Update to this article: Last month (May 2019), violinist Gil Shaham asked Florin to join him in his encore by Jean-Marie Leclair l’aîné (1697 – 1764). How nice! They played the Gavotte from the Sonata in e minor, Op. 3, which you can watch in the second video below. Very pleased that hr-sinfonieorchester uploaded that video so we could enjoy it. Danke. As usual, Florin was most humble and modest after playing superbly, as did Gil.
Hola a todos. There are two violinists in my favourite Orchestra, hr-sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony), that I pay special attention to and one of them is Florin Iliescu.
I affectionally refer to Florin as “the kid” because even though he’s 35 years old as of this writing (born in 1984), he looks like he’s in his early 20s right out of high school. And it’s wonderful and quite the accomplishment to see someone that young as First Concertmaster, first in line to the conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, in a renowned and highly-regarded symphony orchestra like hr-sinfonieorchester. Rather unusual, I think. I’m very glad to see that. In other performances in the past he’s been Second Concertmaster. Those positioned were not given to him. Florin auditioned for those chairs and he was chosen after successfully passing the audition for First Concertmaster of hr-sinfonieorchester.
During the bows at the end of a performance, all members of the Orchestra have to watch “the kid” — the guy who looks like the youngest musician in the Orchestra — to see when to sit because the First Concertmaster determines that after the Orchestra stands to be recognised for their “bows.” (Orchestral musicians don’t technically bow. They just stand facing the audience.) At the end of a performance, both the conductor and soloist (if there is a soloist) walk over to the First Concertmaster — the primary representative of the Orchestra — and shake his hand, which is a way of acknowledging and thanking the Orchestra for their performance. They also hopefully shake the hand of the Second Concertmaster. I say “hopefully” because I’ve noticed that some soloists fail to do so; maybe they don’t know that the Orchestra they’re performing with has two Concertmasters. Their concert manager should tell them that before their performance, or they could look it up themselves just as I did.
So congratulations to Florin for his many accomplishments and his stellar musicianship. Yes, he plays beautifully. I noticed that he really makes his violin “sing” like the human voice, like a singer. The finest pianists are trained to make the piano “sing” and soar like a singer and to play with a lovely singing tone. The same thing Florin does on the violin. I’ve heard some judges of international piano competitions say that they will take a lovely singing tone over speed any day. Oh absolutely, I agree. I’m not really that impressed by speed. And there’s an art to producing a lovely singing tone on one’s instrument to have one’s instrument “sing.” Florin also seems to be very mature for his age. Well, he wouldn’t be where he is if he weren’t mature. And when he takes his bows in this performance below as well as in the Orchestra, he’s the true artist: He smiles and acts very humble and modest as if saying, “Oh it was nothing, no big deal, but thank you.”
I’m not big on applause and especially 15-30 minutes of nonstop applause and bows. You know what I’m talking about. The routine where the conductor and soloist(s) walk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on and off the stage from the podium area to the stage door where the soloist(s) and or conductor enter and immediately turn around and come back out returning to the stage. It looks so silly. Why not just stay out there on stage and bow occasionally until the audience gets tired of applauding? A brief and polite applause is sufficient, you don’t have to keep going on and on with it. I think we all got the point that you liked it. But that’s one of the silly traditions of the classical music field, which also carries over into other music genres. Regarding applause, I was pleased to see the Orchestra and Chorus of Collegium 1704 of the Czech Republic take a different approach. They — either their conductor, Václav Luks, or the First Concertmaster — decide when enough is enough with the applause. After a sufficient amount of applause and any encore they choose to do and the performers’ show of appreciation, all musicians walk off the stage signaling to the audience that it’s time to leave now. I think that’s a better way of doing it rather than leaving applause up to the audience who often don’t know when to stop.
Here’s a little bit about Florin’s background: He’s a son of musicians and he was born in Bucharest in 1984. He began playing the violin at the age of five. That’s very familiar. That’s often the age that professionally-trained and concertising career musicians begin playing their major instrument. Florin studied at the University of Music Lübeck. At the age of 19 he had his first orchestral performance as Deputy Concertmaster with the Lübeck Philharmonic. And since 2018, he has been the First Concertmaster of hr-sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt, Deutschland.
I wanted to hear him play some solo repertoire because when he’s in the Orchestra you can’t hear him play alone as he blends in with all the other superb strings and their perfect intonation of this stellar Orchestra. I’d like to see Florin (as well as Maximilian Junghanns) featured in a violin concerto with hr-sinfonieorchester. Can someone arrange that? Andrés, how about you? Could you kindly do that for us? You don’t have anything else to do, correct? I’m just playing with Andrés and being sarcastic of course because he is quite busy. He’s also the Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in the US state of Texas but he lives in Austria, which is quite a commute for him at 13 hours and 40 minutes from Vienna. And there’s an eight hour (the average) commute for him from Vienna to Frankfurt if he goes by train or roughly 1.5 hours by plane. There’s a lot of travel time there. That must get tiring, which is one of the complaints of concertising musicians. It’s not all glamour.
Some of the hr-sinfonieorchester musicians have performed a concerto with the Orchestra. One of their principal flautists, superb Clara Andrada de la Calle, played a couple of flute concerti with the Orchestra awhile back. She’s also principal flautist with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
The other violinist I watch closely is Florin’s colleague and perhaps they’re friends, Maximilian Junghanns, who is now Second Concertmaster (so Florin and Maximilian sit next to each other, for those who don’t know how this works). Maximilian is usually back on the third row in many of the performances I’ve seen, but he seems to move around occasionally. But he’s for another article.
Here is Florin’s stellar playing in part of a piece by Brahms, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A. He’s playing the second and third movements in the video below. This performance is from the 5 November 2016 International Music Festival St. Blasien. Florin’s piano accompanist was Irina Vinogradova. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Hola a todos. Whether or not you agree with the #MeToo movement that has been going on since October 2017 — and I’m merely using that as point of reference — one has to wonder how out-of-touch a person has to be to not know that it’s not wise to uninvitedly kiss or touch a woman (especially a woman you don’t know) in any way other than with a brief handshake, because she can interpret the behaviour as a form of sexual harassment or sexual assault, which in some cases it can be. Or, she can interpret it as a form of sexual interest, which in some cases it is.
