot of fun--especially enjoyable was a rendition of one of Brahms Hungarian Dances on the banjo by Tyler--all-in-all an incredibly enjoyable concert.
Monday, June 16
"Touring all day--to Pevensy Castle (fascinating!) and Brighton (not-so-fascinating)--the King's summer home at Brighton, however, very interesting--I just can't understand that kind of opulence in a concrete way"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 3

June 13
We went to Oxford to observe Simon Preston rehearse and hear Evengsong at Christ Church. We first walked around, admiring the beautiful Colleges, and I also spent about $150 on music at Blackwells.

Preston and his choir were wonderful:
very impressed--singing absolutely marvelous--sound gorgeous, musicianship impeccable, interpretation very exciting--the singing very vigourous--it's amazing what Preston gets out of the boys--musically he makes incredible damands upon them--always stopping and asking them questions--I would have been terrified, but they all seem to take in in stride--he really gets on individuals ('Why are you singing so flat? I talked about that this morning. Get it up there!'), but they also seem to take that in stride . . . Preston always on them about phrasing, pitch, precision, tone quality ('warmer now'), etc.--they sing absolutely beautifully--one of the hightlightss of the tour so far--it will be fascinating to hear King's and St. John's after this.
That evening, back in London, I went with Nancy to visit Roy Wales. We'd met Roy when he came to the University of Washington to do doctoral work in the 1973-74 year (he'd met Rod Eichenberger at a festival in NY and came as a Fulbright Scholar) and got to know him quite well. Roy had a fascinating background and had already done an enormous amount when he came to the UW, having founded the London Student Chorale (later London Chorale), which was made up of students from the various London universities and he attracted singers at first with great tours during breaks. It gradually became a well-known choir, which he conducted for 17 years. He'd already conducted one of the London orchestras and had organized a major Penderecki festival, conducting his St. Luke Passion. I learned a lot from Roy at that time--he conducted the UW Chorale during one quarter when Rod was on sabbatical and I also sang in his doctoral recital (Haydn Creation). Roy has been an entrepreneur from the beginning. When he returned to England he took a position at the University of Warwick (more about that later in the England tour), then in Australia (Queensland Conservatory). Back to England for other work, including establishing the British version of ACDA (ABCD) and later another organization (British Choral Institute), along with the English Concert Orchestra and Choir. I last saw him at the 1993 IFCM conference in Rotterdamm.

When we met Roy for dinner at a curry place, his good friend, the composer Paul Patterson, came along. "Roy is very well, seems to be keeping very busy--we will meet him and Paul at the BBC for a broadcast on Wednesday and then for lunch--Paul is very interesting and looks and talks a bit like Ringo Starr--doesn't at all seem like a composer who has 18 performances of his works this month--he seems to be getting everything published as well--anyway, we really enjoyed the evening."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 2

June 10, 1975
Sightseeing most of this day (Piccadilly, Soho, Oxford Square, Hyde Park), along with looking for music at Schott's and Boosey and Hawkes. I noted that I couldn't find much of what I wanted at Schott's (Hindemith and Tippett).

That evening I heard a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with the London Symphony Orchestra Choir: Beethoven Egmont, Surinach Piano Concerto (with Alicia de Larrocha), and Carmina Burana, Rafael Frübeck de Burgos conducting. I noted that jet-lag made it hard to concentrate during the Surinach (kept nodding off), but that Carmina was a very exciting reading and that I liked de Burgos' conducting. I only noted the soprano's name, April Cantelo, and that she was fine except for the "Dulcissime," where she didn't have the top notes. Cantelo had a varied career, sang with Alfred Deller a lot, and was married for a period of time to conductor Colin Davis.

June 11
More sightseeing in the morning and the group had an interview with Roger Norrington at his home (amazing that Bob arranged this!). My notes don't say much, since I said I made a tape--I have NO idea where that went, unfortunately!--but I noted that he didn't seem to have any idea what we wanted, that he wanted to make it clear that he was not primarily a choral conductor (he was already conducting Kent Opera at this time), was very confident, and really feels he has the best choir in London. With that, I looked forward to hearing him in rehearsal with his choir the next day! I also remember him talking about the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers, which he was preparing--that he'd done what he called the "circus" version with all sorts of extra instrumental doubling, larger choir, etc., but that he'd done a tour with it in Italy with a small group of singers and instrumentalists and felt that was the way it should be done.

That evening heard a program of Spanish music from 1300 and Italian music from 1600 at the Purcell Room at the Royal Festival Hall (players not noted, but lute, recorder, flute, cello, rebec, violin, drum, and two sopranos). I said the lutenist and recorder player were excellent, but that one of the sopranos had incredible pitch problems. I thought it was in line with a very good university performance at home.

