It’s been a glorious but grueling two weeks. On Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13, the North Carolina Master Chorale performed with the NC Symphony in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection” Symphony. There were two nights of rehearsals with the symphony prior to the performances, and a nearly 200-mile round-trip drive for me for each… although I shouldn’t whine because I skipped the second symphony rehearsal so I wouldn’t have to drive, and another soprano very kindly offered me hospitality on Friday night, so I only made two trips in all.
You can read a lovely but incomplete review here.
What I mean by “incomplete” is that I wish he’d had more to say about our performance. I’ve written to him c/o the website with these comments:
I think it needs to be said that Grant Llewellyn is a joy for a
vocalist to work with. He knew exactly what he wanted from us for the
Mahler, and he knew how to ask us for it. He was easy to follow in his
direction, and the transition of working with two different conductors
(Al for rehearsals, Grant for performance) was as nearly seamless as I
suppose it is possible to achieve.
I think, based on Mr. Rossman’s praise of our performance, that the
joy we felt in performing this work had to have been transmitted to
the audience. By the time our final phrase — “zu Gott, zu Gott wird
es dich tragen!” — dissolved into echoes, I think if I had stepped
off the loft railing, gravity would have had no power over me.
Rossman also didn’t mention that both nights, before Llewellyn could even drop his baton after the final chord, the packed house was on its feet cheering. He and the soloists were called back to the stage no less than four times, and each time he lifted his hand toward the loft to acknowledge us, the cheering only swelled louder. I’ve never experienced anything so exhilerating, and I’m told by people who’ve all but lived in that auditorium that they’d never seen anything to equal it.
The concert will be broadcast on WCPE on October 2 as part of their North Carolina Symphony Concert Series. Their signal can be streamed over the internet, and I’m sure I’ll be putting reminders in regularly between now and then so you won’t be likely to miss it, come October.
Then this past Saturday night was the Master Chorale’s own subscription concert, reviewed here. We met on Saturday morning for our dress rehearsal with the North Carolina Wind Ensemble, then had our performance that night.
I like Ken Hoover, who also hosts WCPE’s wonderful sacred music broadcast on Sunday mornings. But, again, he missed some things I want the world to know. We sang the religious selections of this concert in mixed octets rather than straight voice part arrangements. I was between a baritone and a bass, which I liked quite well; I find it easier by far to blend my voice against the tembre of another voice part than against another soprano. Of course, one feels rather naked hitting high A’s and B-flats without another soprano standing by one’s side. I have had nightmares since Saturday of being off-key ever so slightly or blasting my gentleman friends’ ears with those high notes.
Standing in mixed groups as we did gives the piece a stereophonic quality that can’t be achieved when voice parts are standing together. It really is a lovely effect for those listening from the audience.
The “Kyrie,” the opening movement of the Mass, begins with the women singing in four-part harmonies, a capella, a theme repeated by the men. It is tender and sorrowful, but it swells to a grand sweeping chord — a chord that echoed and re-echoed off the walls, waves of sound pouring back upon us after for glorious seconds after we had broken our sound. There is supposed to be only a very brief pause after this “Elieson” to take a solid breath before continuing; Al had to sustain the pause until the echoes had died away. It was splendid from the choir loft; I wonder how it sounded from the balconies and the orchestra level.
I had not sung the Gloria nor the Credo in Latin before this piece, so I had copied my English translation over the Latin words in my score. I was able to “pray” the piece as well as perform it. Bruckner does a wonderful job in translating the religious themes to a musical setting. The “Et ascendit in caeli” is even whimsical, traversing a C major scale, graced by a little sixteenth note “bounce” to “in caeli” (“He ascended into Heaven”). At “et mortuos” (“He will come again in Glory to judge the Living… and the dead”) we suddenly drop in volume to what feels like an over-the-shoulder-glancing sort of caution.
The Gloria had a fugal “amen” that is the most complicated part of the entire Mass, so far as I am concerned. I struggled and struggled with it in rehearsal – it’s not hard at all when you’re sitting at home alone at the piano! but combined with other voice parts and instrumentation, it can be a right booger! — then, as a gift of grace, during the performance I just sailed right through it as if I’d been born singing it.
My favorite part of the entire Mass — in the liturgy as well as in the concert piece — is the “Agnus Dei,” “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”. This piece was tender, and awe-filled, and beautiful. It begins in unison then divides — the second sopranos actually sing above the first sopranos for part of this, and it’s required of us to hit high G’s softly — a very difficult task. Yet it works.
The Bruckner was over so quickly! It seems a shame that something so beautiful, that we worked so diligently over, should only receive one performance to a very small audience.
I’ll save my comments on the Samuel Adler “Rogues and Lovers” for tomorrow or Friday.
Sweet dreams, everyone, and God bless you.