So at the end of a performance when I saw conductor Paul McCreesh walk over to the First Concertmaster (a female) and shake her hand, then he held her hand and kissed it, I thought: Why the kissing of her hand, Paul? Living back in the 1800s, are you? Just because the composer whose work you just conducted (Franz Schubert) lived between 1797–1828, doesn’t mean that as part of the concert you have to demonstrate the chivalry of that time. And if the First Concertmaster were a guy, Paul wouldn’t have kissed his hand because we all know how that would look, don’t we? And we can’t have that now, can we? As we head back to the 1930-40s in many ways?! Paul didn’t shake or kiss the hand of the Second Concertmaster who was also a female. Or maybe this Orchestra only has one Concertmaster, and the second chair violist is referred to as such and not Second Concertmaster. There’s also a salary difference between the two positions, I think. But assuming they have two Concertmasters, only the First Concertmaster received a kiss, at which time she looked giddy and looked like she started to melt inside “because a guy had kissed her hand! What did this mean?” Yet another example of females getting all emotional just because some guy has kissed her hand. Note to females: In many cases, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an empty gesture. No need to interpret it differently than it was meant. Then, it got more curious. The camera showed a close-up of her face 2-3 times after that and she looked like she was thinking about “the kiss.” Any other time, a close-up of the Concertmaster’s face is not shown. So apparently production was also interested in how “the kiss” affected her emotionally and wanted to spend some time on that. Were they thinking of interviewing her about “the kiss” and what it meant to her? (Sigh.) When the cameras pulled back, we saw the two women (First and Second Concertmasters) sitting there chatting with each other which is a bit unusual — other than one or two words between musicians — because it was still the bows and applause time and not a time for chatting between musicians. Were they chatting about “the kiss?” Well, Paul’s gesture evidently left a lasting impression on her — she may still be thinking/talking about it two years later!; the performance was in 2017 — even though his gesture looked very outdated, sexist and chauvinistic and based in an increasing mindset of Male Patriarchy where a female is considered second and subservient to the male. But I’m seeing more and more of this.
Seeing this kissing scene reminded me of when I saw conductor Herbert Blomstedt slobber over the female vocal soloist heavy-vibrato screamer after a performance. If I’m remembering correctly, for her bow she couldn’t just bow like anybody else. No, she felt she needed to engage in an outdated curtsy to the audience as if Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were in attendance (even though she wasn’t). Was the curtsy intended to generate more applause for Ms Soprano Screamer? I suspect so, with the audience thinking, “Oh wow, she gave us a curtsy, let’s give her a big applause for that.” Well, I guess if one’s performance won’t generate a big applause, maybe the curtsy will. Maybe that’s the thinking: “I’ll get a big applause on this stage one way or the other!” A curtsy is also a gesture of one’s inferiority mindset that the person or people you’re curtsying to are your superiors or are of a higher social standing. Of course Herbert B. didn’t kiss the male soloist on the cheek standing to his right in the same performance. Just the female screamer. Didn’t the male soloist perform as well as the female, Herbert, in your opinion? If so, why only kiss her? I suspect Herbert would say, “Well you know how that would look, and we can’t have that!” No, of course not, Herbert, we can’t have that! What would the world think? [sarcasm intended]
Seeing “the kiss” also reminded me of when I saw conductor James Conlon kiss the female piano soloist on the cheek who had just played the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 in d, Op. 30 at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. His kissing gesture also looked outdated and of another generation. The Victorian Era comes to mind. And of course if the piano soloist had been a guy there would have been no kiss. Period.
The classical music tradition has so many double-standards. Don’t let me get started on that! And I really didn’t think about these double-standards until after I graduated from the Conservatory where I trained, and I began performing more. The double-standards are too many to list, but I’ll list one that comes to mind: It’s considered acceptable for a pianist to use his/her score with a page turner in chamber music (in a Piano Trio, Piano Quartet, Piano Quintet). But when playing a Piano Concerto (with a large group of musicians called an Orchestra), a pianist is not supposed to use his/her score. Well why not? What difference does it make whether you have 4 other musicians playing with you or 75-100 musicians playing with you. They are all using their scores, of course, and I understand the necessity for orchestral players needing to use their scores. Even though pianists play far more notes than orchestral musicians. Think: Rachmaninov’s signature thick chords in his extremely difficult piano works. I’m specifically thinking of his piano concerti and the two sets of his Études-Tableaux. And according to tradition, why does the number of musicians performing with a pianist determine or make the difference (chamber music versus orchestral) as to whether the pianist is allowed to use his/her score or not? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And what idiot dreamed up that ludicrous thinking? Was that god Franz Liszt? He seems to have been responsible for some of these other ridiculous traditions we have today. Of course the boy could play — no one is disputing that — but we don’t need to take this to the extreme and demand from on high that all classically-trained pianists worldwide must follow what Saint Liszt did back in 1811-1886. Liszt was unique and not everyone has his abilities nor should they be forced to emulate him and look like cookie-cutter pianists born out of the Liszt womb. Everyone is different.
As the pendulum swings, feminism is on its way out — well it’s mostly dead now from what I see — and the mindset of Male Patriarchy is making a rapid comeback.
Bouquets of Flowers Strip Male Conductors of their Masculinity
There’s also another sexist behaviour I’m seeing regularly at the end of performances and that’s when male conductors give their bouquet of flowers that’s given to them at the end of a performance to a female in the Orchestra rather than to one of the male musicians. Didn’t the male orchestral players perform as well as the female orchestral players, Mr Conductor? They did to my ear.
To begin with, the conductor should keep his flowers since they were a gift to him presumably from orchestral management for his performance. Does he give other gifts away that he receives? And only to females? But most male conductors seem to think that an innocent bouquet of flowers strips him of his masculinity — I didn’t know that flowers had so much power, did you? — so as not to appear as if he is a “sissy” standing there holding his flowers, the male conductors quickly give their flower bouquet to one of the females in the Orchestra. The thinking seems to be that guys or “real men” don’t like flowers. Really? Flowers are only for females? That’s a new one. Gee, we’ve made so much progress, haven’t we? That’s as ridiculous as “guys shouldn’t wear pink.” Note to male conductors: Flowers are merely a flowering plant. I can think of other flowering plants that guys are not intimidated by and in fact grow in their gardens, yards or in planters, so why are flowers any different? Some of us guys love receiving flowers. I especially like White Carnations and their aroma. Where did male conductors get brainwashed with this thinking that flowers are only for females?
“Real Men” like and appreciate flowers.
Imagine if male actors behaved the way these male conductors do. The outstandingly superb actor, Jorge Enrique Abello (JEA) — who lives in Colombia and who played the role of Armando Mendoza Sáenz in the internationally-renowned telenovela, “Betty, la Fea” — and his masculinity was not threatened in the least when, in another telenovela he starred in, he played the role of a woman and a guy. Yes, JEA played a double-role in En los tacones de Eva. That speaks to how secure JEA is with himself as a person to play the role of a woman. This behaviour one sees from many male conductors speaks to their deep insecurities and archaic gender-role issues/hang-ups.