June 12
Went to two Norrington rehearsals with his Heinrich Schütz Choir (from 10 AM-1 PM and 7-10 PM). They were rehearsing the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers for a performance at the Aldeburgh Festival--these were the first and second rehearsals and the other two would be at Aldeburgh with the instrumentalists. Norrington had already mentioned that most of his singers were coming from a group of recording sessions of an opera--and that variety and flexibility were very much a part of a London free-lance singer's life. He'd also said his booker got him the top singers in London and I don't doubt that! I noted, "The singers (all pros) are incredible. Norrington likes a very aggressive sound, hard attacks. He is extremely energetic with a conducting technique that's wild, but expressive. I'd like to see him with an orchestra to see if he changes working with the instruments. The professional singers really are amazing--their ability to sight read, mark a score and then do what they have marked, and concentration ability are outstanding."

I then said that I had perhaps only two singers in my choir who could do this--but that after a month or so of the kind of schedule and demands put on these singers they'd have no problem. I then wrote more about what the possibilities might be to move my choir more in this direction--even though none of my singers would be able to sing full-time as the London singers could.

This is one of the perennial problems for a professional ensemble singer in this country: how do you make a living? How can our ensembles develop in this direction when they can't spend the amount of time singing that European professional ensembles can? It hasn't been answered yet!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Personal History -- England Study Tour

One of the things I'm most thankful for is the fantastic people who've inspired me and influenced me.

I mentioned in another post that I was lucky to have some great mentors early in my career.

Neil Lieurance was a student teacher at my high school during my sophomore year, took a non-music job there my junior year (but accompanied the small ensemble, and I also started to take voice lessons from him at that time), and then took over the choral program my senior year. Since he was working on a master’s degree at Western Washington University in the summers, I got to know Robert Scandrett, who headed the choral program there, and attended several summer workshops with clinicians such as Gregg Smith, Günther Graulich (editor/owner of Carus Verlag) and Louis Halsey (a fine conductor in his own right, but probably best known now as the father of conductor Simon Halsey—who’s been Simon Rattle’s choral conductor since the beginning of Rattle’s career in Birmingham). All-in-all fabulous experiences, but compared to the study tour Bob organized, they don't compare!

Bob is an enormously talented musician, still active at University Congregational Church in Seattle, after retiring from being Director of Choral Activities at Western Washington University, where he was Professor of Music from 1967-1990.

He was also director of the Seattle Symphony Chorale from 1976 to 1989 (I followed in that position from 1990-94), founded and directed the New Whatcom Choral Society (Bellingham) for 12 years, was Minister of Music at University Presbyterian Church from 1957-67 (it was a major program with regular performances of major works) and has been associated with the German publishing house Carus Verlag as editor and consultant since 1985 (with wonderful editions of Scarlatti, among others). He graduated from the University of Washington with a Ph.D. in musicology. Also a talented pianist, I remember hearing him accompany a performance of Die Winterreise at one point. He's also a composer and arranger--Kathryn and I were proud to include his setting of Psalm 91 at our wedding.

In 1975 Bob organized an amazing choral study tour of England and I was lucky enough to be included. Others on that trip that I've later worked with included Neil Lieurance, Susan Erickson, Linda Scheuffele, Nancy Zylstra, Richard Nace, and Rick Asher. The trip (as you'll see) took an extraordinary amount of work to organize--in some ways much more than a traditional choir tour. It involved attending rehearsals, meeting with conductors (we met with Roger Norrington in his home), services, concerts, reading sessions at publishing houses, etc. We also had free time, which I usually managed to fill with yet more music. This was just an incredible experience.

I'll do brief posts for the next couple weeks talking about what we were doing each day, plus short excerpts from the diary I kept (although in re-reading it I'm thinking, "Ah the arrogance of youth!"). However, it'll give a flavor (or flavour) of what this trip was like.

We left on June 8 and arrived late the morning of June 9. That evening we attended a rehearsal of the Louis Halsey Singers at St. Giles Church, Cripplegate. Halsey, born in 1929, had attended Cambridge, where he sang in the King's College Choir. He was working at the BBC as a producer when we visited, had first achieved notice with his Elizabethan Singers, and later with the Louis Halsey Singers. I don't think any of their recordings are available anymore, but I remember clean ensemble, nice phrasing, and a fresh vocal sound. He also edited and arranged for a number of Christmas carol books. Halsey later took a position at the University of Illinois, but only stayed briefly.

That night he was rehearsing the Haydn Missa Cellensis, some Tavener motets and a piece by Michael Tippett (there would be a Mozart Horn concerto on the program as well). The choir was mostly amateur, but with a few pros called in for the last rehearsal or so (the British term at that time--maybe still--for these extra hired singers was "stiffeners," which we found quite amusing). The alto section was made up of 3 female altos and 2 countertenors. He normally had only four rehearsals for each concert (the Brits are well known for superb sight-reading ability), which inspired me at that time to get my singers to do more and work faster.

