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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fowre Thowsand Wynter 3

Doing a premiere always has a higher sense of responsibility than a well-known work. If I do a bad job of the Mozart Requiem, people will know it's a bad performance, not a bad piece. But with the premiere of a new work the audience won't be able to separate the quality of the performance from the work itself. And when you're taking part in the "birthing" of a new composition by someone you know and admire, it's even more pressure (self-induced) to do well.

In this case, since I know Allan and his music fairly well, it makes the job of interpreting easier. Allan knew who he was writing for: as mentioned in an earlier post, he's known Jolaine Kerley and her abilities for a long time.

Allan's notes about his settings for Mary:
The Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, is the other main chracter in Fowre Thowsand Wynter. This part is for a soprano soloist and is designated in the score simply as "Mary." The soloist should not be a member of the chorus. Rather than merely depicting Mary and the young woman who receives the angelic birth message in Luke's Gospel, the Mary of Fowre Thowsand Wynter is also a mother who is aware of her son's mission and the cruel treatment he is subjected to on the first Good Friday. Mary is portrayed much as she was understood to be in the late-Medieval period, that is, at once the holiest and most privileged of women, and Mater Dolorosa (mother of sorrows).

The part is very much written for Jolaine, taking advantage of her easy top notes (she might not say that!), with an ability to sing very pure high Bb's, B's, and C's.

In the same way, Timothy Anderson is an ideal narrator for this work, and of course, Allan knew Timothy from his work on Nou Goth. As Allan says:
The actor portrays the biblical prophet known as Isaiah of Jerusalem. . . I have assembled the text from the Book of Isaiah using the English translation found in the King James Bible. I use the Prophet's passages in Fowre Thowsand Wynter not only to represent the words of Isaiah himself, but also to suggest the words or thoughts of God and Christ.

And Allan knows Pro Coro and our abilities well, too. In particular, he knows the sound of the choir and what we're able to do expressively.

Some of the men of Pro Coro (all photos are from the dress rehearsal):

and the full ensemble:

We had additional challenges in preparing this work as a choir, since our dress rehearsal in the concert hall (the marvelous Winspear Centre in Edmonton) had to be moved to Friday night (our usual dress rehearsal is Saturday morning), because of the heavy scheduling at Christmas time. This meant we had only four (3-hour) rehearsals before the dress, and then one rehearsal (choir only) after. I'd programmed fairly easy works for the other half of the program, but still, given a new work, it's a lot to do in a short time. With the orchestra, I had a 2 1/2 hour rehearsal on Friday afternoon (with Jolaine and Timothy there) and 2 1/2 hours on Friday night with everyone. Allan arrived about a half hour or so into the Friday night rehearsal. While I would have loved to have a full run-through in that rehearsal, there simply wasn't time. It was also great to have Allan there to give notes and answer questions.

Allan uses early English texts for the first three movements: "Adam lay y'bownden," "I Syng of a Myden," and "A God and Yet a Man." This presents its own problems of pronunciation, of course. Allan gave a guide to pronunciation, with his own thoughts of current research on the phonetics of the period, but also allows for a more modern interpretation of the texts. I talked with Allan for a couple hours by phone about the work the week before, with quite a bit of that time spent on pronunciation. Allan allows a fair amount of freedom with this and, if there's a question about sound, wants to make sure it still allows for a beautiful choral sound. So my choices were to do "Adam" with as closely as possible to Allan's choice of medieval pronunciation. With "I Syng," where Allan writes a gorgeous melody for the main theme, I opted to partially modernize the text for beauty of sound (for example, "I" is a pickup--the older pronunciation is "ee" instead of the modern diphthong, and the brighter "ee" vowel stuck out). This is a somewhat arbitrary decision, of course, but I'm happy with the result. For the third movement, Allan gave more explicit options of older and newer pronunciation and I went with the more modern. We ultimately then went from old to a mix to almost all modern from movement one through three.

The fourth movement follows the third without break, utilizing a chant-like Agnus Dei ("like an incantation," Allan said) against harp, pizzicato strings, and vibraphone, much as underscoring for the Prophet's narration. After a transition into a radiant E Major, Allan sets the Dona nobis pacem, adding an Alleluia taken from the plainchant, Verbum caro factum est (and the word was made flesh), which first appears in the alto part, then to other sections, and finally the organ.