There are many other sexist and chauvinistic male conductors who engage in the behaviour like what I’ve described, but the ones I’ve listed are the ones I remember seeing. The Classical Music Snots never have a problem with this behaviour — quite the contrary, they rush to defend it on the rare occasion anyone were to point it out, such as myself — because they are usually of the same conservative, chauvinistic and sexist mindset and also view a woman as subservient to a man. Even the female commenters hold this sexist view.
Fortunately, I don’t remember ever seen a female conductor ever kiss a male soloist, vocal or instrumental. Perhaps they do, I’ve just not seen it. Well, it’s still so very rare to see a female conductor to begin with and the only ones who readily come to mind are Marin Alsop (she’s the new Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. She is currently music director of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. The other female conductor is Emmanuelle Haïm who conducted this performance of Händel’s Dixit Dominus. She was the Chorus Director — her superbly prepared Chorus — and conducted the performance, which is rare to have the Chorus Director conduct the performance itself.
No, this sexism seems to be only engrained in male conductors.
As I said earlier, the performance with conductor Paul McCreesh was from 2017, which was when the #metoo movement was getting revved up, so one might think Paul would have been more attuned to gender issues.
Our society brainwashes men to behave in this sexist and chauvinistic way towards women. Those who favour this behaviour call it “just being polite and gracious to the little lady.” Lady? Lady? During the feminist movement females preferred to be called Women, not little ladies. (To their credit, most orchestras use the word “Women” when referring to their Chorus, such as “The Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus” when they perform alone with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, such as for their performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 3). But those who favour this behaviour see it as lovely, harmless and purely innocent. From what I’m seeing these days — now that the feminist movement is virtually dead — most women seem to welcome it too because, in part, it gives needy-her attention and she’s also fallen for the “polite and gracious little lady” brainwashing of our society. As if men should be dominant over the “dainty little lady” as she serves dutifully as his submissive pet, sex toy, trophy and property. Most women today seem to be more than happy to be compliant to that backwards sexist thinking mentality and they’re more than delighted to take on that role of him-dominant and her-submissive to the point where she’s walking one-half step behind the guy she’s with, as if not his equal. I see that frequently. Or her left or right arm is latched to one of his arms (his hand in his pocket) as if on a leash as she walks slightly behind him. Him being the dominant of course. I don’t know if it’s true but I read that Queen Elizabeth II told or urged Harry to walk ahead of Meghan (she, as his subservient, is supposed to be walking slightly behind him as he is “The Head of the House”). Men are also brainwashed to put women up on a pedestal with kisses and kissing their hand, and kissing other body parts. One wonders why Paul didn’t go all the way and get down on his knees and kiss the feet of the First Concertmaster?
It’s a form of chivalry.
From my research: A hand kiss became a gesture for chivalry when it originated during the 17th and 18th century in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Spanish courts.
But then in other commonly seen situations these days — and here are some examples — men kiss women’s hands and pull out their chairs for them in public places. Does he do this at home for her or only in public places “for show” because he thinks that’s what is expected of him per societal chauvinistic brainwashing and men’s “polite and gracious” treatment of “the little lady?” Helpless her can’t pull out her own chair? The poor thing. Yet “the little lady” has no problem at all pulling out chairs and moving them all around the room when she’s vacuuming and doing what the pro-Male Patriarchy guy would describe as “Woman’s Work.” But she never pulls out his chair for him. Why not? The guy opens doors for her. Does he do this at home for her or only in public places? She never learned to open a door? Pity. She opens doors at home when cleaning. But she never opens his door for him. Why not? Why is all of this behaviour just one-way in her favour? (Rhetorical question) But that and other sexist and chauvinistic behaviour takes place in public.
Then in private situations, it’s another matter entirely. Oh yes! For example, when among their macho, sexist and chauvinistic male friends, the guy(s) will refer to the same woman that he pulls out chairs for, opens doors for, buys dinners, flowers and candy for as “the bitch” and “the cunt.” Whoa! Rather offensive and pejorative, wouldn’t you say? He will complain about what he has to do for her and to her constantly. There would seem to be a double standard, no? Such language and complaining about his requirements in order to get the “dainty little lady” (sexually) would seem to cancel out that hand-kissing gesture of “the little lady” and all that other ridiculous female-worshipping behaviour I’ve described that guys must go through of putting “the dainty little lady” up on a pedestal any other times. I don’t know how these guys do it. I wouldn’t have the patience.
On another topic — of a technical nature — but related to this same performance which was this piece (Schubert’s Große C-Dur-Sinfonie/Great Symphony in C major, also known as No. 9), I wondered why the First Concertmaster in that performance with Paul McCreesh conducting chose the bowing instructions that she did for particular parts of the last movement of the Schubert Symphony. All the other orchestras I’ve watched play this piece — including the excellent New England Conservatory Philharmonia (many of its musicians study with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) — bowed those passages that I’m thinking of exactly the same way. But this Orchestra conducted by McCreesh did not. All other orchestras including the superb Orchestra I’ve linked to above used downbeat bowing for the four octaves in those measures that I’m thinking of beginning in the video above at 52.04, and from there on. You first see what I’m talking about very obviously in the violas (right side of stage), then in the double basses (left side of stage) and then in the violin section and the camera shows them directly. The camera work was excellent for this performance. And I imagine the first violinists drilled those runs to play them so perfectly at 52.32 and again at 52.37 in the video. I think this would have been a fun piece to play, especially the part near the end that I’m talking about. Using down beat bowing for those four octaves looks very showy that way and, again, all of the strings including the double basses bowed it that way in all performances I’ve watched (except for the McCreesh performance). It also creates a different musical effect when bowed that way (using all down-beat bowing on the four notes in the measure), as opposed to strong (down bowing), weak (up bowing), strong (down bowing) weak (up bowing) which is how the female Concertmaster in the McCreesh performance had all the strings bow this, for some reason. One can’t say that “the kiss” affected this because the bowing instructions to the strings were issued long before “the kiss” took place! McCreesh also breezed through most of the entire symphony. The performance I’ve linked to above is a much better performance and their string section bowed it “correctly” in my opinion. It’s also a better recording.
