Featured Performance: A Glorious Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ MDR-Rundfunkchor ∙ Solisten ∙ Philipp Ahmann, Chorus Director: Read article here.
Pachelbel – Nun danket alle Gott for Double Chorus, performed by Voces Suaves. Andreas Meier is their Conductor/Chorus Director. Listen for one Chorus answering the other, just as in Händel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt. This required quite a bit of staggered breathing because they only have 3 sopranos, 3 altos, 2 tenors and 2 basses. So to keep the choral sound going and consistent, that does indeed require staggered breathing within the SATB sections and the perfect blending of voices. This is choral excellence. They sing with perfect intonation. (We sang this at the Conservatory where I trained. That’s where I first heard it):
Also featured in the Conservatory: The Cape Town Youth Choir (South Africa) performing the gospel hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” See video below. You’ve probably never heard it like this. I hadn’t. I’m going to get technical here from a choral perspective: They sing this A cappella (that means without any instrumental accompaniment) and they carry-over nearly all their phrases — that’s a good thing — which requires staggered breathing in all voice sections. I love their “Full Chorus” sound on the second verse. And they have one soprano — not the entire soprano section — singing a beautiful descant on the final verse. She has a lovely voice, but then don’t they all? This is beautifully done. I’ve heard this hymn many times and have played it even more, but I’ve never heard it sung like this before: Polished, choral excellence and sung with perfect intonation in all voice sections. Why can’t the New England Conservatory Concert Choir sound like this? They could if they were trained properly. The same goes for the Boston University Symphony Chorus (soprano and alto sections especially), or the choral ensembles at Shenandoah Conservatory with their wobbling and fluttering voices? Trying to emulate an Opera Chorus, are you, where they’ve never heard the term perfect intonation (one of the foundations of choral excellence)? Why? Because their Chorus Directors are not doing their job in striving for perfect intonation in all voice sections (SATB). Yes, achieving perfect intonation in all voice sections requires work, but that’s what they’re being paid to do. Either that, or they’re incompetent and need to be replaced. Any Chorus can sound like the Cape Town Youth Choir or the MDR-Rundfunkchor (up above in the Brahms’ EDR video from Frankfurt) IF they are trained properly and the choristers are auditioned and selected properly. The size of the ensemble/Chorus is irrelevant. It has to do with how they are trained. The Conductor for the Cape Town Youth Choir is Leon Starker. He prepared them. Is he the Robert Shaw of South Africa or of Cape Town. (Who’s Robert Shaw, you’re asking? The late Robert Shaw was considered the Dean of Choral Music. He founded the Robert Shaw Chorale and later was the conductor of the superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. (I trained my choral ear on his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus as well as Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus).
Overheard in the Conservatory: Girls playing with balls/”Euro 2022″: So how was this team from England even eligible to play in Euro 2022 since the UK/England is no longer part of the EU? And many in the UK despise Europe, the EU and “the continentals.” That’s the reason for Brexit, remember? They don’t want to be known as Europeans or have anything to do with Europe or Euro. They want nothing to do with Europe, UNTIL they win something! Then they’re all for being “Euro” and European. So UK hypocrites: it seems that you’re all for being “Europeans” and “Euro” when you can jump up and down celebrating winning something against Deutschland, and in this case girls playing with balls. Your glaring hypocrisy is duly noted. And nobody has pointed out that this event was a massive COVID super-spreader event. But that doesn’t matter anymore, does it?
Opera-Genre “Soloists”: Why do they — conductors and or orchestral mismanagement — insist on bringing in opera-genre soloists (also known as screamers) with their obnoxious uncontrollable vibrato into performances of symphonic choral works, rather than using the finest choristers who have also been trained as soloists to perform the solo passages with minimal noticeable vibrato? Symphonic choral works are NOT opera! The screamers don’t at all match the perfect intonation sound of the Orchestra Chorus. In fact, the screamers often scream over the Chorus. The soprano screamers are the worst, followed by the tenor usually. They seem unable to control their voices. And when they get all revved up, they seem oblivious that they are screaming over the Full Orchestra and Chorus. Is that the training they’re receiving these days in Conservatories and University Schools of Music? How best to scream over everyone on stage, including the full resources of the Concert Hall’s pipe organ if that’s being used. How best to be the most important on stage? Screaming is not music. Any damn fool can scream. But many concert-goers these days have been brainwashed to believe that screaming is art and screaming is music because of this unfortunate ritual of dragging in opera divas into symphonic choral performances. Absolute rubbish! They ruin many otherwise superb performances. With few exceptions, I’ve learned to bypass all soloist passages because I don’t enjoy listening to some soprano “soloist” scream above all the rest on stage. And then she comes out to take her bow with the others, she looks all giddy as if to say, “Oh they loved me; wasn’t I wonderful? Glad you enjoyed my screaming.” Ugh.
Independence Day 2022 in the United States of North America. This 4tb of July was more obnoxious than usual. In part, because on the classical music station I listen to, they were frequently saying, “Happy Independence Day” to their listeners. That got annoying. They also say such drivel as, “You’re always welcome here.” Oh good lord, people! Is that some new silly marketing strategy? And it was a bit odd really considering they broadcast worldwide online, so “Happy Independence Day” was only for the US listeners. Seemed a bit US- centric. Did they forget that the people in the rest of the world would have no idea what they were talking about? Then they were playing spirituals, such as, the announcer spoke “That was the Promised Land by the Tabernacle Choir of Temple Square.” Oh they were playing them, were they? Surely another Chorus trained in choral excellence has recorded that piece, no? And they used to be known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so they’ve been sanitised to just Tabernacle Choir? I don’t know, I don’t listen to them. When I think of choral excellence, they don’t come to mind. At first I was thinking: Is that Tanglewood? — the Tanglewood Festival Chorus — before the Boston Symphony Orchestra hired James Burton to restore the TFC’s choral excellence which had declined under John Oliver? These days whenever I hear a podunk Chorus I ask: Is that Tanglewood, pre-James Burton? And was this classical music station suggesting that the US is the “promised land?” That’s delusional thinking. There were other groups of spirituals played throughout the day. I fail to understand what spirituals have to do with the 4th of July. What’s the connection? “Patriotic” music, yes, but not spirituals. Do most people in the US even know what Independence Day is? I suspect not. If one were to tell them that it’s independence from The (British) Crown, I suspect you’d get a blank stare not knowing what you’re talking about. Others would say, “Oh you know, I love The Queen, God Save The Queen and the Royal Family and I wish we were still under The Crown. She’s a wonderful “lady.” Well, if you wish we were still under The Crown why are you celebrating Independence Day? Ah, the disconnect. In reality, to most people, Independence Day is just a day off to party and to get drunk and to have multiple gun shootings in parts of the US killing and wounding people. With some insane people screaming for “more guns, more guns, more guns.” And others repeating the tired and useless, “Thoughts and Prayers and more Moments of Silence” narrative. That’s the reality in 2022. And at night, people seem to like to live through what sounds like a war zone with booms and bangs of fireworks. Even the US national anthem celebrates “bombs bursting in air…and our flag was still there.” That’s important, is it? Here’s a suggestion: If you’re really all that hot on bombs bursting in air and war-fervor and noise pollution, why not take a trip to Ukraine where the real thing is happening with Russia’s barbaric war crimes on Ukraine. No make-believe there and see how you like that. Maybe living through that will help one work through one’s war fantasies and reconsider this silly Independent Day and what it has become: Just a day off to party and for bar-be-ques, and to pretend war. And of course more gun violence and more innocent people dead and wounded. Rather pathetic really.
About Vibrato: “Vibrato should be a decoration of the pitch you’re playing (or singing). You want the audience to hear the note you’re playing (or singing) and not your vibrato as a separate thing. Vibrato can be a personal stamp or finger print to your own sound. Vibrato should not be a separate thing that gets noticed. But when you work on vibrato as something to get noticed that can lead to all sorts of problems, such as unnatural sounding vibrato.”—Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster of the Los Ángeles Philharmonic. Did you hear that vibrato-obsessed operatic screamers/barkers where your obnoxious vibrato is the dominant harsh and wretched noise coming out of your mouth, where you overpower all others on stage and do so without a microphone because you’re screaming (instead of singing beautifully), and where one often can’t tell what pitch you’re supposedly singing (or screaming)? Where did you train? Whose hotel room did you “train” in to get where you got? Did you hear that vibrato-obsessed soprano sections who can’t sing with perfect intonation? (One of my complaints about the soprano and alto sections of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus under Chorus Director John Oliver). But somewhere along the way, the public was brainwashed that screaming is music, and unfortunately they can’t tell the difference between screaming and singing beautifully.