Consequently, I programmed a very ambitious season with my Seattle Pro Musica groups the following year with the goal of moving in that direction: my chamber choir opened the season with the CPE Bach Magnificat and Handel's Dixit Dominus; the Christmas concert included Tippett's Magnificat, Distler's Singet Frisch und Wohlgemut, and Poulenc's Christmas motets; in February a program of Romantic era music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Wolf; an April performance of the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers (with period instruments); and a June concert with Bach's Lobet dem Herrn, the Debussy Trois Chansons, and Purcell's Come Ye Sons of Art. The Bach Ensemble did it's usual Bach cantata the first Sunday of each month, and a new small ensemble did a debut program with the Byrd 4-part Mass and Bernstein's Choruses from 'The Lark'. I think I was crazy (and imagine my singers did, too)!

At any rate, an enjoyable beginning to the trip. As you'll see later, besides being ambitious to have my singers work faster, I was influenced by the repertoire I heard as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Big Change!

A big change in my professional life is a new position as Professor of Music at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX (north of Dallas).

The story starts last year in Sweden. As many of you know, Kathryn and I attended Robert Sund's retirement celebrations in Uppsala. While there I met Jerry McCoy for the first time in person. We'd both known and admired each other's work for a long time, have close friends in common (not only Robert, but Bruce Browne and others), but just hadn't met personally. We both arrived the day before festivities began, so ended up having dinner together. We had a great time, hit it off, and in the course of things, Jerry mentioned that UNT would have a choral job opening up next year which could be interesting. We didn't talk further of it or correspond after that, but I kept it in the back of my mind and watched for the job announcement.

The position is the result of two different retirements: Henry (Hal) Gibbons, who's taught choral music at UNT since 1980, this past year; and the retirement of Lyle Nordstrom, who heads UNT's very fine early music program, at the end of this coming academic year.

Lyle has built an enviable program, with the ability to put together a full 18th century baroque orchestra (playing at A=415 or 396, depending on repertoire) or sackbuts and cornetti (playing at A=465), or many other periods as well (the collection owned by the university includes over 250 instruments now). Lyle also has conducted the Collegium Singers, a 24-voice ensemble that performs on their own, as well as with the Baroque Orchestra. Works have ranged from medieval and renaissance masterworks to Biber's Requiem, and the oratorios of Handel. Members of that ensemble come from the other choral ensembles at the school, as well as graduate students in voice, early music, or other areas.

So the new position includes conducting two ensembles: the chamber choir Hal has conducted, doing a wide variety of repertoire from all periods; and the Collegium Singers, who will specialize in period performance. With the Collegium Singers this year, for example, there will be an all-Vivaldi program in the fall (the Collegium Singers will do either Dixit Dominus or Beatus Vir, both for double choir & double string orchestra) and a classical program with new faculty member, Christoph Hammer, who is a new faculty member teaching harpsichord and fortepiano (a Mozart Missa Brevis will be on that program). Lyle will do a program of music by "Italians in Germany" in February, with some participation by the Collegium Singers, and May 1 will conduct Bach's Mass in B Minor as his "swan song" at UNT, which will include some notable former students from Lyle's 40 years of teaching at various institutions.

The rest of my load will include a variety of courses: this year a graduate conducting class in the fall and the final undergraduate conducting class for music education majors in the spring, and the choral literature sequence in the following year. Of course, I'll be involved along with Jerry mentoring and evaluating their fine MA and DMA conducting students in recitals, exams, papers, etc.

All in all, it makes for a great mix of activities. I've been out of regular academic work since I left PLU in 2001 (although enjoyed enormously two guest professorships at CCM/University of Cincinnati in the fall of 2006 and this past May). I have to say that while I've loved my professional activities during that period (and the marvelous opportunities that have come through my own ensembles, guest conducting, and two fantastic times in Sweden), I've missed teaching. I've missed both the contact with students and their energy, and regular daily contact with fantastically talented and knowledgeable colleagues.

I'm not giving up Pro Coro Canada! I still remain Artistic Director and have two more years left on my contract. I'll do three concerts this season (instead of four), but look forward to continued work with this wonderful group of singers.

However, I'm excited about all the possibilities that come with our move to Denton. Kathryn and I spent last week in Denton with Jerry and Julie McCoy, arranging housing, setting up our move, meeting with Lyle and Hal, lots of brainstorming with Jerry, and beginning what will be a very intense process leading up to a move around August 1. I think Jerry and I and Alan McClung (who heads up choral music education and conducts the Concert Choir) will make a great team. It'll be an exciting time!