The classical music field is very slow to change any of its outdated traditions, but really, seeing male conductors still kissing the hands (or cheek) of female Concertmasters, instrumental soloists and vocal screamers is a bit much, especially when they don’t give the guys the same “courtesy” (and that’s the word they would likely use to describe what they’re doing with the females “I’m just giving her courtesy and be courteous.”) The guys don’t deserve the same “courtesy?”
Don’t you think it’s time to end the sexism, male chauvinism and chivalry, male conductors? No, you probably don’t, and have probably never thought anything of it because it’s so engrained in the classical music culture. And because of that, I live under no illusion that it’s about to end.
The thing is, we as a culture think we’re so advanced and “light years ahead,” way beyond futuristic “Star Trek” with our tech. Then one sees these sexist archaic practises from the 1800s that speak to the opposite times of “Star Trek” and advanced tech. Although it should be pointed out that the Tech Industrial Complex — some of the major tech corporations can’t even fix their own sites despite the thousands of people they employ — is well-known for being a very sexist, ageist, Millennial, male-dominated and phone-addicted culture.
Some of us were talking yesterday here in the hallway in the Conservatory, standing outside the pipe organ practise room, they asked me what I was writing about. I said, “Kissing the hand of the Female Concertmaster.” They said they had seen that happen after performances. The organ student who was taking a brief break from working on Jehan Alain’s Litanies (one of my favourite organ works) said to me: It’s surprising that the Classical Music Snots have not found your site to comment. I said to him: Good. I’m glad they haven’t. I’ve not promoted it on any classical music sites. I would not want that crowd on this site. I’ve never personally known any musicians who act like the Classical Music Snots (CMS). That’s why I’ve referred to them as wannbe-musicians and armchair critics. As I told the Conservatory students: They, the CMS, are also among the same people who have to shove their breeder sexuality in our faces with, “My husband and I went to (such and such performance)…” or “My wife and I went to see (such and such performance)…” Is it really necessary for a commenter to tell us his/her sexual orientation as a preface to a comment they write? I should think not. You don’t need to tell me you’re a breeder and shove it in my face which one does by saying (when it’s a female commenter), “My husband and I…” I don’t care about your breeder sexual orientation in the least. I find it annoying frankly. For those who would ask: Well what would you like us to say instead? You can say: “I” or “We” and leave it at that. I don’t need for you to define “We.” Or you can say, “I went with a friend.” That’s sufficient. But announcing to us all here in the Conservatory that you’re married is immaterial to us. We don’t care, considering that the straight community can’t stand to hear the same about gay couples/partners. So why should we have to hear about breeder couples? I doubt that there are many queer boys who introduce their partner as “my husband” or “my partner” or “my boyfriend” to a straight group of people or even mention him. The guy is usually referred to as “my friend” in a neutral/platonic way to avoid any hate that comes from having mentioned his queer/gay sexual orientation. Yet straight couples shove their breeder sexuality in our faces every day in many ways and think nothing of it. The Conservatory students in the hallway insisted that what I had just told them related to this inequality — since that’s what this article is about — must be included in this article. So to honour their wishes, I’ve included my statement, and I appreciate their input. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Hola a todos. A musician e-mailed me asking about the difference, if there is one, between the word “Chorus” (with upper case “C”) and the word “chorus” (with a lower case “c”). She said she had noticed that I usually use “Chorus,” and wondered why, so I thought I’d answer her here.
There is a difference between the two words, although most people don’t seem to know the difference, even other musicians and especially sloppy classical music performance reviewers who are notorious for using lower case.
A simple answer to her question is:
the Chorus = a vocal ensemble
the chorus = part of a musical composition, as in “let’s sing the chorus again” or “this oratorio has a chorus after every aria.”
Hopefully you see the difference.
For example, if you go on the San Francisco Symphony Chorus webpage, they refer to the Symphony Chorus as “the Chorus” (initial cap “C”) when they don’t use “SFS Chorus” or San Francisco Symphony Chorus. The same goes for the BBC Symphony Chorus, which they refer to as “the Chorus” when not using the full name.
Personally, I use “Chorus” (upper case “C”) also as a way of respect for the Chorus in a performance that I’m writing about, since most people mistakenly think of the Chorus as second class musicians, which they’re not, and not even worthy of mention. I do the same for “Orchestra” (upper case “O”) as a way of respect for the Orchestra I’m writing about in a particular performance.
Also, a chorus (lower case “c”) can be part of a hymn or folk song or other pieces of music, such as the choruses (lower case “c”) in an oratorio or opera which are sung by the Symphony Chorus (oratorio) or Opera Chorus (opera). In both instances, the ensembles performing the pieces would be referred to as “the Chorus” in short form. Although these days, some Symphony Choruses are performing opera choruses. Also, for example, Händel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is known as “the oratorio of choruses” because of the abundance of choruses in the work for the Chorus.
Sometimes sloppy classical music reviewers confuse me, and some seem to be getting worse about it. They will write about a “chorus” (lower case “c”) but the vague way they write about it leaves me asking: Are you referring to the Chorus who performed the work or are you referring to a chorus inside the work (such as the choruses as part of an oratorio, for example)? Yes, reviewers are getting pretty sloppy — again, without little respect or regard for the Chorus in a performance, especially when they’re writing from their opera background — where to them it’s all about the vocal soloists screamers. I end up having to read what they write at least a couple of times to figure out what they were referring to when they wrote “chorus.”
For search engine purposes, I usually write out the name of the choral ensemble each time or an abbreviated version (such as UMD Chorus for University of Maryland Chorus) since “Chorus” doesn’t tell a search engine anything. It’s too vague. The same for the word “Choir” as in University of Maryland Concert Choir or UMD Concert Choir. The word “Choir” says nothing to a search engine.
What’s the difference you might ask between Chorus and Choir? At the Conservatory where I trained, we were taught that Choirs are typically connected with churches or religious organisations. A Chorus is usually secular as in Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus or Chicago Symphony Chorus or the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, although these days I don’t think that definition is much held to as it once was since some Conservatories have a Concert Choir, including where I trained. I was piano accompanist for the Conservatory Concert Choir, an example of the use of the word “Choir” for a secular choral ensemble. Personally, I prefer the word “Chorus” over “Choir” because of the secular meaning of the word Chorus, and to me it also sounds better. When I was listening to BBC Radio 3 — before they dumbed-down to compete with Classic FM — their presenters were using the words Chorus and Choir interchangeably. If the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus had just performed at the Proms, I’d hear the presenter say, “the Choir is now standing to take their bows.” The Choir? It’s not called the BBC Symphony Choir, Mr/Ms presenter. Sloppy. They’re called the BBC Symphony Chorus. Call them what they are. No attention to detail in your world? That’s as bad as a review I read recently of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The idiot that wrote that review referred to them as the Chicago Symphony Choir. (Sigh.) I told mi amigo/my friend about that and he said: That doesn’t even sound right. No, it doesn’t. The Chicago Symphony Chorus has been in existence since 1957 when founded by Chorus Director Margaret Hillis, and that reviewer still doesn’t know their correct name. Where do they get these so-called “music reviewers” or “music critics?” Are they rejects from Conservatories and Schools of Music because they didn’t possess the talent, intelligence or attention to detail (which is heavily required in music) to get through the curriculum?