It’s all about the conductor to the musically-ignorant. I watched a performance of a piece for Orchestra and Pipe Organ. The conductor didn’t play a note in the entire piece, yet he received all the credit for this performance. His interpretation didn’t really sound any different than other interpretations. Musicians of this caliber could have performed the piece without him. Even the organ soloist was ignored by this conductor-worshipping musically-ignorant pleb. I wrote a polite response saying that all the musicians on stage — especially the organ soloist — were responsible for this excellent performance. The response I received was once again: It’s all about the conductor. Well, having worked with so many conductors, I’ll never understand that mindset. The finest conductors from my experience go out of their way to give the other musicians on stage all the credit. I explained this in my comment, but this guy had been brainwashed with — what I call — conductor worshipping, so it didn’t matter what I said, to him it will always be all about the conductor. I suspect all the other musicians resent that thinking that they are not even recognised by someone like that.
The mess at WNC. Clearly they want to be Southern Baptists, so I suggest they start filing the necessary paperwork for leaving the worldwide Anglican Communion and stop pretending to be something they’re not. Read article here.
Leave It To Beaver is one of the finest but most misunderstood shows to ever be on television. And in this article I explain why and how that’s the case. I often wonder if the people (mostly conservatives) who claim to have watched this show, did so with the volume turned up because the Connelly/Mosher script is for an adult’s mind, not a child’s mind. Because it is a show for adults, it did not hold my attention as a child because it was way over my head. Tony Dow (who played Beaver’s brother, Wally) said he didn’t understand much of the script when he was on the show as a teenager. The show was way ahead of its time in many ways by the adult topics it covered such as: animal rights, homelessness, the welcoming of other ethnic groups such as Latinos/Hispanos (which would be hard to find on any programme these days), alcoholism, divorce and how it has a bearing on kids, and other adult topics. The show taught adults non-violent parenting skills in dealing with kids with the overall theme being: It’s nice to be nice and to do the right thing, none of it based in religion usually. The words that conservatives love to attach to this show such as “wholesome and morals and family values” were not even a part of the script. Read the article here.
The classical music armchair critics and their saviour musicians.
My thinking is: Nobody has to like what I like. Nobody has to like the musicians I like including the renowned Orchestra Choruses I enjoy. And, if you don’t like my favourites, find ones you do like, if that’s possible, and listen to them. But the classical music armchair critics (CMAC) take the opposite approach. Everyone has to like what they like. The CMAC — have any of them ever studied an instrument or music? — are the plebs who were too damn lazy to go through the decades of training like well-trained musicians, the expense, anxiety-filled auditions, the discipline, the dedication, the hours of practise time, nor do they possess the required talent and other factors for becoming a stellar musician. So for plebs like that, it’s easier to just sit back at a computer keyboard and pretend to be an expert on all things classical music. In this instance I’m writing about, a group of them were acting like cultists over a celebrity (as usual) but now-deceased pianist. I watched his performance and noticed that he was banging and slapping the keys at times, which well-trained pianists don’t do because there’s no need for that. I pointed this out which made my comment treasonous in their minds, because one does not speak a word of criticism about any celebrity musician. That’s the thinking of the CMAC. The cultists of this pianist began their attack of me, even though I said I had mostly enjoyed his performance, except for the banging and slapping of the keys. One cultist told me that “this pianist has never banged the keys in his life, and if he did…” — but you just said he didn’t! — “so do all other pianists.” A ludicrous comment to make when you think about it, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from the self-appointed omnipotent CMAC. They also were calling his performance “the best ever.” I asked: Why does there have to be a best or a “best ever,” and how would one determine that? The renowned jurists of corrupt and rigged international piano competitions spend hours, even days trying to decide “the best” of performances/pianists and they have trouble doing that throughout their competitions. Yet these CMAC can decide “the best ever” within a matter of seconds. Just imagine: International piano competitions would be days/weeks shorter if they had these CMAC trash on their jury to cavalierly decide “the best ever.” And how can they say “the best ever” when they’ve not heard all of the performances of this piece “ever” or in history to determine that? Especially the performances of this piece from artists who never recorded the piece. Such as one of my piano professors at the Conservatory. She’s never recorded but remains a stellar pianist who chose to teach in academia and became the Chair of the Keyboard Department in the University’s School of Music where she later taught, (she’s now retired). Well, my former piano professor was never a celebrity so she’d be out of the running; they’d never choose her anyway. For them, they’re all about shallow and superficial celebrity-worshipping and celebrity culture. Why do these CMAC trash need a messiah pianist or messiah musician to worship? That’s something I can’t understand. I don’t understand that mentality and I told them that, which they all ignored. I don’t worship any musicians. I have no messiah or saviour musicians. Then when a trained musician comes along, the CMAC attack that person. Because the trained musician showed them up and to be what they are? Not even poor amateurs? After I was told by one of the CMAC cultists that the pianist didn’t bang or slap the keys, I went back and cited the times in the video where he did and where that could be seen, which I suspect none of them re-watched. Upon reflection, I think his banging and slapping of the keys were his style of theatrics. His way of being “showy.” It’s just that well-trained pianists are taught to make whatever they play look effortless, make it look easy even when it’s not. That’s why often one hears from audience members, “s/he makes it look so easy when s/he play.” Well, that’s the goal. Although it can give a false impression to the public that “there’s nothing to playing the piano; it’s so easy, even the most difficult pieces!” Not really. So this pianist’s theatrics contradict that teaching. His theatrics made the piece look even more difficult than it was/is, especially the slapping of the keys with his arms/hands high above the music rack. As I also pointed out, other superb pianists don’t slap or bang the keys in this piece, so why did he? Again, I think it was his thing. Again, his theatrics. I did not go back to read anymore comment responses to me from the CMAC. I can’t stand the CMAC, and this experience — along with many others before this — taught me to never comment again anywhere. I’m tired of it, and you can’t fix stupid so don’t bother trying. But I’ll never understand why so many pathetic people need a messiah musician to worship, adore and glorify. Well, many people do that with politicians as well.
Ukraine Peace Concert Fad
Update (15 March 2022): There was another symbolic Ukraine fad peace concert, this time in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera. Not being into opera at all — I can’t stand screaming to tell you the truth with obnoxious wobbling vibrato (where you can’t even tell what note they’re singing, or rather screaming) which many people have been brainwashed to think is “singing beautifully” — so I can’t tell you much about the concert. I saw the audience. Face masks were required for the audience, and the orchestral members were all wearing conservative black face masks. Then behind the Orchestra was the large Chorus in all black concert attire. None of the choristers were wearing face masks and they were all standing right next to each other. No social distancing. More insanity. I guess they haven’t heard that singing is one of the ways that COVID is most easily transmitted, even if one is fully-vaccinated — that doesn’t make any difference! — since COVID is infecting some fully-vaccinated people. Do any of them have COVID and are asymptomatic? The orchestral members had the intelligence to wear face masks, but not the choristers. Insanity. How many of them will test positive for COVID in a few days or a couple of weeks? “Maybe we should have worn face masks for that performance we gave at the MET, hmmmm? Stupid me.” This is the second large Chorus I’ve seen recently having abandoned COVID restriction guidelines entirely. By the way, choristers can perform superbly with face masks and I’ve seen them do so in Amsterdam. They can also social distance and sing with perfect intonation even though distancing makes it more difficult to hear each other. I guess the Chorus Director at the Metropolitan thinks that COVID is over. Another person in denial. I’ve never heard an Opera Chorus that sang with perfect intonation — one of the foundations of choral excellence but the opera genre seems to ignore that — so I wasn’t about to turn the volume up on my television and be annoyed.
