2003-2004 Season

2003-2004 Season

Fifth year in the chorus. Golly. Pretty light year for us, so I'll put all the concerts on one page again, and update it after each concert.

Berlioz Romeo and Juliet (10/03)

This is somewhat of an odd piece, a cross between a symphony and a choral oratorio. The
program notes do a better job of placing it in a historical context. There's a chamber chorus that plays the part of a Greek chorus, narrating the story and providing commentary. There's a gorgeous instrumental movement depicting the Balcony scene. But Berlioz completes the piece with a scene that does not exist in the play - the scene of reconciliation between the two warring families, represented musically by two choruses on opposite sides of the stage shouting at each other, before Friar Laurence gives a moving aria convincing them to put aside their differences in respect of their children's sacrifice, and making them swear an oath of brotherhood. Awww....


Choral Christmas (12/03)

This was our typical Christmas Concert. The only difference was that we got a full orchestra instead of the normal chamber orchestra we get, so it was dubbed the Choral Christmas Spectacular. Not that we used them to particularly good effect. It was the typical set of Christmas carols, sing-alongs, with only a few pieces where we got to show our chops. Not the most thrilling of concerts for the chorus. But a definite crowd pleaser.

Handel Messiah (12/03)

Whee, another Messiah. It's so great doing this piece with this group. It's got some really virtuosic stuff for the chorus to show off with. And since we do it almost every year, it takes very little to pull it together. People new to the chorus get a few extra rehearsals, but for us returning choristers, we had one rehearsal to reacquaint ourselves with it, and get the stylistic markings that our guest conductor, Martin Haselbock, wanted, one rehearsal to nail down our execution of those stylistic markings, one rehearsal with Haselbock to check to make sure we were doing what he wanted, one rehearsal with the orchestra, and then the performance.

This year was excellent because we performed it in mixed seating, so instead of sitting in sections with all basses together, all tenors together, etc., we sat in mixed quartets, so I was sitting between a soprano and an alto. It definitely makes the section solos more challenging, but it's absolutely wonderful for the counterpoint that Handel uses so effectively. In sections, it's sometimes hard to realize that you don't currently have the melody, but when the person next to you is singing it, you get a much better feel for where the melody is bouncing around.

And it was also fun because this chorus is so on the ball that people were catching things on the fly, just from the conductor or from each other. How a particular word was going to end. How to phrase a certain run. Things like that were just happening organically as we rehearsed. And the conductor made it easy as well; it was a pretty good sign that he wanted us to sing louder when he started jumping up and down waving his hands. It was great!

The performances went off wonderfully both evenings, despite a power outage just before the second performance. We got our typical roar from the audience in the bows afterwards; we've gotten a bit spoiled, but I can't tell you how good it feels to have an appreciative audience.

Faure Requiem (1/04)

The Faure Requiem is a beautiful little piece. Much like the Brahms Requiem, the chorus is the focus of the piece, with only two and a half movements devoted to soloists. This particular rendition was even more chorus-centric, since the two soloists fell unfortunately ill just before the first performance (we were particularly disappointed that Barbara Bonney was unable to perform). But the chorus stepped up and had a great performance. One of the magical things about the Symphony Chorus is that, while it has the power inherent in 170 singers, it also has the capability of singing with a magical hushed quality, an effect that Joshua Kosman, the Chronicle reviewer, calls "paradoxically potent".


Getty Annabel Lee and Young America (2/04)

Gordon Getty is a well-known composer and philanthropist. This concert presented the West Coast premiere of Young America, one of his recent works, as well as Annabel Lee, a piece where he set Poe's poem to music for men's chorus. The concerts were recorded for later release on CD, which is exciting for me personally. Annabel Lee is a pretty little song, and the men of the Chorus sound just amazing (okay, I'm biased). Young America is interesting; I didn't like it at first, but it started to grow on me as we sang it more. There's a couple fantastic violin solos in the middle, which Nadya Tichman pulled off with her usual verve. Not much more to say than that.


Beethoven Journey (5/04)

As part of the
Beethoven festival this year, they chose to schedule a program consisting of less well-known works of Beethoven. As Michael put it, "This concert is everything you wanted to know about Beethoven but were afraid to ask." The chorus did four songs, there were lots of little chamber pieces involving various combinations of piano, winds, and voice, etc. See the concert page for more details and a link to the program notes. The various pieces were cute and well-constructed, but there wasn't a lot of depth to them, in general. The best of the bunch was a trio for two oboes and an english horn, playing a theme and variations on an aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and that was mostly because Bill Bennett, the principal oboe of the Symphony is so amazing.

There were several funny moments, though, especially in Michael's rehearsals. And one more during the second concert. After the first night's concert ran long til 10:30, they decided to shorten it the second evening. In particular, apparently, the union rules were that 10:15pm is when the orchestra members, who are all part of the musicians' union, hit overtime. So this evening, Michael cut his talk short, and they dropped a couple pieces from the second half. They also tightened up entrances and exits, no extra bows for anybody, etc. So we streaked through the program. We ended up finishing the concert at 10:05. Michael takes his bow, goes offstage, they're still clapping, and he comes back on, and says something to the orchestra and they start getting out music. The chorus looks confused, because we didn't prepare an encore. Then he yells to us "Schlusschor" (the finale movement of the concert), and we sing it over again.

I'm convinced that we did an encore because they said offstage "Dammit! We finished at 10:05! We've got the orchestra until 10:15! We can't let them go early - I guess we better do an encore!" The first encore in history prompted by union regulations...


Beethoven Fidelio (5/04)

Fidelio is Beethoven's
only opera. He struggled for years to write it. Not being a huge opera fan, I can't really comment on its quality. But it was entertaining for us choristers to do our little part (entertaining and a bit terrifying since we had to memorize our parts). The soloists were good as usual. Not really a lot to say about this one actually. Reviews:

Mahler Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection") (6/04)

I had done Mahler 2 a
couple years ago with the Youth Symphony, but doing it for the first time with the Symphony with Michael conducting, with the whole thing being recorded for MTT's triumphant Mahler cycle? Wow. Just wow.

It's a tremendous piece of music, full of wonderful music of all sorts, ending with ten minutes of choral singing where we go from the softest of the soft, to the loudest of the loud, from the bottom of our ranges to the top, with lyrics that stir the soul ("What has passed away must rise again... I will die, so that I will live!"). Michael and the Symphony are in peak form, and it's been a true joy to listen to them perform the first 75 minutes of the symphony each night. I'm really looking forward to the recording that comes out of this - I think it will be absolutely fantastic.


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