The fifth movement is a setting of a Christina Rosetti poem, a large portion of it done as a beautiful a cappella setting. He also brings back a bit of the "Adam" theme from the first movement, then to a quite beautiful "Christe eleison."

One of my worries, as I started looking at the whole work and how to pace it, rather than learning its parts, was that Allan set the end of each of the fourth, fifth and final movements with big endings, double forte. I experimented with how to do this so as not to make the real climax seem anti-climactic. We ultimately changed the dynamic at the end of #4 to a piano dynamic at the end and simply made sure that the end to #5 wasn't so big so as to feel like the end of the piece. I haven't heard the recording yet, so don't know how it really worked, but it certainly felt right and Allan was happy.

The final movement is a setting of the Sanctus, leading into "Adam lay y'bownden" to finish with the final couplet (which he didn't set in the opening movement): "Blyssid be the tyme that appil take was, therefore we moun syngen 'Deo gracias'." (Blessed be the time that the apple was taken was, therefore we ought to sing “Thanks be to God!”), ending with an Ab major chord with the soprano soloist on a high C.

A wonderful work and it was great to be a part in its "birth" into the world. Many thanks to Allan and all the performers who took part!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bevan "Fowre Thowsand Wynter" 2

When Allan talked to me about doing a "prequel" (my term, not his!) to Nou Goth, I said yes. We originally planned for it to be done for Pro Coro's 2008 Christmas concert. Allan began work, we continued occasional email conversations, talked about instrumentation (originally similar to Nou Goth, with a few winds in addition to harp, percussion, timpani, organ and strings), and all went ahead as planned.

Allan made great progress and in September of 2008, while in Edmonton rehearsing for our season-opening concert, Pro Coro also had a performance of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil in Calgary. I went down a day early to meet with Allan at his home, get a score, and look it over with him. We talked about his texts, possible pronunciation (more about in my next post), and the general shape of the work.

However, Pro Coro was going through a financial crisis that fall and I'd taken over the job of Executive Director as well as Artistic Director. In October, after the Treasurer and I had gone through the budget for the umpteenth time, it became clear that we simply could not afford to hire the orchestra for Fowre Thowsand Wynter and manage to get out of debt by the end of the season (the final year of a three-year plan to elminate our deficit). I should say that Pro Coro normally has enough room in the budget to hire an orchestra once each season, usually for our Good Friday concert (we' d also gotten a grant in previous years that was specifically to hire orchestras for a series of all of the late Haydn Masses, but that was in addition to our usual budget). I'd managed to make this work for the 2008-09 season by programming Good Friday so that we'd need minimal instrumentalists (Victoria Requiem and Rutter Requiem in the version for six instruments). However, our budget now had to be radically cut in other ways, so we had to cancel Allan's premiere.

That was truly one of the most difficult phone calls I've ever had to make. Allan had done enormous amounts of work and spent countless hours working on the piece and now it was all going to disappear. I was determined to make this a postponement, not an end, to the project, but it was still enormously painful.

I can only say that I'm so happy it was not an end to our collaboration, but that we were able to include it in the 2009-10 season. As such things go, other things happened that turned the delay into a positive, instead of a negative: Allan was able to apply again for a Canada Council commissioning grant (he'd just missed the deadline the year before) and got it, as well as a grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts; he revised the piece substantially, particularly the orchestration, dropping the winds; and we were able to do the work in a year when we weren't organizationally stressed (and for me, personally stressed trying to do several jobs at once).

And, I should note, we ended the 2008-09 season with our deficit eliminated.

Just a bit more about the process of collaboration/commissioning, particularly of building a relationship with a composer.

When I was doing research for my dissertation (and later book) about Swedish choral music, it became clear that one of the reasons (although there were others) that so much high-level a cappella music was written for Swedish choirs was the personal relationship between conductor/ensemble/composer. Eric Ericson is a prime example of this. He had close friendships with a number of composers, but perhaps one of the closest was with Ingvar Lidholm. Lidholm is arguably the most important Swedish composer of his generation and has written a number of very important choral works (his masterpiece for me is ...a riveder le stelle)--you can find a recording by Ericson's Chamber Choir of all of his choral music here.