As of this writing (12 March 2022), there’s been a rash of Ukraine Peace Concerts. That’s the latest fad. It’s good that musicians taking part in these concerts are on the correct side of the issue, but in the end, these concerts are purely symbolic/feel-good events and will do nothing to stop any war. Putin is not about to stop his war on Ukraine and the killing of innocent people and the bombing of medical centres (9 as of this writing) because of any peace concerts or anti-war protests anywhere. (Upon reflection, none of the anti-war protests I took part in over the years accomplished anything; the wars went on as scheduled). For one of the Ukraine peace concerts, they dragged out that female pianist who is obsessed with her boobs. I wrote about her here. When she was interviewed in studio the other day she wore this low-cut cleavage-showing dress. Honestly! She felt that even during war she needed to “sex it up” for the viewers. Sigh. There was this other concert in Deutschland where their daily COVID case numbers are: 13,709; 7-day average 10,164 (as of 11 March). Most of the orchestral members were not wearing masks, including the young First Concertmaster. The Second Concertmaster was masked. The audience was somewhat distanced and masks were required for the audience. They created a very nice setting with the colours of the Ukrainian flag (cobalt blue/yellow) imaged on the hall’s organ pipes above the Chorus. They had a large Symphony Chorus on stage (maybe 150-voices?) for the perfunctory Beethoven’s Ninth. Of course it would have to be that! None of the choristers were distanced or wearing face masks which was troubling to see. They looked like any Symphony Chorus pre-COVID. Hello people: Fully-vaccinated people are still getting infected with COVID, haven’t you heard or don’t you care?! The few Choruses I’ve seen during COVID — such as in the Czech Republic or in Amsterdam — have been distanced and wearing face masks, regardless of the size of the ensemble. We’re still in the pandemic, people! (Two cities in China are now in lock-down and there’s the new but unofficial “Deltacron” variant). And why Beethoven’s Ninth? Orchestral mis-management would say: “It’s a ‘crowd pleaser’ like Messiah or Carmina Burana.” It’s one of The Big Three. Yes, I know. Well aware of that. I’m burned out on the Ninth to tell you the truth; I’ve heard it so many times. The best performance I’ve ever heard of the Ninth from a choral perspective was by Dr Paul Traver’s renowned University of Maryland Chorus, and if they were around today I’d be delighted to hear it — it was their in-demand “signature piece” that they performed over 38 times (quite a record) — with the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra and other (inter)national orchestras (such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam). The thinking seemed to have been at that time: If you want a superb Beethoven’s Ninth, it must be the University of Maryland Chorus. Period. For this peace concert, they could have performed Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli/Mass in Time of War or part of Britten’s War Requiem as other examples of appropriate pieces opposing war, but I suspect the Ninth was easier to throw together in a hurry with the thinking being, “Everybody knows that, as often as it’s performed.” How many of these musicians will test positive for COVID in about 14 days or more? Especially the choristers since singing is a major way of transmitting COVID. But apparently orchestral mis-management wasn’t concerned about it. Even if they were all fully-vaccinated, that doesn’t mean anything because the booster has a limited “shelf-life” and makes the vaccine less effective. (I recently made a dental appointment and told the receptionist that I’m fully-vaccinated. She said, “That doesn’t make any difference!” She’s correct. It doesn’t and I was glad that she knew that and told her so.) These concerts are just a temporary fad and will do nothing to stop Putin’s war because he doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
What is the chorus? What is the Chorus?
Your Conservatory training for the day: The chorus (lower case “c”) is the section of a hymn or a song that’s sung after the verses of the hymn or a song are sung. So one sings a verse and then the chorus, and that’s repeated until all the verses are sung followed by the chorus. Most readers probably have some experience doing that. Oratorios and cantatas, for example, also have choruses (lower case “c”) in them that are performed by the Orchestra and Chorus on stage.
The Chorus (upper case “C”) is a choral ensemble, such as the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. (Note the upper case “C” which should be retained whenever referring to the Chorus by itself). The San Francisco Symphony have it correct on their page about their Chorus. When the San Francisco Symphony Chorus is referred to as the Chorus alone, they use a capital “C,” as they should, which also denotes respect for the Chorus. Unfortunately, Choruses — Orchestra Choruses — are too often considered second class musicians (also here) by many people who haven’t a clue what goes into making a talented, superb and esteemed and well-trained Orchestra or Symphony Chorus. The reason I’m bringing this up is an attempt to educate people because I nearly always see people using the wrong word, especially on AdTube. Commenters will write, “the chorus was excellent” (they should have written the Chorus, with an upper case C). So I think to myself: which chorus was excellent in the oratorio they performed? An oratorio has many choruses in it — you didn’t specify which chorus — especially Georg Friedrich Händel’s Israel in Egypt (known as the oratorio of choruses). But instead, the commenter was referring to the Chorus on stage as being excellent but of course used the wrong “chorus” word, probably because s/he doesn’t know the difference. Even some people who should know better — well-trained musicians — use the wrong word. That wasn’t covered in their training? Why not? Most music critics use the wrong word as well from what I’ve seen. For example, the programme will say, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus (note the capital “C”), but Mr/Ms music critic will write “the chorus…” when writing about the Tanglewood Festival Chorus’ performance, yet on the programme a capital “C” was used for the word Chorus. Are you sure you’re in the right job, Mr/Ms Music Critic? You seem to lack attention to detail or you don’t know the difference either! But for those of you who do care (all 2 of you), that is the difference between chorus and Chorus. Some readers will likely pooh-pooh this and call me being “nit-picky.” Well I would like to remind readers that being “nit-picky” is what produces stellar results in performances and musical ensembles being awarded Grammy Awards for, “Best Choral Performance” for example. Such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus under its Founder and Director, Margaret Hillis. They were awarded 11 Grammy Awards (I think back-to-back) under “nit-picky” Ms Hillis for, “Best Choral Performance.” And “nit-picky” Robert Shaw and his stellar Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus also won 9 Grammy Awards for “Best Choral Performance.” “Nit-picky” is part of attention to detail which well-trained musicians are all about. “Nit-picky” is part of our thorough training (observing all markings/indications in the score, for example). So when someone calls me “nit-picky,” I take it as a compliment, even though I know they mean it as a put-down. The same goes for the finest medical or legal professionals (or any field/job for that matter where attention to detail is a critical part of their work). It’s their attention to detail that produces such stellar results. I question the standards of those who call someone, “nit-picky.” They will likely settle for anything, mediocrity. Such people probably can’t hear the difference between stellar and mediocre because they don’t have the ear training and or the musical training. They don’t know what to listen for. No, thank you. I’m not into mediocre. Hope this helps. Class dismissed.
Above is a performance by Ulrich Horn who is one of the cellists in the hr-Sinfonieorchester – Frankfurt Radio Symphony, one of my favourite Orchestras. They’re absolutely outstanding. (Watch/Listen to their Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem at the top of the page, although the superb Chorus is from Leipzig.) Over the years, I’ve seen Ulrich sitting in the cello section — he’s been a musician with the Orchestra for a little over 20 years (since 2001) — and we finally get to hear him play alone, well, with his piano accompanist. He’s playing a piece by Beethoven in this performance:
Sonate für Violoncello und Klavier C-Dur op. 102 Nr. 1 ∙
Ulrich Horn, Violoncello
Nami Ejiri, Klavier
hr-Sendesaal Frankfurt, 6 Dezember 2020
Copyright: 2020 Hessischer Rundfunk (hr)
Ulrich plays beautifully — well of course he does; he wouldn’t be in the hr-S if he didn’t! — and with a beautiful tone. His piano accompanist in this performance is Nami Ejiri who also plays splendidly on a gorgeous Steinway & Sons Piano (might that be a Model D, as used throughout the EU?). So enjoy this performance from Ulrich and Nami. I certainly have enjoyed it. Also, for the benefit of US readers, the “Frank” of Frankfurt is NOT pronounced like the guy’s name, “Frank.” Please! Learn something about the rest of the world and their languages! It’s pronounced using the same “a” sound as in Bach (or do you pronounce that “Back?”). Sigh. Most people in the US seem proudly willfully-ignorant of any international languages — and pronouncing them correctly and authentically — outside of their precious US English.
Updated 30 November 2021: It’s a very common mistake that many people make. I think it’s a mistake that is made by very amateur musicians or people with no musical training at all. They refer to every piece of music, not by its title, but by calling it “a song.” Someone referred to the Brahms’s EDR (Ein deutsches Requiem) as “a song,” which is of course incorrect. The Requiem is, as its name implies, a Requiem. A Requiem is a symphonic choral work. Whereas a song is usually sung by one person or maybe as a duet (two people), not performed by an Orchestra and Chorus. I’ve seen some people refer to the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 by saying, “I love this song.” That’s wrong too. And I’ve never heard anyone singing in that. No, no one sings in the Rachmaninov. It’s a work for piano and orchestra. The piece is a piano concerto as its title implies. Therefore, the Rachmaninov is not “a song.” (roll eyes) Beethoven’s Ninth is not “a song” either. Neither is Orff’s Carmina Burana — that’s a symphonic cantata; that’s not “a song” either — just like Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (a symphonic cantata). That’s not “a song” either. I hope you get the point by now. I’ve given multiple examples because there are a lot of thick people out there. So it’s best to call pieces by their title, because not everything in music is “a song.” Hope this helps.