It reminds me of some things that are changing (for the worst). It’s similar to the concept of perfect intonation — one of the rudimentary foundations of choral excellence, or used to be at least — which now seems to be on the decline especially in the US1 and changing in favour of a cheap and ugly Vibrato Fad(TM), where if you can’t sing spot-on pitch or possibly have vocal technical problems, just use vibrato: Wobble, flutter and quiver your voice so that you don’t blend with anyone else. The thinking seems to be: Nobody will know the difference! They’ll just say, “Oh, they’re classically trained.” Hope this helps. Chau.—el barrio rosa
1 I’ve previously written about this (the decline of choral excellence especially in the US), but if you didn’t read those articles, I wrote about that in this article, specifically the New England Conservatory Concert Choir in their Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, Op 45 performance, and the Boston University Symphony Chorus in their Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah performance (Dra Ann Howard Jones prepared the Chorus) and their Fauré Requiem performance. But in their performance of Rachmaninov’s The Bells, they sang with mostly a straight-tone. I wonder how that happened? Another example is the combined choral ensembles at Shenandoah Conservatory and their annoying heavy-vibrato which they were using in the folk song, “Shenandoah.” It sounded awful. Heavy-vibrato in a folk song? That’s as bad as heavy-vibrato in Renaissance music which I heard from the adult choristers at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. When it was pointed out to them that noticeable or heavy vibrato is most inappropriate in Renaissance music, they agreed. Then what did we hear the next Dimanche/Sunday? Vibrato in Renaissance music! Loco./Crazy. With the Shenandoah Conservatory performance, one commenter wrote, “Vibrato much?” Glad someone else noticed it. The interesting thing about that is that the Shenandoah Conservatory choral ensembles were conducted by one of the founders of Chanticleer. When I’ve heard Chanticleer they’ve sung without any noticeable vibrato. Fortunately, from what I’ve observed, the choral ensembles in Europe and the EU are mostly still adhering to the concept of perfect intonation. Then you come over here to the US, and the rudimentary concept of the perfect blending of voices seems to be fading away. Depending upon the Chorus one hears, choristers are being allowed to sing any way they want. What happened to standards of choral excellence, highly trained and degreed Chorus Directors? What is wrong with you? Most of you come with very esteemed credentials and advanced degrees, yet this is the way you’re training choral ensembles now? Have you gone insane or lost your hearing for choral excellence? It’s embarrassing. Incredible.
Update to this article: Back in May 2018, the classical music critic for a major news publication in the District of Columbia made mention of this performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the NSO’s tour and that they would “play Carnegie Hall.” Does the woman not know that the Rossini Stabat Mater is a symphonic choral work? Because as expected — and from what I’ve come to expect from so-called “music critics,” — she did not mention the University of Maryland Concert Choir at all. Just like up in Boston recently, the opera-based music critic failed to mention the Tanglewood Festival Chorus by name in his review of their performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra of the Rossini. They were referred to as “the chorus” (with a lower case “c”). If one doesn’t keep up with these things, one wouldn’t necessarily know who the Chorus was for that performance. Also as expected, that reviewer in Boston spent most of his article about the vocal operatic shrill soloists screamers as if they were the most important part of the performance for this symphonic choral work. This is most typical of opera-based people. In both performances (in DC and in Boston), once again this relegates the Chorus in a performance to second class musicians status and not worthy of mention and I’m sick and tired of this, as if they are an unimportant part of the performance. Since no Chorus was mentioned at all in the upcoming performances by the NSO, I’d love to see the NSO play and sing the Rossini Stabat Mater, serving as their own Chorus. Although upon reflection, I wouldn’t want to hear that performance because as superb as they are as orchestral musicians, I suspect their level of choral excellence would be rock bottom, especially when they would be having to play their instrument’s orchestral parts at the correct time as well as watching the choral vocal score to see when they’re supposed to come in as a chorister, and not having been prepared by any serious Chorus Director whatsoever nor having undergone any vocal training presumably. But to my knowledge, this glaring omission of the University of Maryland Concert Choir is not the fault of the NSO, but rather of the so-called “classical music critic” who seems to prefer to not do a thorough job — and being respectful of the Chorus invited by the NSO for these performances — when writing her articles. I’ve read other things she’s written as well. Surely there’s someone in the District, Maryland or Virginia who could do a better job than this woman.
Hola a todos. The performance of major symphonic choral works seems to be at an all-time low these days in the US, even for orchestras that have their own Chorus, which leaves me wondering: Not to give anyone any ideas, but how long before some orchestras disband their Official Chorus due to the public’s lack of interest in symphonic choral music, or choral music in general? Of course they would need a Chorus for their required and annual Messiah performances in December per tradition, but orchestras could invite some local Chorus to perform that.
I’ve noticed that more and more orchestras are programming — what I call — dumbed-down “fluff” to cater to a certain audience by Disneyfying their programmes with performances of movie soundtracks, film soundtracks, Harry Potter stuff, so-called “Family-Friendly” programming and “Music for Families” with images of a white family with children programming and other stuff. (Related: National Symphony Orchestra (US) promoting gun violence).
From my research, these days major symphony orchestras in the US seem to be programming about 4-5 symphonic choral works a season, or a piece such as incidental music featuring the Chorus. That’s about it. That can include but does not necessarily include the required Messiah (or should that read: Me$$iah?) performances in December. When I was heavily involved in Orchestra Choruses in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 3-5 performances would have been the number of engagements just for one Chorus — the University of Maryland Chorus — that they had with the NSO during the season. The Choral Arts Society of Washington also had a few performances with the NSO as well, and the Oratorio Society of Washington had 1-2 performances with the NSO. So, roughly twice as many symphonic choral works were programmed at that time compared to today. The decline of symphonic choral performances is especially true for oratorios and Bach cantatas, excluding of course the ubiquitous, perfunctory and predictable performances of that war horse oratorio Messiah which is dragged out like clockwork every holiday season at the neglect of many other superb symphonic choral works which could be performed instead, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie, as just one example. Just like nearly everywhere I looked they’re performing Beethoven’s Ninth and Orff’s Carmina Burana, just like everybody else! That’s especially the case for the 2019-20 season with performances of Beethoven’s Ninth because the year 2020 marks the 250th birthday of Beethoven. So they’re all jumping in on that commemoration. And I don’t even need to give the name of the composer of Messiah because everybody knows it — don’t they? Or do they only know the name Messiah? — from it being so over-performed. (Related: Not Messiah Again?!) But orchestral management and most choral ensembles understand that Messiah is their big dinero-maker/money maker at the end of the year. Oh, and by the way, it’s Messiah and notThe Messiah as some mistakenly write it. (See image of Editions Novello here).