Eric formed the Chamber Choir in 1945 with a group of 16 friends, primarily to perform early music that they'd studied, but rarely heard. Their first concert in 1946 was all early music with the exception of Hindemith's Acht Kanon. However, Lidholm, having heard this choir and being one of Eric's closest friends, wrote a new work for them: Laudi. I'd read how difficult this work was for the choir and Eric had written about how they'd struggled for more than six months to try to master some passages. One time I asked Eric how they'd persevered through this. He simply replied, "He was our friend."

Ultimately, that's often what it's all about.

Allan is our friend, and certainly I was determined to make sure that Fowre Thowsand Wynter would see its premiere with Pro Coro, and it's absolutely been worth it.

I don't know when Allan would have gotten the possibility of writing two large-scale works such as he did for us, but I'm proud that we got to take part in their creation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Allan Bevan "Fowre Thowsand Wynter"

Too long since I've written! It's been a busy year since August (or July!) with a move to Texas, new job at UNT, keeping up with Pro Coro, etc. I'll try to do better going forward!

Pro Coro Canada, my professional chamber choir in Edmonton, just had its Christmas concert last Sunday, which included a major premiere, that of Allan Bevan's multi-movement work, Fowre Thowsand Wynter, for narrator, soprano soloist, choir and orchestra (six movements, about 35' long). It was a big success--the audience loved it. You can learn more about Allan on his own website.

When people ask me about Allan's style it's not a simple answer since he's not easy to pigeon-hole. He is essentially a tonal composer, but not afraid of dissonance. A wonderful melodist. Someone with an exquisite sense of poetry (which means he chooses his texts well and understands them deeply). He also has a great sense of drama, which is a large part of the success of this work.

I'll say more about the work in particular in future posts, but a bit about the origins of our relationship with Allan that led up to this piece (we're not the only choir and I'm not the only conductor to discover Allan's talents--he's been commissioned and performed by many choirs).

Allan was in Edmonton when I first arrived (I became Artistic Director of Pro Coro Canada in 1999), at that time working on an MM in Choral Conducting. Soon after he left for Calgary to do his Ph.D in composition. I did a few of Allan's smaller works (Love Came Down at Christmas, The Huron Carol) and we talked about a commission, resulting in The Time Draws Near the Birth of Christ for our Christmas concert in 2003. It's based on a Tennyson text which, in Allan's words "depicts an older man standing on an English hillside on Christmas Day. From his vantage point he is able to hear the sounds of the church bells from four different neighbouring towns. He is overwhelmed by his bitter-sweet boyhood memories, producing a picture of Advent-Christmas that is intensely personal and unique." You can already tell quite a bit about Allan's response to poetry from this. It's a gorgeous work for choir and piano, with challenging choral parts and frequent divisi. I later did it with the University of Cincinnati CCM Chorale when I was a guest professor in 2006 and the students there loved it just as much as my Pro Coro singers had.

I knew from Len Ratzlaff, head of the choral program at the U of A, that Allan's doctoral thesis was a major work for chorus and orchestra, and Allan then sent me a score, too. I didn't think too much about it at first, since it wouldn't work for our chamber choir, but then had a conversation with Allan about whether it might be adapted in some way for Pro Coro. The texts were ones that could work well for our Good Friday concert, for which we often use orchestra. I can't remember all the details of scoring, but the original piece was for multiple soloists, choir, children's choir and large orchestra. Allan thought, however, that he could excerpt several movements, reduce the soloists to one, still use narrator, and reduce the orchestration to create a work for Good Friday. I had already programmed the Mozart Requiem, so we had strings available (and bassett horns/clarinets and bassoons), but Allan wanted to use oboes, horns, harp and organ (along with extra percussion), so that's what we did.

Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode uses a narrator (sometimes speaking alone, but often with underscoring by the orchestra) and soprano soloist (Jolaine Kerley, a wonderful soprano who's often sung with Pro Coro either as choir member or soloist--Allan and Jolaine were students together at the U of A, so Allan knew her singing very well). The narrator has an important role and definitely should NOT be your typical Sunday lesson of the day reader! We were lucky to use Timothy Anderson. I met Timothy early on in Edmonton--he occasionally sang with Pro Coro, was an active soloist, auther, book publisher, and actor (and as I later found out, Preacher's kid): in other words, perfect for the job! The work is in four movements, two with Old English texts and part of the mass:
I - Why Have Ye No Reuth
II - Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode (which became the title)
III. Kyrie
IV. Christe/Alleluia

The music was wonderful and the result at the concert was not what one would expect from a new work and composer that most of the audience didn't know: it received an extended standing ovation. The reviewer in the Edmonton Journal said:

It was Mozart's Requiem that drew 1,700 people to Pro Coro's Good Friday concert, but it was the world premier of Bevan's Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode that propelled them to their feet at its conclusion, and for good reason.