Update and corrections for this paragraph: The San Francisco Symphony Chorus is back to performing with face masks. They performed Beethoven’s Ninth awhile back and are performing the perfunctory Messiah ritual with a reduced Chorus (from what I read 100 voices out of their total of 150 voices). The Chorus Director was to be the conductor for Messiah, but he stepped down unexpectedly as Chorus Director the latter part of this year because he opposed the San Francisco Symphony’s strict COVID restrictions/protocol. The SFS follows the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s COVID guidelines, which works closely with UCSF Medical Center, a top academic Medical Center. The former Chorus Director is an anti-vaccination guy. WTF? He doesn’t believe in COVID? Another one of those? So, he’s back in Stockholm where he’s originally from, which means I presume he will be leaving his teaching positions at the San Francisco Conservatory as well. But this leaves the Symphony Chorus without a Chorus Director. Maybe they will hire superb James Burton of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, offering him more money than the BSO pays him. Not sure who prepared the Symphony Chorus for Messiah, not that they need preparing for that — I’m joking of course — having performed that oratorio umpteen times by now. Of course they need preparing for Messiah regardless of how many times they’ve performed it, checking for polish such as final consonants and other things. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus is back to performing with face masks and strict COVID protocol for Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops for their Holiday at Pops ritual. It’s too bad that these musical ensembles can’t abandon these silly rituals/traditions and perform something else such as Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah, for example. Back in 2016, that was performed a few days before Christmas in the Nederlandse and the Concert Hall was packed. Elias has nothing to do with the holidays and the people in the Nederlandse were quite comfortable with that. But over in the States, they must stick to their silly traditions and musical ruts. Ugh. End of Update. Watching some of the finest symphonic choral performances, such as the one above from Frankfurt and other performances by this stellar Chorus from Leipzig, it leaves me somewhat grieving for no longer having the opportunity to be in an Orchestra Chorus. I could get my voice back into shape and audition for the Symphony Chorus, but they’re not rehearsing/performing these days due to the pandemic. And that’s my point here. I suspect the Symphony Orchestra Chorus choristers all over the world are grieving the loss of that unique experience that they once took for granted. Well we all took it for granted. I’ve seen one Chorus in Amsterdam performing in very reduced size with face masks and distancing, but most Orchestra Choruses are not performing these days. The last time I checked, the Choral Arts Society of Washington that I once sang with had scheduled a few performances for the 2021-22 season — doing their own thing — and following District of Columbia pandemic protocol. They made that very clear on their website that they would adhere to the District’s COVID requiements. I saw no engagements for them with the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra listed. Pre-COVID they had 1-2 engagements a season, compared to the 4-6 engagements we had with the NSO each season when I sang with them. Up in Boston, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus has nothing scheduled and the BSO is only performing in very reduced size and only occasionally from what I could tell. I know how all of these choristers must feel, because I feel the same way. As my best friend tells me, “You came along at the height of symphonic choral music in performance in major concert halls.” That’s true. I did ultimately burn out on the rather grueling rehearsal and performance schedule. But if you’ve never had the privilege of performing with one of the best Orchestra Choruses in the world — as I was fortunate to do — you will likely not understand this. Someone may say, “We’ll I’ve sung in my church Choir, does that count?” No, it’s nothing like your average podunk Church Choir, with the exception being the Choir of Men and Boys of St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (Anglican Communion) and other esteemed and renowned choral ensembles of that caliber. But St Thomas’s Choir of Men and Boys is not an Orchestra Chorus although the choral standards are the same as with the finest Orchestra Choruses. In fact one of the current choristers at St Thomas was a chorister in Robert Shaw’s superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Being in a Symphony Chorus is such a unique experience to be on a Concert Hall stage performing with a major symphony orchestra and listening to a gorgeous choral sound of choral excellence and all that entails after the hours of rehearsal time and dedication to that art form. And when I hear the Chorus from Leipzig below, they can bring tears to my eyes because of their stellar level of choral excellence. The Leipzig area has some of the finest choristers in the world, although some of them may come from elsewhere in the EU. I have seen 1-2 choristers performing with a Chorus in Deutschland and I recognised the same choristers from having performed in Paris or in Belgium or the Nederlandse.
It’s not about the conductor, but that’s what the musically-ignorant think. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve read this tripe: “Oh the Karajan is the best.” It’s interesting that the classical music armchair critics are often name-dropping Karajan’s name, considering his Nazi connections. In the postwar era, Karajan maintained silence about his Nazi Party membership, which gave rise to a number of conflicting stories about it. But the truth is that Karajan actually joined the Nazi Party twice. You can read more about that here: [Source]. Quote: During the entire Nazi era he “never hesitated to open his concerts with the Nazi favorite “Horst-Wessel-Lied”, but “always maintained he joined strictly for career reasons.” His enemies called him “SS Colonel von Karajan”. End Quote So, if you have a problem with what I’ve said about your messiah Karajan, take that up with Wikipedia and not with me. Does your denial serve you well?
Unfortunately, many people who comment on AdTube classical music videos love to name-drop the name of celebrity conductors, as if all performances are all about the conductor, who doesn’t play one note (unless conducting from a keyboard). But that’s what these shallow people have been brainwashed to think. Rather than listing all the names of the performers of a performance as is standard — the Orchestra, the Chorus and vocal soloists — the idiots list only the conductor. Which really doesn’t tell us anything, especially if their messiah conductor recorded the piece more than once with different musicians. I think they name-drop to give the impression they know something about music or are an expert on all-things classical music. As violinist Nigel Kennedy said, many conductors are over-rated. Agreed. I’ve watch many conductors and if I were in the Symphony Chorus I would find the conductor very difficult to follow or understand what he’s doing and I have considerable experience with conductors from my Conservatory training and Orchestra Chorus experience. Many conductors don’t even beat time. They just wave their arms around. I look at the faces of the orchestral musicians and most are not even looking at him. Because at their stellar level of musicianship, they’re able to play the piece essentially without a conductor just from being a stellar ensemble. So the piece can be a symphonic choral work and someone on AdTube will be engaged in verbal masturbation over their favourite messiah conductor. They fail to list the Orchestra and Chorus who performed the majority of the piece. They just drop the name of their god conductor. One problem with that is if a certain conductor recorded the piece multiple times and used different musical forces each time. They can’t all be “the best.” Which Chorus was performing in each performance since it’s a symphonic choral work. To the commenters, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about their messiah conductor. The commenters fail to understand that their god conductor had little to do with the performance of the Chorus because he didn’t train the Chorus. That’s the job of the Chorus Director who they consistently ignore and or don’t bother to look up or research. And if one writes what I’ve written here in an AdTube comment, AdTube will block the comment OR orchestral management will block it because most of the audience — which includes these commenters — are not musicians, and they know little if anything about music. They are just there to be entertained, not educated as I’m attempting to do with these plebs. When the camera shows the audience, many often look utterly bored. Some brought books to read during the performance — yes I’ve seen that — so they see none of the performance. They could have easily stayed at home and listened to a CD. Many of the people in the upper boxes on the side of the stage look as if they couldn’t care less what’s going on below them on the stage. One wonders why they’re there? Or was that concert part of their season subscription so there’s just there to be there. It’s also part of the reason that I’ve said that as a musician particularly when performing in Orchestra Choruses I rarely related to the audience because they’re not musicians and are just there for “fun.” Whereas when I watch a performance, I watch it from the perspective of a Conservatory-trained musician. There’s always something interesting to see and watch, especially with the string section. The bowing instructions, the pedal point in some pieces, the wind section, brass and I especially enjoy watching the superbly trained choristers.
I can list the conductors I admire — those who are genuine conductors as opposed to those who just wave their arms around — on one hand probably. There are so few and they’re not necessarily celebrity world-renowned conductors. god Karajan is not one of them I can tell you that. Three who readily come to mind: Andrés Orozco-Estrada of the hr-Sinfonieorchester, although he’s on his way to Vienna or is already in his new post. Then there’s Paavo Järvi, also Adrien Perruchon, Gregory Carreño, Václav Luks of Collegium 1704 and Collegium 1704 Vocale in the Czech Republic and, well, let’s see, there’s probably another one or two. Maybe I’ll add their names later. As you can see, a very short list, in part, because I don’t put conductors up on any damn pedestal like the classical music armchair critics insist on doing. It’s not all about the conductor, people! Without the other musicians on stage, you wouldn’t hear any beautiful music. There would be silence with just your god conductor on stage by himself. Like Andrés who is extremely humble and modest and extremely good at working with a Chorus, I give most of the credit to the other musicians — both Orchestra and Chorus — who actually performed the music.
Now on to this performance from Deutschland (where Angela Merkel is on her way out as Chancellor).