So these days, on the odd occasion that the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), the resident Orchestra for the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in the District of Columbia performs a symphonic choral work (other than “The Big Three” that I mentioned up above: Händel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Ninth or Orff’s Carmina Burana), there are three Orchestra Choruses that perform with the NSO upon invitation. They are the Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus (formerly the Oratorio Society of Washington) and the University of Maryland Concert Choir.
Even though it’s been proposed several times over the years by newly-arriving conductors of the NSO that they have their own Symphony Chorus, the idea has been rejected each time. In part, I think because of tradition and also because the local Orchestra Choruses (listed in the previous paragraph) would no longer have the opportunity to perform with the NSO if the Orchestra had its own Chorus.
The University of Maryland Concert Choir has been invited to perform the Rossini Stabat Mater in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as well as in Carnegie Hall (May 2019) with the NSO. Their performance will be something that the choristers of the UMD Concert Choir will remember for the rest of their lives and talk about, leaving a lasting impression, just as with my experience with the now “retired” University of Maryland Chorus and other Orchestra Choruses. A wonderful performance opportunity for them.
Interestingly, the Choral Arts Society of Washington performed the Rossini last season in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with a pick up Orchestra (members of the NSO, I think). The article I read about their performance didn’t specifically mention the NSO/National Symphony Orchestra — I kept looking for the NSO — so I don’t think they were officially the performing Orchestra. The performance by the Choral Arts Society was described as “stellar.” But that was about all he said about the Choral Arts Society Chorus. He spent most of his review going on about the vocal soloists, which frankly I didn’t have any interest in to tell you the truth. As a “choral person,” if only “arts critics/professional reviewers” — I don’t consider myself either — spent as much time and attention analysing the Chorus and their superb performance throughout the piece as they do writing reams about the vocal soloists. But that’s usually not the case as they don’t seem to have been there for the Chorus, which relegates the Chorus to Second Class Musicians’ status as I’ve written before, and I’m sick of it. The reviewer, for some reason, felt the need to describe the Choral Arts Society Chorus as an “all-volunteer Chorus.” That’s irrelevant. They’re all “all-volunteer.” That has nothing to do with anything. But they all — Choral Arts, The Washington Chorus and the UMD Concert Choir — have very stringent audition requirements. None of the choristers are paid to my knowledge. Was “all-volunteer” intended to mean that they are amateur rather than a professional Orchestra Chorus, whether paid or not? The Choral Arts Society of Washington has always been an “all-volunteer” Chorus that performs mostly with major symphony orchestras or members of — so there’s nothing new about that! — as it was when I sang with them, and I don’t remember “all-volunteer” being mentioned in our reviews. To my knowledge, all Orchestra Choruses in the US are still “all-volunteer” except for the all-paid Chicago Symphony Chorus, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (20% of their choristers are paid, or that was the case when I sang with them, unless that has changed over the years).
I do have to wonder though and I ask this sort of tongue-in-cheek: Is the Choral Arts Society of Washington “seething with envy” that the University of Maryland Concert Choir was invited to perform with the NSO in Carnegie Hall and not them, considering the Choral Arts Society just performed the piece last season receiving a stellar review? If so, this is history repeating itself because I remember the jealousy that the Choral Arts Society had for the University of Maryland Chorus when they had frequent engagements with the NSO and was very sought after and was given similar invitations by the NSO and other (inter)national orchestras such as this engagement in Carnegie Hall? (Related: University of Maryland Chorus – A Tribute).
I can’t make any comment or give an opinion about the University of Maryland Concert Choir because I’ve never heard them. In major part, that’s because they have no internet presence which I find very surprising here in 2019. (Mi amigo/My friend said, “Hopefully they are as good as the University of Maryland Chorus that they replaced which sang with a straight-tone, no noticeable vibrato.”) Yes, the UMD Concert Choir replaced the renowned University of Maryland Chorus as the Symphonic Chorus on campus so one would think they would perform regularly — or at least once a year — with the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra in a performance of a symphonic choral work and would professionally record performances for the UMD’s U-toob channel. But nada. Nothing that I could find. They have that fairly new (historically speaking) concert venue on campus, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. It opened in 2001 on the University of Maryland College Park campus. It’s the largest single building every built by the State of Maryland. It houses six performance venues; the UMD School of Music; and the UMD School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. You can see images of the Center here. I should think the centre has state-of-the-art recording capabilities, and one would think the University of Maryland would want to promote the School of Music by featuring the UMD Concert Choir regularly in performances of symphonic choral works of all kinds, including oratorios and cantatas. For example, since 2001 they could have already performed and recorded “The Big Three” (the three symphonic choral works that we’re down to; the only ones that the public will mostly support now): Messiah, Beethoven’s Ninth and Orff’s Carmina Burana on campus as well as a Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. But nada. Nothing. The UMD Concert Choir performed the Brahms with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra awhile back, so one wonders why they didn’t perform it on campus with the UMD Symphony Orchestra as well and professionally record it since the Chorus was already prepared?
I found some performances of one of UMD’s choral ensembles, but they were not professionally recorded which is what I’m suggesting they should do. Instead, they were recorded off of someone’s phone and uploaded to the UMD U-toob channel so the quality was not the best, rather poor.
In Boston’s New England Conservatory (NEC), they have it together. They’ve turned Jordan Hall, their acoustically-superb Concert Hall, into a professional recording studio, as you can see in this video below in their performance of Schubert’s Great Symphony in C Major, which nicely helps to promote the New England Conservatory:
One wonders why the University of Maryland’s School of Music doesn’t do the same and professionally record their performances in full? Being a state school (UMD) versus a private school (NEC) shouldn’t have anything to do with it, I shouldn’t think. And being their own performances, they would own the copyrights and most of the major symphonic choral works I’m thinking of and suggesting they perform would be in the public domain. For the exposure, I would think that any contemporary composer would gladly give them permission to perform and record his/her pieces and make them available on UMD’s U-toob channel. It would be an excellent way of promoting the University of Maryland College Park and the School of Music. The New England Conservatory seems to understands this.