...The choir, soloist Jolaine Kerley, narrator Timothy Anderson and a select group of Edmonton Symphony players delivered what sounded like it could be a definitive performance of this contemporary work...Anderson did a theatrically accomplished job of conveying the persona of Christ in His excruciating last hours and as raconteur of the gospel story about Jesus' physical and psychological torment on the cross...[The] Kyrie is technically masterful and moving...almost pastoral, as though the deity addressed were the great consoler...Bevan's orchestration is full of fine detail...
A huge success! We did Nou Goth again in 2007 and Allan talked to me about the possibility of an Advent/Christmas work along the same lines--a "prequel" if you will . . . and that's where the story ends for now. More to come!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

UNT position

My UNT position comes from the modification of a couple positions due to retirements: Henry (Hal) Gibbons retired last year and from him I've inherited the 2nd UNT choir, now called the UNT Chamber Choir, plus teaching choral literature and conducting in alternate years. Lyle Nordstrom, who heads the early music program, retires at the end of this year--he'd founded the Collegium Singers, a chamber choir that sings on their own or with the baroque orchestra (period instruments). Lyle's job has grown greatly, so it was decided to include Collegium Singers in what is now my job.

The Chamber Choir is 32 singers this year and is predominantly undergraduates, with three grad choral conducting students and 2 graduate vocal students. Collegium has a more even mix of undergrads and graduate students. Since it rehearses at a different time than the other choirs, it also includes members of Jerry McCoy's A Cappella Choir and grad students in either Vocal Performance or Early Music.

I certainly enjoy both choirs and also the teaching I'm doing: this fall that's a conducting class for the master's students in conducting (although I have a few DMA students taking it, too), plus graduate students for whom choral conducting is their minor (I have two theorists, a tuba player, and DMA student in Wind Conducting). Next semester I'll teach the second (last) course in the undergraduate conducting sequence.

This plus the usual committee work that makes up an academic's life, is my life here in Denton and I'm glad to be doing it. I also continue to conduct Pro Coro Canada, my professional chamber choir in Edmonton, Alberta.

It's a good life!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Long time, no write!

Too much time has gone by without posting to this (moribund) blog! I'll change that.

It's been a busy, exciting time (not that that's an excuse!), but much has happened:
Kathryn and I made a trip to Denton, TX the first week of July to look for housing there--my new job at the University of North Texas would begin in August. We stayed with Jerry and Julie McCoy and had a great time visiting in the evenings (exploring a bit of Fort Worth and Dallas, too), while driving our rental car into Denton during the day and looking at rental houses and a few apartments. We finally found a place, a comfortable rental with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths in a quiet little group of garden homes, about a 10-12 minute drive from the University and convenient to shopping of all kinds.

Back to Tacoma, for lots of packing and arrangements to move--all the usual dealings with post offices and utility companies, moving companies, etc. Also planning for a new car (since our 1993 Honda Civic with 225,000 miles and no working air conditioning wouldn't really work in Texas). Our actual move was at the end of July, using ABF, who drop off a trailer for you to load, then pick it up a day or so later. We'd hired a local moving company to pack and (naturally!) it was the hottest day of the year, with a high of 106 F. But it got done, and then flew to Dallas August 4, where we were met by another colleague, Alan McClung. We stayed with Alan for several days while our stuff got moved in, we picked up our new car (a Honda Fit), got my office organized at school, sorted out things with utility companies, and began the work of getting administrative things done at UNT (and as you can imagine, there's a lot to do!). In mid-August we had two days of faculty orientation, auditions began the 24th and classes the 27th.

Next time I'll say a bit more about what I'm doing at UNT.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 14

Here's my final post about this study tour organized by Bob Scandrett in 1975.