I’ve featured this stellar performance from Frankfurt for some time and I will continue to do so. This Chorus — singing with perfect intonation in all voice sections and impeccable diction — was exquisitely prepared for this performance by Chorus Director Philipp Ahmann. Philipp doesn’t miss a thing and has some of the finest choristers in Deutschland! This is how the New England Conservatory Concert Choir should have sounded in their performance of this piece and in their other performances, such as the Haydn. Some musically-ignorant person will say, “but they’re students at New England Conservatory.” And what does that have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s absolutely moot. It has to do with their training; how they’re trained and whether the Chorus Director is doing his or her job. Student Choruses can be trained — and many are trained — to sing with perfect intonation just like this Chorus from Deutschland, particularly in the soprano and alto sections. Depending upon when I’m watching this performance, it brings tears to my eyes because of its absolute beauty and high level of excellence. Today after watching part of it, I cried because it brought back memories of my own Orchestra Chorus experience with the Brahms in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (with Norman Scribner’s superb Choral Arts Society of Washington) and in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall with Vance George’s equally superb San Francisco Symphony Chorus. My friend tried to comfort me by reminding me that I came along at the height of symphonic choral music performances in the Kennedy Center at the time. So I experienced the best of times in that regard. That’s true. Unfortunately, I later burned out because of the rigorous rehearsal and performance schedules. These days, performances of symphonic choral performances are rare in the Kennedy Center usually featuring two or three of the local Orchestra Choruses: the Choral Arts Society of Washington will have one engagement (Orff’s Carmina Burana) and The Washington Chorus (TWC) will have one engagement (Beethoven’s Ninth) and the University of Maryland Concert Choir may have one engagement (Rossini’s Stabat Mater, I think that’s the last thing they did in the Kennedy Center and in Carnegie Hall). Then the next season, the Choral Arts Society will do the Ninth and TWC will have Carmina. Just switching the pieces around between the choral ensembles because we’re down to mostly The Big Three at least in the States. Apparently orchestral management think that the concert-going public in the States has little to no interest in symphonic choral works any longer other than in the perfunctory Beethoven’s Ninth, Orff’s Carmina Burana and of course Händel’s Messiah. We can’t be without that over-performed oratorio. You would think it’s the only oratorio he wrote! (And no, oratorio is not opera. They are two very different genres). Yet Georg Händel wrote nearly 30 some oratorios. And some of Zelenka’s symphonic choral works are just as good as those of Händel. Zelenka loved choral fugues and wrote some beautiful fugues. But we don’t get to hear them because “everyone must have Messiah” because of silly tradition!
MDR-Rundfunkchor Chorus Director, Philipp Ahmann
As for this performance, all credit for this choral excellence goes to Chorus Director Philipp Ahmann and his superb choristers, and not to David Zinman, the conductor for this performance. No disrespect at all intended to David but he did not prepare the Chorus and had little to do with their superb performance. This Chorus would have given this same absolutely stellar performance under any other conductor. So no need to engage in celebrity conductor worshipping as the often know-nothing classical music armchair critics like to do who are usually genuflecting to the conductor — who they seem to see as some deity — whilst ignoring all the other superb musicians on stage (both Orchestra and Chorus) who really performed the work. It should be noted that a conductor doesn’t play a note during a performance unless conducting from a keyboard. Mi amigo/My friend and I have watched this performance many, many times. We never tire of it. This and the two Brahms’s piano concerti go together nicely. He, my friend, commented about this the other night. This performance from Frankfurt, Deutschland with the hr-Sinfonieorchester is so well done in every aspect. Give this piece to another Chorus and Orchestra and production crew, and you won’t get these results. This Chorus from Leipzig is just ah, choral excellence at the highest level and the same for the orchestral playing. Most of the orchestral musicians really get a workout in this piece, especially the principal flautist (Sebastian). I don’t know of a finer performance anywhere. It’s right up there with one I heard decades ago in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with Dr Paul Traver’s superb University of Maryland Chorus and National Symphony Orchestra (Antal Doráti). That performace was equally exquisite. The impeccably-trained 150-175 voice University of Maryland Chorus reminded me of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus (Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director) and their performance of the Brahms under Georg Solti. I don’t usually think of the Brahms’s EDR as “glorious” — “glorious” would apply to a superb performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and the immaculately trained Chorus in that (singing with perfect intonation) — but “glorious” is indeed how this performance feels to me at times with this stellar Orchestra and Chorus, when they nearly bring tears to my eyes from their choral excellence, and brings back memories of my Orchestra Chorus experience when we performed the Brahms when I was in Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington (that performance was with The Cleveland Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; they didn’t tour with The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Page – Chorus Director) and also with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George, Chorus Directors) in Davies Symphony Hall. Read article here.
Perfect Intonation: One of the foundations of Choral Excellence.
I wish I could write as positively about the New England Conservatory Concert Choir (and Chamber Singers) as I have about the New England Conservatory Philharmonic and their performances, but unfortunately I can’t do that and be honest. Also, on this page I give examples of choral ensembles of all sizes from Chamber size to large-scale Orchestra Choruses which sing with perfect intonation. The size of the Chorus is irrelevant. Instead, it has to do with how they are trained. Some Chorus Directors are doing their job. Others clearly are not but remain in their positions. Read the rest of article here.
New England Conservatory – Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 1 in d, Op 15, pianist Wei-Xin (Byron) Zhou – NEC Philharmonia
Featured Performance: 侬好! Nóng hō! That’s “hello” in Shanghainese. The pianist in this performance grew up in Shanghai. This is a performance from 2015 in Jordan Hall — with its superb acoustics — on the New England Conservatory campus, which is down the street from Boston’s Symphony Hall.
Wei-Xin (Byron) Zhou graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, studying under Christopher Zhong. In 2008 he made his concert debut in New York, and in 2011 moved to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied under Wha Kyung Byun. He graduated in 2015 with a Master’s degree and went on to earn a Graduate Diploma in 2019, studying under Bruce Brubaker. Currently he is completing an Artistic Diploma at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, studying under Sergey Schepkin. [Source]
The first thing I noticed about this performance was that the piano was properly placed “inside” the Orchestra as it should be for a piano concerto, with the conductor and pianist within hand-shaking range and the conductor is right beside the piano so that he and the pianist can have close, direct communications throughout the performance. Fortunately, the piano was not stuck way out the way it’s often done elsewhere in the States (as well as in the UK for the BBC Proms), in some of those (podunk) places — where the conductor and pianist seem to be Kilometres apart — and where they’re more interested in “show biz” than in achieving the best musical performance. I said to mi amigo/my friend, “Oh good, they have the piano in the correct place. Exactly as it should be for a piano concerto.” I bring this up because it’s also a peeve of concert pianist Cristina Ortiz. She’s written about having to ask some conductors if they would mind moving the piano “in” the Orchestra because it has a bearing on her playing and she feels one with the Orchestra and makes it easier for her to hear the Orchestra. Makes sense to me. She said some conductors are very accommodating to her request. Others conductors won’t budge.
I really enjoyed Byron’s playing. He plays superbly. Very clean playing, light use of pedal. He’s quite an artist. He played some parts a little slower than I’ve heard them played, which I found interesting, because I heard notes played articulately that I’d not heard played before like that because other pianists blur over them. He played part of the second movement the best I’ve heard it played especially the part after the “organ chords” with the pedal point in the cello and double bass sections. Also, production showed the keyboard at that point where the wind section has the melody in the “climax” of the second movement after the pedal point. Usually, production crews show the wind section at that place. The string section doesn’t play there. You would think the strings would have the melody there but they don’t. Johannes gave that to the wind section. At that place in the score, the strings sit with nothing to play listening to and watching their excellent wind section. So I got to finally see that part played on the piano. Well I’ve seen it sort of in other performances but not as clearly as in this performance. It’s mostly arpeggio writing in the RH and trills in the piano and Byron played it beautifully and very cleanly. I enjoyed it. One of my pet peeves with production when it comes to this piece is that most production crews never show the strings — cello and double bass sections — who are playing the pedal point. I like watching their random bowing in that section to see who is doing what. But in this performance, production showed viewers a little bit of the pedal point. I saw some of the cellists bowing at different rates to keep the sound going like a pipe organ’s bass pedal, rather than bowing in synchronised manner as usual per their bowing instructions from the First Concertmaster and or conductor. Although to be clear, the pedal point bowing instructions are marked in the score just like all the other markings from the First Concertmaster.
Now for the (mild) criticism: There’s just a tad and it has to do with Byron’s theatrics. And the more he got into or through the concerto, the more the theatrics occurred. At first I thought the theatrics were his way of playing from memory and seeing the score in his head, which could be the case. I just noticed that near the end of the piece he was making it look very difficult to play in places — even though it wasn’t any more difficult for him than the rest of the piece really — and well-trained pianists are taught to “make it look easy even when it’s not.” He didn’t make it look easy consistently. What comes to mind is when some pianists play the Rachmaninov Third. Some pianists are bouncing around on the piano bench and lifting their hands/arms up high (which is unnecessary) near the music rack area, whilst others are rather still on the bench and don’t bang or do all of that needless hand/arm lifting, which is really just for show. It’s absolutely not necessary. I’ve worked on the Rachmaninov Third so I know from experience having it close to performance level. So I felt there was too much of his energy spent on needless theatrics. Or again, is that his way of playing from memory? If not, that could/will hamper him as he gets older and he’s not able to adjust all that, one would think. Theatrics require a lot of energy, and that energy could be directed elsewhere whilst performing. Related: Pianists and their needless theatrics.