By the way, the NEC Philharmonia is superb, and I think many of its musicians study with the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra who are on the Faculty at the NEC. I watched the NEC Philharmonia’s performance of the Schubert Great Symphony in C Major (video above) and noticed that their First Concertmaster gave the same bowing instructions to the strings for the final part of the last movement that my favourite Orchestra (hr-sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony) used when they performed the piece. They played those passages identically, and looked like they enjoyed themselves which was good to see. But unfortunately I can’t say the same for the NEC Concert Choir, or at least from their Brahms’s performance I tried to listen to. Their Chorus Director seems to have fed into the new Vibrato Fad(TM) where some/too many Chorus Directors in the US — and especially in what seems to be the Vibrato Capital of Boston (the troubled Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston University Symphony Chorus and NEC Concert Choir; although sometimes the Men sing with perfect intonation but not the Women) — are abandoning one of the key components of choral excellence: Perfect Intonation (the perfect blending of voices). So they’re allowing their choristers (sopranos being the worst, followed by altos and tenors) to wobble, flutter and quiver their voices, preventing the perfect blending of voices in SATB choral sections.
Apparently to justify their own preference for hearing heavy-vibrato from a Chorus (or at least the sopranos and altos), some Chorus Directors are going so far as to say that Robert Shaw liked hearing individual voices in a Chorus, just because they do. I remember when Dra Ann Howard Jones (who worked with Robert Shaw in Atlanta) told a group of musicians that, “Bob liked to hear individual voices.” She knows that is not true from working with Shaw and his superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, but he’s not around to correct her and say to her, “Now Ann, you know that is not true! Why are you putting that out there? Just because you like to hear individual voices don’t drag me into it and discredit my reputation.” But that’s her revisionist history. The only time Robert Shaw liked to hear individual voices was in a chorister’s audition or from the vocal soloist(s) on the stage. So there’s no need to drag Robert Shaw into it and justify the use of heavy vibrato just because she personally likes to hear individual voices as one heard in her Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performance of Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah, as one example. In that performance one heard the sopranos and altos quivering, wobbling and fluttering their way through the entire Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). They had a very rough sound, not a smooth-polished sound. I was surprised Dra Jones allowed that considering her credentials and she had worked with Shaw. Elias is one of my favourite symphonic choral works and I’ve heard many performances of it. I know it well. I even had the privilege of serving as rehearsal accompanist for our performance of Elias/Elijah at the Conservatory where I trained because I was the piano accompanist for the Conservatory Concert Choir. I had never heard that (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) sung that way with ugly vibrato before. It’s always sung with a lovely straight-tone, usually sounding like the finest of Anglican trebles/boy choirsters, and then the Full Chorus comes in and answers them, and then they go back and forth in response to each other. But with the BU performance, it was as if we were hearing each individual voice of the soprano and alto sections with their un-synchronised vibrato all fluttering and wobbling at different vibrato rates. It was difficult to listen to because the Women of the Chorus were not singing with perfect intonation. It was not an example of choral excellence whatsoever. I had expected Dra Jones’s Chorus to sound more like Atlanta from her being there and working directly with Shaw, but it didn’t. And Robert Shaw did not like to hear individual voices. Robert Shaw repeatedly insisted on perfect intonation and I heard him mention it in his Carnegie Hall Choral Workshops. He said: “After you master diction, perfect intonation, (and then he gave other examples of what comprises choral excellence)…” and Dra Jones was sitting right there in the Chorus on the front row when he said that. It must have made her cringe since she didn’t agree with him obviously based on how she prepared the Chorus for various performances at BU’s School of Music. As I recall, in their Mendelssohn/Elias performance, the tenors and basses sang with perfect intonation but the sopranos and altos did not, as if the Men and Women were prepared by two different Chorus Directors. That’s a fairly common occurrence I’ve noticed in recent years. I don’t know why the Women of the Chorus are allowed to wobble and flutter and who finds that annoying sound attractive? Well obviously Dra Jones does as she was smiling broadly at the Women while they were wobbling and fluttering, but it’s not attractive to my “choral ear.” One wonders: Is that why Robert Shaw encouraged her to take the job offer up at Boston University to get her out of Atlanta? I’m merely asking the question. According to what she said when she talked with him about the job offer from Boston University School of Music, he said, “You’ll take it.” So she did. I knew of Dra Ann Howard Jones from seeing her name on the CD covers of recordings of the ASO and Chorus. I had thought she would become the new Chorus Director for Atlanta. But after Shaw’s death in 1999, Norman McKenzie became the Chorus Director — specifically the Director of Choral Activities — for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus in 2000, and not Dra Jones. The ASO described McKenzie as “the logical choice as a longtime disciple of Shaw.” But just because Dra Jones likes to hear individual fluttering and wobbling voices, it is most disrespect of her to try to justify that by riding on the coattails of the late Robert Shaw. I helped to train my “choral ear” on Robert Shaw’s superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and I never heard individual voices in his Chorus. His ASOC had a very polished, smooth, warm, rich velvety sound with perfect intonation (where each choral section sounded like one voice the way it’s supposed to sound) similar to the Chicago Symphony Chorus under the late Margaret Hillis during the Solti years.
I believe I read that Boston University’s School of Music — which is a Conservatory environment — considers itself to be a “solo school.” Studying to be a soloist is fine, but there’s a musical concept called ensemble singing which many people worldwide studying to be a soloist don’t seem to grasp/understand. It seems to wash right over them. When one is singing or playing in an ensemble, perfect intonation is one of the goals, not sticking out as a soloist. You can’t have 200 “solo” voices in a Symphony Chorus. Well you can, but it will sound awful. It will sound like an Opera Chorus. Perfect intonation would be non-existent in that situation. With choral excellence, one strives for the perfect blending of voices in each SATB section, which cannot be achieved if someone is singing as if they were a soloist. One needs to use his or her “chorister voice” in an ensemble. The finest of musicians understand this, such as some of the vocal soloists I’ve seen/heard who perform with the Chorus of William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. They turned off their “soloist voice” and used their “chorister voice” when they joined in an encore with the Les Arts Florissants Orchestra and Chorus. Their “solo” voice was not heard; it did not stick out. Their voices blended perfectly with the other choristers.