Unfortunately, my journal broke off here--I must have gotten tired or behind with posts, so took no more notes. Too bad, as what followed was certainly interesting and I don't have detailed memories of any of it (it's a distance of 34 years, after all!)--and the notes I made earlier in the tour have certainly kicked off other memories for me as well. However, I did write down what happened and what I attended:

July 5 - to Cambridge to hear the London Bach Choir under Willcocks doing some Bach motets and the Britten Hymn to St. Cecilia -- we would also have visited the various Colleges

July 6 - a communion service with a Haydn mass at St. Pauls and in the evening a performance with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Riccardo Muti of the Verdi Stabat Mater and Te Deum, along with Mussourgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition

July 7 - last official day of the tour -- free during the day, party in the evening

July 8-12 -- went to stay with Roy and Chris Wales -- in that time made a trip to Cambridge to take in Evensong at King's and St. John's, plus hearing the Southend Festival Choir (Roy's old choir)

Once again, I have to thank Bob Scandrett for arranging such an amazing tour. It was truly an extraordinary experience and made a big impact on me as a musician and conductor. Many, many thanks!

Just to get a sense of what went into the planning and Bob's preparatory work for this, here are some excerpts from his letter to us from April 10, which began with a good part of the itinerary (although it still changed after that):
This already seems to me a very busy and exciting schedule. However, this is not all by any means. To quote Jill again, "Much of the itinerary in London is blank since at this time there are almost no definitive programmes and the various concert halls will not commit themselves even to printing their provisional programmes."

We have also yet to schedule our conferences with Louis and Eve Halsey, which will include a listen at his tape library, a session with John Elliot Gardiner, director of the Monteverdi Choir [unfortunately, this didn't happen], and probably a session with the composer John Gardiner. If Gemini opera is performing, we are invited. We have bad news from King's and St. John's, who are on vacation from June 8 until July 9 . . .

What do you think of some ballet performances? The Royal Ballet will be in session, as well as Sadler's Wells. Visiting are the Tokyo company which is classical and the Netherlands Dance Theatre, which is modern ballet, and often very controversial--I seem to recall they did the first all nudie production -- which sounds risky, at the very least!

We had some moments of anxiety with the Southlands, but all seems to be well now. Their invitation was not all that enthusiastic and I am sure we have Eve Halsey to thank totally for their eventual acceptance . . .

I would like to encourage those of you who have any recording by any of the people we will meet to let me know. I will be sending a discography of my own library out and will make some cassettes of these for those who would like to listen to them in advance. I am anxious that all of us are prepared to take part in discussion with these men. Gardiner and Norringthon are, for example, leading authorities on the performance practice of baroque music, particularly that of Schütz and Monteverdi. It is a curious coincidence that Gardiner is performing the Monteverdi Vespers at the Bath and Brighton Festivals, and Norrington at Aldeburgh and I believe later on the continent. With a little bit of preparation we should be able to find some interesting contrasts between their ideas. Norrington said in his letter, "You and your group will be welcome to visit my home at 14.30 on the 11 June to spend the afternoon in discussion. On the 12th you are free to attend rehearsals of Monteverdi's Vespers in the version I have based on the forces available at St. Mark's Venice . . . Perhaps these few days should give us an opportunity to know one another. If you think you need more time I might be able to manage another session on the tenth or the thirteenth . . . Just let me know exactly what you would like, and if the suggestions above suit you." I can't imagine a more cordial invitation, and I personally want to be ready to take advantage of his experience. Of course, the best way is to get acquainted with the music thoroughly. I think there are several recordings available, although I could not find one by either of them.

I have recently acquired several records by Norrington and his choir. All are on Argo [he then lists 6 recordings].

I was only able to locate on record of John Elliot Gardiner [Monteverdi and Gesualdo motets and madrigals].

Gardiner seems to belong more to the traditional, refined King's sound of choir, where Norrington seems to cultivate a more robust, individualistic sound, which is somehow more appropriate in my ears to Schütz than to Monteverdi. I was initially more impressed by Gardiner than Norrington, but in re-listening, my feelings are less strong.

There is a beautiful recording of Walton's Music for Choir recorded by Simon Preston and the choir of Christ Church College, Oxford. Preston is a world famous organist, but his work at Oxford is attracting much attention and seems to be rivaling King's as a prestige organization, particularly since Willcocks has left King's and has been replaced by Ledger . . . I have several recordings by Halsey: a recent one which he gave me last summer, not yet available here: motets by Monteverdi, Gabrieli and Schütz, with James Bowman, and would make an interesting comparison with Norrington and Gardiner. I think it is also instructive to compare these versions with those of [Wilhelm] Ehmann and [Gunter] Graulich [chief editor/owner of Carus Verlag], particularly the works of Schütz, which are somewhat different in concept, both in tone and dynamic vigor. I still am very partial to some of the Ehmann version, but Norrington gets closer than most (this incidentally is the view of Graulich, who knows Norrington) . . .