And good to see one of the piano majors audition one of the Brahms’s Piano Concerti, instead of the typical (overplayed) Beethoven or Mozart or Chopin. And at NEC, the concerto competition winner gets to play the entire concerto rather than just the first movement, the way it’s done at some other schools.
I mentioned production earlier. They did an excellent job recording this performance. Very high quality both with the video and audio, as one would expect from the esteemed and highly-regarded New England Conservatory.
For those who don’t know, the Boston Metropolitan Area is rich with music with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, the New England Conservatory and Boston University’s College of Fine Arts (BU has a Conservatory environment), and the BSO’s Official Chorus, the (New) Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC). I say “new” because pre-COVID, superb James Burton was revamping the TFC and bringing them back up to the level expected of them as the Official Chorus of the BSO. They now sing with perfect intonation or rather they were pre-COVID the last time I heard them in a brief clip. They weren’t singing with perfect intonation before, well, the Men were but the Women were not. But James Burton is fixing all of that, or will be when the TFC begin performing again, after everyone gets vaccinated. Also, the Tanglewood Music Festival — the Summer home of the BSO — and BU’s Tanglewood Institute are very much a part of the music scene around the Boston and Lenox areas. Someone wrote me awhile back asking why the TFC was not named the Boston Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Well, that’s because the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was founded by John Oliver, at the suggestion of Seiji Ozawa, as the Chorus for the Tanglewood Music Festival. Then they gradually became the Official Chorus of the BSO and Boston Pops. Before the founding of the TFC, the BSO was inviting Lorna Cooke deVaron’s New England Conservatory Chorus to perform with them. Then, one day they disappeared and there on stage in Symphony Hall with the BSO was John Oliver’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
You might think it would be, but the NEC is not one of the all-Steinway Schools — well neither is The Juilliard School for that matter — but they at NEC have quite a few Steinways, both New York and Hamburg (I prefer the Hamburg):
“NEC has a total of 169 pianos. All studios, performance halls, classrooms, faculty offices, and general-purpose practice rooms are equipped with pianos or electronic keyboards. [Does that mean Digital Pianos?]
- The performance halls are equipped with Steinway model D concert grand pianos as the primary instruments (with the exception of the Keller Room, which is too small for that size instrument and has two Steinway model B pianos instead).
- Piano teaching studios are equipped with two grand pianos each (Steinway model Bs).
- Piano Priority practice rooms also have grand pianos (usually Steinway model Bs).
- String and voice teaching studios have one grand piano each (a mix of Steinway models B, M, L, and O).
- Classrooms have either an upright or grand piano, depending on the size and use of the room.
- Faculty offices and general-purpose practice rooms have upright pianos. A few general-purpose practice rooms have electronic keyboards.
Over the past eight years, NEC has purchased 20 new Steinway and Yamaha grand pianos and 14 new Yamaha uprights. In addition, NEC has aggressively pursued rebuilding older instruments to bring them to near-new condition and is actively soliciting donations of quality pianos, an effort that has proven very successful so far.
A New York Steinway Model D was selected by NEC’s Piano faculty in 2009, and in 2015 NEC purchased a new Model D from the Hamburg, Germany factory. The result is that all of NEC’s concert halls have new or nearly new pianos, and the piano teaching studios all have instruments that were purchased or rebuilt within the last eight years.”
Similar improvements have been made to the pianos in the Voice and String faculty studios, the Jazz rehearsal rooms, and the classrooms. NEC has recently begun to focus attention and resources on improving the quality of the upright pianos in the general-purpose practice rooms as well.” [Source]
I was wondering whether the piano Byron was playing was a New York or Hamburg (Model D, used throughout the EU) Steinway. He played a beautiful Steinway & Sons piano. Lovely tone with the usual brilliant treble register.
Mi amigo/My friend asked: Well isn’t it good to have the experience of playing on a variety of pianos to practise and perform on, aside from Steinway? Well, yeah, but as I told him: At this level of their training, they’ve probably all had that experience of playing “on a variety of pianos” already and would prefer not to repeat it!, from some of the worse (mostly) to on occasion (rarely) some of the best. Or at least that was my experience when training. It was extremely rare to play on the best of pianos. The only time I had the luxury of playing on the best of pianos was at the Conservatory where I trained and when I gave a performance years ago on a Steinway in San Francisco. With that particular experience, the piano was on a dolly — so it could be easily moved from place to place — so the pedals were too high or higher than what I was used to playing on and I had very little time to adjust to the piano, so I didn’t feel comfortable whilst playing. But I got through it! I felt like crawling under the piano at one point to tell you the truth. “The fingers have a mind of their own in performance” is how one local pianist described it to me. That is so true. And the audience gave me a standing ovation which was very kind of them considering I didn’t feel I had played my best. In part, because the difficult concert manager who had not listened to all of my audition recording asked me to change some of my repertoire about 2 weeks before the scheduled performance (roll eyes, sigh), so honestly I didn’t feel prepared. I had prepared a certain programme (which the concert manager had failed to listen to), and then the concert manager decides up to and change it on short notice. I replaced one of the pieces with one of the Rachmaninov Études–Tableaux — since the concert manager preferred “fiery pieces,” — I’d been working on but I had a memory slip in that and improvised in the style of the piece until I got back on track. Apparently no one noticed, unless someone there had played the piece. But I went on with the performance. I felt rather disgusted about the whole thing to tell you the truth, but some people came over to me afterwards and said some very nice things to me, which meant a lot and helped me realise that most people didn’t notice the problems.
The Steinway & Sons piano is considered the standard for the world’s concert halls. On the rare occasion, I’ll see a Steinway-Fabbrini piano. Simply put: That’s a modified Steinway — modified at the Fabbrini Piano factory in Italia — that has a thundering bass register or at least that’s how I would describe it. And I think that the Bösendorfer — considered superior to the Steinway by some — is the official piano of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra where I saw a superb pianist play the Rachmaninov Second with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. So, most Conservatories and Schools of Music want their students to have the finest pianists available to them for practise and performances purposes. Also, these schools are expected to have the finest pianos available. That’s why the All-Steinway Schools advertise as such. It’s a special attraction to the school.
On their AdTube channel (that’s what I call tacky YT, having been ruined by G**gle), I was pleased to see an image of the NEC Philharmonia musicians wearing face masks and distanced on stage each with their own desk. If only my favourite orchestras in the EU would have the intelligence to do that. I’ve had trouble watching performances from the EU during the pandemic because no one was wearing a face mask on stage. Even the conductor takes his or her mask off when stepping on the podium. I didn’t know that the virus avoids podiums, did you? The musicians were distanced to some degree, each with their own desk, the winds and brass more distanced than the strings, but still, only the production crew had the intelligence to wear a mask.
Although the Collegium 1704 and 1704 Vocale in the Czech Republic have done it correctly all along. Václav Luks has his Orchestra and Chorus and himself in masks and distanced. But they’re the only one I’ve seen in the EU who seem to take things seriously when it comes to the health and lives of their superb musicians. So good for NEC.
The Brahms’s PC1 and PC2 are both very difficult pieces. I’ve not worked on either of them yet — I do plan to — which is why I have the scores. Some concert pianists say they like playing the Brahms’s First and Second back-to-back in one performance. But some people are into torture, aren’t they? I think one Brahms PC would be enough for me at a time. The amount of endurance required for playing just one of them in a performance would be enough for me. I’d have to question: What are you trying to prove by playing both concerti at one sitting?
The NEC Philharmonia is superb. They are a professional ensemble and they sound like one. I say that because I’m tired of some people on AdTube minimising outstanding ensembles just because their musicians are students or all-students. What does that have to do with anything? Only the finest musicians are accepted to NEC per their admissions policies and audition requirements. If you can’t cut it, out you go. Also, many musicians from the BSO teach at the NEC, so these students are studying with some of the finest musicians in the world and they know that. They have a superb string section, all following their bowing instructions from the First Concermaster and or conductor. Well, all of their orchestral sections are outstanding really.
I also wanted to mention this: At the end of the performance, someone from the audience walked up to the stage to give Byron a bouquet of flowers. He politely accepted them. Then moments later, when he walked over to the conductor he offered the flowers he had just been given to the conductor. Why would he give away his gift of flowers that he had just received from a member of the audience? The impression left was that he appeared ungrateful of the flowers. The conductor did not accept them and motioned that they were given to Byron. But it brought to mind, once again, this problem with many male performers and their inability to receive flowers graciously. As if flowers threaten a guy’s masculinity. Quite odd really. (Related: Replace the flower tradition with organic chocolates; also here). Enjoy the performance (video at top of page). Chau.—el barrio rosa
People have been brainwashed that screaming is “music”
Any damn fool can scream, and then they call that “music” or op-rah. Ha!
Hola a todos. Well, I first heard Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, a musical setting of the Catholic funeral mass, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall when the University of Maryland Chorus performed the piece — it was one of Maryland’s signature pieces at the time — with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) under conductor Antal Doráti. I think he was the conductor. He probably was since his favourite Chorus was the superb University of Maryland Chorus and he invited them as often as possible to perform with the NSO. One could have gotten the impression that they were the Official Chorus of the NSO during the Doráti years. In that performance, I enjoyed the choral parts, but the operatic-screaming parts bored me. The piece is too much like opera or — tell it like it is — screaming quite frankly. Although The Maryland Chorus fortunately did not sing like an Opera Chorus. Instead, they sang like the well-trained Orchestra Chorus that they were with perfect intonation as they always did.
I’ve asked before: Is Opera Music? With few exceptions, opera is all about screaming rather than singing beautifully. The Vibratobots will say that vocal soloists-screamers have to “sing over the orchestra.” Rubbish. Where did these morons train? Or perhaps they didn’t. That’s why they would speak from a position of ignorance. Fact: Any major symphony orchestra can play at a ppp level, so there’s no need to “sing over the orchestra.” Any major symphony orchestra is quite skilled at accompanying any soloists at any volume level. I’ve heard the finest orchestras play extremely softly in such pieces as Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, as in the third movement where the principal cellist of the Orchestra has the solo role along with the pianist (the concerto has four movements).
I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Opera Chorus sing with perfect intonation. Perfect intonation — the perfect blending of voices — is one of the foundations of choral excellence. Instead, all the Opera Choruses I’ve had the displeasure of hearing sounded like 150 divas trying to overpower each other, compete with each other with various rates of wobbling, annoying and fluttering vibrato, just like the soloists, or rather screamers in the opera and their harsh voices.
And for symphonic choral performances, opera divas (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) scream from the front of the stage with their back to all other performers on stage — they can barely even see the conductor and have to look to their side to see him — per silly tradition, rather than being seated appropriately in the string section (seat the soprano in the first violins section, the tenor in the viola section, as two examples) so they can see and enjoy the performance like everyone else, rather than being parked on the edge of the stage staring at the front rows in the hall or staring at the back of the hall or at their lap for the entire performance.
The classical music genre has some damn silly, odd traditions cemented in stone. What conservative nut came up with that ludicrous placement of vocal soloists/screamers on stage?
The choral sections of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem are beautiful when sung by an immaculately trained Symphony Chorus. But the soloist, or rather screamers, I can’t take them, especially the soprano. And that is nearly always the case. What is it about soprano soloists/screamers? Not just that, in a Chorus, if any voices are going to come out of perfect intonation it’s a soprano voice. I’ve noticed that consistently. Some sopranos seem absolutely unable to control their voices. What’s that about? I have no trouble controlling my voice.
Where did these screamers train? What Conservatory or School of Music or private instructor is ripping people off and teaching them to scream rather than to sing beautifully?
Recently, I scanned through a performance of the Verdi, and as expected, many of the classical music armchair critics were genuflecting to and absolutely gushing over the soprano screamer and how they were “amazed” and found it “unbelievable” at how her voice overpowered both Orchestra and Chorus at one point in the score. What’s unbelievable about some female rearing back — as this one did — and let out a High C where she screamed “at the top of her lungs” above the full Orchestra and Chorus? I think most females could do that, even close to a High C in screaming mode. Think an emergency vehicle going by and the highest pitch on that wailing at you. How is that pleasurable? It’s not meant to be pleasurable. How is that music? It’s a warning sound. This soprano screamer in the Verdi looked like she was really working it too. She did not make her singing, or rather screaming, look effortless. Well-trained musicians are taught to make their performance — regardless of instrument — look effortless. She reminded me of some screamers I’ve seen who get red in the face in the midst of their screaming.
But being able to rear back and scream on a High C and overpower all other musicians on stage is something to be admired, is it? I. Don’t. Think. So. I was never taught that at the Conservatory where I trained. Where did these idiot commenters train? It’s interesting how brainwashing works. People keep being told — often by the no-nothing classical music armchair critics in comment sections — that it’s good when a soprano screamer rears back and screams on a High C with wobbling vibrato. She was mic’d but didn’t need a mic — they likely heard her several blocks away and wondered who was in pain! — because her obnoxious voice cut through both Orchestra and Chorus, and the Chorus was by my guess probably a 300-voice Chorus. They were superbly trained. Yes, she overpowered all of them too. That’s music? That’s art? I. Don’t. Think. So. No, that’s technically called tacky screaming.
Any damn fool can scream and call it “opera” or say “I have a trained voice.” Yeah, for screaming. Too bad the training didn’t include how to sing beautifully, musically, artfully and artistically, rather than harshly and trying to get your voice to stick out above all others. Nevertheless, these idiot commenters ate it up. They fell for her act.
Screaming is not music. Screaming is not art.
Unfortunately, these days in the Century of Insanity, many (most?) people can’t tell the different between screaming and singing beautifully. That’s particularly true with the mostly white opera audience. They’ll sit through anything if it’s called “opera.” Although the opera audience is especially a class-ist audience for the “well-heeled,” Dahling. Many people go to opera as a shallow status symbol. It’s about being pretentious and giving the impression of wealth and “high society” Dahling. I have no patience for such shallow and superficial people. Basura. And these are some of the same people who don’t know the difference between opera and a symphonic choral work, in part because opera divas are dragged in to perform, or rather scream, the solo passages in symphonic choral works, rather than using the finest trained non-noticeable vibrato soloists from the Symphony Chorus.
You can hear vocal soloists singing beautifully in this video from Collegium 1704 Orchestra and Chorus from the Czech Republic. It’s not opera, but does it matter? Why can’t opera be this beautiful and beautifully sung?
Why is opera = screaming ?
Below (the Zelenka) is beautiful music. The soloists are not screamers. They don’t rear back to sing their solo parts. They are genuine artists serving the role as both soloist and chorister. They all sing beautifully. No one is screaming or trying to overpower anyone else. They blend their voices together as properly trained to do. Why can’t opera sound like this where the genuine soloists blend in with the music rather than stick out as divas demanding attention?
Why can’t the quartet in Beethoven’s Ninth — which usually sounds like a train wreck with one person screaming over the other and the deep-cleavage exposed soprano screamer usually blows everyone off the stage — sound like this?
From my years of experience in major Orchestra Choruses in the States, I never heard any conductor say anything to the vocal screamers about being sharp, being flat or about anything for that matter. He might have privately in one-on-one rehearsal, but he didn’t when the Full Chorus and Orchestra were on stage for the dress rehearsal. It was if the screamers were sacrosanct and above reproach, Dahling, because they’re from an artist management and receiving a generous salary for the screaming appearance. Even though they sit most of the time because the Orchestra and Symphony Chorus perform the majority of the work, the audience has been brainwashed to treat these screamers like gods. So they make their walk out on stage — some with their nose in the air — and the roar and whistling from the audience begins. I’m thinking: They’re just the soloist-screamers. Why didn’t they use genuine soloists from the Chorus? Because they wouldn’t sell tickets. The finest Orchestra Choruses have choristers who majored in voice and are highly-trained soloists and with extensive choral experience. They’re just not a “big name” like the screamers walking out on stage. They use their choristers voice (blending) in the Chorus just like the superb soloists of Collegium 1704 in the Zelenka performance below. They would actually sing beautifully, and not scream. But many people seem to like screaming; they don’t know any better. They can’t tell the difference because they have no ear for music.
In this performance below, the soloists contribute to the music rather than destroy it with their harsh, screaming, damn annoying voices with wobbling vibrato where you have to guess what pitch they’re singing (or rather screaming) as they do in opera or in Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. Chau.—el bario rosa
The Language of Music: It’s Ensemble. Not Cast.
Hola a todos. In music, there are very specific words and language that are used for nearly everything that I can think of.
Some examples: A quarter note is called a quarter note. It’s not called a half note, because a half note is a half note. A whole rest can’t be called a bar line and the grand staff can’t be called the treble clef. A sharp can’t be called a flat. A Chorus cannot be called an Orchestra. You can’t have instrumental accompaniment with A cappella singing. A Perfect Fifth cannot be called an Octave. Understand? A band cannot be called an orchestra because a band does not have a string section. There are very specific language and words to use in music. So it annoys the hell out of me when I hear people who should know better refer to an ensemble of musicians as “a cast.” Musicians are not a cast.