Now is also a good time to read travel books and study Gothic architecture in popular paperback versions.
You can tell a good bit about Bob's extraordinary mind in reading this--his is not a narrow knowledge or set of interests! Again, so many thanks for this opportunity.

England Study Tour 1975 - 13

Thursday, July 3
In the morning we had a rehearsal with Louis Halsey -- he is a charming man with some excellent ideas -- I enjoyed the morning and was stimulated to think again about the importance of text -- Halsey obviously knows a lot, but he still doesn't excite me -- his music-making is tasteful, but sometimes a bit dull, with no drama -- this is certainly an area where I, too, need improvement.

It seems to me to be one of the major problems of interpretation: how far to go in the direction of drama and excitement without distorting the form, structure, and balance of a piece -- how best to synthesize these elements - detail versus overall structure -- all are polarities that in a really good performance of a really good piece should disappear -- the details should make the overall form more obvious and vice-versa -- the impact of the total piece should first be felt, but individual details and beauties should not be sloughed over -- this is more than ever true in a piece like Bach's Mass in B Minor -- how do you do all the little things in such a way that people hear them and yet you don't lose a sense of the whole? So that the piece "pushes" from beginning to end logically and dramatically? How to sweep people along into another world for a short time??? All needs thinking about.

This evening: The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie's play in its 23rd year -- very enjoyable.

Friday, July 4
to a rehearsal at Tiffin School -- interesting -- musically very accomplished (kids their age don't do music anywhere near as difficult at home), but vocally very bad -- I think about what Neil could do, sound-wise, with a choir like this -- I'm sure he would astound people -- it's a different emphasis than we have at home [given what children's choirs in the US and Canada have done since that time, that's no longer true, of course--they do some astounding things and difficult music]

Evening: Neil Simon's Sunshine Boys -- not one of his better plays

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!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Oh, too long . . .

. . . since my last post.

Life has been busy, to say the least. Kathryn and I head to Denton, TX (temperature around 100 F) tomorrow for a week of house-hunting and planning. We're looking forward to it! Lots of support from my new colleagues.

After I get back (even though it will be about three weeks of frantic activity to get ready for a big move), I'll do some posting about a great study trip to England long ago planned by Bob Scandrett. An amazing experience!

Until then . . .

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bernstein's Choruses from 'The Lark'

I just finished two performances with the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati and opened the program with Leonard Bernstein's Choruses from 'The Lark'.

These are terrific pieces, but when they were published were divided into two sets: French choruses and Latin choruses. The problem is, this has nothing to do with the way the music was originally conceived and ordered.

I'm not the only one to realize this, of course. I believe I sang them when an undergraduate in the correct order with Rod Eichenberger, so I can't take credit for figuring this out myself (although I hope I would have looked at the play to see context!). But there is at least one recording (by The Sixteen) which simply puts them in the published order, which makes no sense at all.

The music was originally written as incidental music for a play, originally by Jean Anouilh, adapted by Lillian Hellman in 1955. The play was about Joan of Arc and Bernstein was asked to write incidental music for it (Hellman was also the original librettist for the first version of Candide, done about the same time). Bernstein chose to use the pioneering early music ensemble, New York Pro Musica, for this, so the music was written for seven singers (one-to-a-part), plus hand-drum and bells. The music was, of course, recorded for the play (not done live). The seven singers were three women, three men, and counter-tenor (the pioneering American countertenor, Russell Oberlin). The music is recognizably Bernstein, but he borrows some of conventions of music of the period to create a wonderful hybrid of old and new.

I've done the work several times, once with a one-on-a-part ensemble, but more usually with chorus. One of the times we did it, the drama department at PLU was inspired to do the play in the following year and used our concert recording during the play--the music adds much to the "flavor" of the play. My last year at PLU we did it for our Scandinavian tour (2001) and I wrote a short narration that two singers read at performances, putting each of the movements into context within the action of the play.