I’ve heard idiots sitting at microphones in a certain classical music station promote some symphonic choral performance and they refer to “the all-star cast of soloists.” Can they hype it anymore? (If only they would give as much attention to the Chorus and Orchestra who perform the majority of the work; they are never referred to as “all-stars”). The announcer was referring to the 4 screamers — who would be singing or, most likely, screaming — the solo sections in a symphonic choral work. What the announcer should be saying is, “the ensemble of vocal soloists.” Leave out the corporate sports language “all-star.” That’s tacky. Why apply corporate sports language to highly-trained musicians? And as often as they use it, you’d think that every musician whose music they play is an “all-star.” Jesse “Chuy” Varela at KCSM Radio uses “cast” all the time. I guess he doesn’t know that the correct word is ensemble when referring to musicians. He still uses the outdated language “album” when referring to CDs that he plays.
Go to a Conservatory or a University’s School of Music online catalogue and you’ll see their list of Instrumental Ensembles and Vocal Ensembles. They’re not called Instrumental Casts and Vocal Casts. That really sounds stupid.
Musicians are not a cast. Actors comprise a cast. Cast is language from the theatre, not from music. Even if one is using the standard dictionary definition of the word “cast,” it has nothing to do with musicians. The word cast was used in the Conservatory’s Drama Department for the list of actors in plays. Why doesn’t someone tell Chuy and some others that?
At the Conservatory where I trained, our Jazz Ensemble was not called the Jazz Cast. Our Percussion Ensemble was not called the Percussion Cast.
The status-quo people who don’t care about language or are willfully-ignorant of such and who don’t want to change their own behaviour and word usage, will say it doesn’t matter what things are called or what words are used to describe things. With that attitude, I can assure you that you would not do well in music. Well-trained musicians are language people, because as I said earlier, in music there are very specific words and language used.
But it’s not just in music, the medical field and legal field both use very specific words and language in their fields, just like well-trained musicians. Using the correct and consistent language as we’ve been trained to do is how we communicate with each other in our respective field when in rehearsal or in performance.
When I lived in the District of Columbia, it was the law students studying to be attorneys at Georgetown University School of Law and George Washington University School of Law who gave me the friendly lecture given to new DC residents: You don’t call our city “Washington DC” they told me. That’s what the tourists call it who don’t know any better. The official name of the nation’s capital is the District of Columbia, and we call it the District or DC or Washington, but not Washington DC because there is no Washington in DC. They mean the same thing. That’s like saying “Boston, Boston” or “Chicago, Chicago.” (I already knew all that from watching newscasts from the District, but they enjoyed giving me the lecture anyway, and they were such nice guys. We became best of friends).
Those who have not been trained with a mind for detail and language say that it doesn’t matter what you call anything, unless it’s something they care about of course then it’s another story. Their hypocrisy is noted.
In national politics, there is little consistency in language. Well, with few exceptions such as superb Representative Jamie Raskin, considering the redneck hick white trash corrupt scum running the US Congress (I’m thinking of the backwater cesspool hicks in the Senate particularly) — who can’t pronounce the simple word “president” correctly — it’s a three syllable word, yet they say “praysden” or “present,” — there’s no wonder that genre is such a mess. (Think that M*tch McCo**ell piece of hick garbage.) Politicians in the House of Representatives are called Representatives. Doh. But those who don’t know any better or don’t care about language refer to them as “congress member(s).” Is that because they can’t say or don’t know the word Representative? That’s their official title. Technically speaking, everyone in the congress is a “congress member.” But Senators are never referred to as “congress member” even though senators are just as much “congress members” as the Representatives. Last month (January 2021), I was on one “progressive” website and very politely and delicately corrected a couple of people — former progressives who still live under illusions that they still are progressives — about their sloppy language regarding “Representative” and not “congress member.” Can you take a guess how that turned out? They hated being corrected, even as politely and diplomatically as I corrected them. They thought they were above reproach and infallible. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the maturity to say, “Thanks for the correction, you’re correct and I’ll keep that in mind. My mistake.” That would have been a kind and gracious response. But instead, they hated on me (they used the old “Attack the Messenger” approach) for my politely correcting them. They said it didn’t matter what you call things. Oh really? Well you wouldn’t do well in the field of music, or in medical or legal, I can assure you. One former-progressive who bragged about being a socialist was using the same language as the far-right. One example: They saw no reason why they should stop using the word “foreign” and use the word international. (Music is known as the international language, by the way. It’s not known as the foreign language). That person would have trouble at world airports where the sign reads, “International Arrivals” and not “Foreign Arrivals.” There’s a reason for that. I gave up with the former progressives. I don’t have the patience to deal with them. People pretending to be something they’re not. No one supported me and they all think they are still progressives. Since 2000, I have found that most “progressives” and most liberals have become an empty shell of their former selves.
So if it doesn’t matter what you call things — as some people have told me when I politely corrected them or tried to get them to use the correct language (usually they were former progressives) — and if one is too damn lazy to use the correct language and or change one’s own behaviour, I’ll call you Sam instead of Sarah. How’s that? I’m sure you won’t mind that considering you think it doesn’t matter what things and people are called. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Why do they use the word “maestro?” I think it’s to give the appearance they know something about music.
Who are these people? Wanna-be pianists? Who didn’t possess the talent to train as a pianist? Ah yes, the classical music self-appointed armchair critics. I find them damn annoying, and I can’t relate to them.
The Lully Te Deum performed by Collegium 1704 and Vocale 1704, conducted by Václav Luks (they’re from the Czech Republic): One of my favourite pieces. It’s for Double Chorus. Sometimes the Chorus is visibly split but in this performance it is not, unless you say it’s split with the Children’s Chorus in the middle. The video of their performance is on a third-party site so I’m not embedding the video because I don’t want the copyright nazis at G**gle to delete it, so you can watch the performance here. There’s not much information about the performance. I don’t have any information about the trebles (boys with girl choristers). Perhaps they are from the parish or cathedral church where the performance took place. It’s quite a setting. It’s a superb performance. Most, if not all, of the soloists are from the Chorus as it should be. They blend their voices beautifully together, which I rarely say about any other soloists, especially soloists dragged in to symphonic choral performances from the screaming opera genre who seem to have never been trained how to blend one’s voice with another voice. All they seem to know how to do is to scream over each other, with few exceptions to that. Sad. Václav always selects the best soloists. His musicians are genuine artists, as is he. He’s a wonderful musician and I think he would be a pleasure to work with.
Yes, you can turn off vocal vibrato. Real musicians do it all the time. As heard in this performance of Zelenka’s Missa Omnium Sanctorum by Collegium 1704, conducted by Václav Luks.
Here are two interviews with Nicolas Baldeyrou, Principal Clarinetist of L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. He played in the above performance of the Brahms:
The Encore: Debussy’s Clair de Lune. I forgot to mention that after his performance of the Ravel, Francesco’s encore was the well-known piece Clair de Lune (which translates as Light of the Moon or Moonlight) by Debussy. It’s the third movement from his Suite Bergamasque. I’m glad he played it because I don’t think it could be better played than the way Francesco played it here (video below). His playing of this piece was also aided by the Hamburg Steinway & Sons’s Model D piano he was playing. The orchestral musicians seemed to enjoy it by the looks on their faces. The Debussy begins at around 23.50 into the video. And what was with some in this audience? There were school kids on the front row — nice that they could be there — and some of them seemed to be sleeping, including the girl sitting about a foot away from Francesco. Perhaps the performance was at night and they had had a long day and were tired, and they found the music very soothing and comforting. The most annoying person in the audience was that woman with short hair and glasses and a floral shirt whose face could be seen at the keyboard end of the piano. She was sitting on the second row. What was her head trip? She was damn annoying. She was laughing and talking and doing other annoying gestures all during the performance of the Ravel. It appeared that the guy she was there with was the real “entertainment” for her and not the superb musicians on stage. At one point she had to put her hand over her mouth (laughing). Whatever he was saying, she listened attentively. Often when Francesco was playing she wasn’t even looking at him. Loca./Crazy. One sensed her friend was doing “commentary” throughout the performance and she found it all funny. What is funny about the Ravel Piano Concerto in G? People like that are damn annoying and need to learn concert etiquette. If you have something to say to the person next to you, take the pen that you brought with you per concert etiquette and write your comments in the margins of your programme and covertly slide it over to the person for them to read. That way you are being considerate of others who came there for the performance, and not for you to ruin it for them with your talking, laughing, giggling and other childish, inconsiderate gestures. What is wrong with people today? Sigh. Nobody has that much time!