Just before doing it with VAE I looked online to see if I could find the original recording anywhere. I couldn't, but found a recording by Robert DeCormier and his new group, Counterpoint, done one-to-a-part and with a narration (using Joan's words from the play) done by his wife. The narration is very effective, sometimes done over the ensemble singing. I bought it through iTunes just to hear the narration--the performance isn't terrific, but the narration is great.

I've also seen that the original production was filmed for a Hallmark Hall of Fame production with the original cast. The New York production of "The Lark" by Jean Anouilh opened at the Longacre Theater in New York on November 17, 1955 and ran for 229 performances. Boris Karloff was nominated for the 1956 Tony Award for Actor in a Drama for "The Lark" for the role of Cauchon and recreated his stage role in this movie version. Bruce Gordon, Michael Higgins, Ralph Roberts, and Julie Harris (as Joan) also recreated their stage roles in this movie version (also Denholm Elliott, Basil Rathbone, Eli Wallach, and Jack Warden). What a cast! Unfortunately, I can't find it anywhere for purchase or rental. I'd love to see it.

This is a reminder to always look for context when you perform a work--who was it written for? for what kind of space (church, theatre, concert hall)? what size and kind of ensemble? what purpose (liturgical, court, home)? These are always questions that can inform your performance.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making music with old and new friends

We had a wonderful performance of Messiah last night (odd to do it now, you think? Well, it was the 250th anniversary of Handel's death! Why weren't you celebrating Handel?). This came about because two friends were celebrating 40 years of making and bringing music to Spokane, WA.

David Dutton (oboe) and Beverly Biggs (harpsichord) settled in Spokane after David became principal oboe of the Spokane Symphony. They quickly became enmeshed in the musical life in Spokane and both tirelessly worked to bring other music to their adopted community: a concert series with guest artists or ensembles, plus their own friends with whom they made music.

In the mid-70s I got to know David when he came to Seattle to hear a performance of the Bach Matthew Passion I did with my Seattle Pro Musica group. He and Bev were already planning a Bach Festival in Spokane with period instruments, to take place in January and they were looking for a choral conductor.

So a couple years later this became reality and I worked in Spokane for at least seven years with a terrific group of people. Over the years the orchestra included musicians such as baroque flutist Janet See, violinists Stanley Ritchie, and Daniel Steppner, and many others. Vocal soloists included Nancy Zylstra and the Dutch baritone, Max van Egmont. In the seven years or so I was there I conducted a wide variety of works, from Bach cantatas, motets, the Magnificat, and Johannespassion to a scene from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes and Telemann's short opera Pimpinone. I had many wonderful experiences there, but especially remember conducting a performance of Bach's Ich habe genug with Max. I love accompanying a soloist with orchestra--whether a vocal or instrumental soloist--and conducting that particular piece with Max, who sang it from memory and felt it deeply, was a special moment in my musical life.

Even though Beverly lives in South Carolina now, she still takes part in some of Allegro Baroque's productions, and she and David had the idea of doing this big production of Messiah for the 30th anniversary of their making music in Spokane. There were certainly both old and new friends involved: most of the chorus was from Spokane (including a few I'd worked with before), with soloists taking part as well, plus a few extra singers from Seattle (the choir was 6-4-4-5). Most of the strings were from the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and leading the orchestra was Stanley Ritchie (on sabbatical from IU). Besides David playing baroque oboe was Sand Dalton, another old friend from early days in Seattle, and Margaret Gries, who came in as principal 2nd violin. I hadn't worked with any of these people for a long time, so it was truly "old home" week. To make it truly special, Max van Egmont came from the Netherlands to sing the bass solos, even though he is formally retired from his performance career. At 72, he still sings wonderfully, and it was a special pleasure to work with him. Max has such a wonderful approach and is so musical and expressive--pure pleasure. Everyone was a joy to work with.

I had a couple rehearsals earlier with the Spokane chorus members and then arrived after my Good Friday concert from Edmonton via Seattle. We had one rehearsal with the orchestra and chorus Sunday evening (my first time with any of the soloists or extra singers in Seattle), a rehearsal with orchestra and soloists Monday morning, then a dress rehearsal Monday evening--so not a lot of time, particularly since we were doing the work uncut (as it should be!). Everyone rose to the occasion last night and the performance went extremely well. Simply a great time.

Thank you, David and Beverly!