A bit of history: Before the founding of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC), Lorna Cooke de Varon’s New England Conservatory Chorus served as the Chorus for the BSO from 1953-1986 according to NEC’s website. Until 1986? Is that correct or is that a typo? The reason I’m asking is because at least in the BSO and Boston Pops broadcasts I watched over PBS from Symphony Hall in Boston, I didn’t see the New England Conservatory Chorus perform again with the BSO after the first performance I saw of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) with the Boston Pops. They were founded in 1970 by John Oliver at the request of Seiji Ozawa as the Official Chorus of the BSO and Boston Pops Orchestras. I remember the iconic BSO announcer at the time, William Pierce, saying, “From Symphony Hall in Boston, this is a performance by the Boston Symphony Or-ches-tra (he enunciated each syllable in a very British manner), Seiji Ozawa, Music Director. Also assisting tonight is the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, Director, which is already on stage.” I remember asking my television: Hmmmmmm. Well usually you say, “Also assisting tonight is the New England Conservatory Chorus (he pronounced it the British way: Con-serva-tree) Chorus, Lorna Cooke de Varon, Chorus Director. So, what happened to the New England Conservatory Chorus that’s usually there? After that, I never saw the NEC Chorus again. I thought they had been kicked to the curb back down the street to the NEC. (The New England Conservatory is about a block away from Symphony Hall for those who don’t know). Maybe the NEC Chorus performed with the BSO after the founding of the TFC and those performances were not broadcast? That could be, or maybe I missed some performances. I don’t know. But usually, an Orchestra’s Official Chorus is the only Chorus that performs with them on a regular basis, such as the Chicago Symphony Chorus or the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. That’s why orchestras have an Official Chorus to begin with. But anyway, Ms de Varon died in 2018.
As for this Vibrato Fad(TM), it is because of the caliber of choristers auditioning — I’m not necessarily referring to the NEC here, but in general — in that they can’t sing precisely on pitch so Chorus Directors are resorting to using vibrato to disguise that and any possible vocal technical problems they may have? To be clear, I’m merely making an enquiry as to why any serious Chorus Director worth his/her Conservatory or School of Music credentials would allow their choristers to abandon one of the very basic principles of choral excellence: Perfect intonation, where each section (SATB) sounds like one voice and not twenty or thirty voices, depending upon how many choristers are in each section. And because of this Vibrato Fad(TM), they sound more like an Opera Chorus with no perfect intonation than the desired Symphony Chorus they’re supposed to be. I tried to listen to the NEC performance of the Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 with the NEC Philharmonia, but the New England Conservatory Concert Choir’s performance was ruined for me with their fluttery, wobbling vibrato especially in the soprano and alto sections, as if they were trying to emulate the currently beleaguered Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which James Burton is currently working to improve by the way. (I wonder how that’s going?) It has to be pretty bad for me to not be able to listen to a performance due to very noticeable fluttering and wobbling vibrato, but I had to click off. I played part of it for mi amigo/my friend and he couldn’t listen to it either for the same reason. His first words were, “Oh what a shame that they had to ruin it with vibrato. They look good as a Chorus, but no, I can’t take that vibrato either.” I did enjoy the Orchestra, what little of the performance I was able to listen to. I was wondering whether any of the musicians in the NEC Philharmonia were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does our Concert Choir sound like that? They sound as if they’re nervous or something, with all that fluttering, quivering and wobbling in their voices? It doesn’t sound good. Maybe we can cover them up, or at least we can try!” The NEC Philharmonia was excellent in the Brahms (as well as in the Schubert I mentioned up above). But again, what happened to the very basis concept of perfect intonation in choral excellence, which cannot be achieved with wobbling and fluttering? (Sigh).
The thinking these days seems to be: “If you can’t sing on pitch or have technical difficulties, just use vibrato. Nobody will know the difference. They’ll just say, “Oh they’re classically-trained.”
That’s about the extent of it!
The Rossini Stabat Mater that the University of Maryland Concert Choir will be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center and in Carnegie Hall is not one of my favourite symphonic choral works because it’s so full of writing for vocal soloists, or more accurately, what I refer to as operatic screamers who don’t seem to know the difference between screaming and singing beautifully. It’s a rather common problem these days. The Rossini is too much like opera for me. Some people even refer to it as Rossini’s “sacred opera.” A sacred opera? I don’t know about that. Are some people calling it opera to justify the harsh-shrill screaming from the vocal soloists? Operas are usually not sacred or of a religious nature and operas involve costuming and scenery. There is neither costuming or scenery in performances of this piece. A Stabat Mater — which is a 13th-century Christian Hymn to the Virgin Mary portraying her suffering as Jesus Christ’s mother during his crucifixion — is usually a symphonic choral work, having nothing to do with opera. It sounds like someone is trying to confuse/blend genres, or does not know the difference between opera and symphonic choral music. From a choral standpoint, the best part of the Rossini in my opinion is more towards the end where the Chorus performs alone and with just the Orchestra. Of course, the piece wouldn’t have to be at all like opera if the soloists chosen didn’t sing like screaming opera divas. (Related: Is Opera music?) Assuming the University of Maryland Concert Choir sings with a lovely straight tone giving them perfect intonation, the soloists should/could come from the Chorus, and the soloists could also use their chorister voice. If they feel they must resort to turning on vibrato just because they’re serving as soloist, a tasteful amount would be sufficient. Does the score indicate: “To be sung with heavy, screaming and wobbling, fluttering, quivering vibrato” above all the solo passages in the piece? I suspect it doesn’t say that. So then, why the need for vibrato soloists? Why can’t the soloists in the Rossini for once sing beautifully like the soloists in this performance from Amsterdam in this Mass by Zelenka? Someone might say: “But no, Zelenka lived between 1679 and 1745, and Rossini lived between 1792 and 1868,” implying the singing styles should be different between the two periods: Baroque and Classical? Regardless, those soloists in the Zelenka performance are a pleasure to listen to. Unfortunately, of the performances I’ve heard of the Rossini, I’ve not been able to listen to any of them straight through because of the screaming heavy-vibrato soloists — which seems to be a requirement for this piece, especially with the rearing-back and wailing soprano screamer who seems to try to blow everyone off the stage with her piercing siren voice — where it’s unclear what pitches she and the other screamers are attempting to sing. That’s singing? I. Don’t. Think. So. Singing involves artistry. Anyone can scream. No talent or artistry required for that.
Well, hopefully the NSO/University of Maryland Concert Choir performance will have true artists serving as vocal soloists who possess the ability to sing spot-on pitch. But if I had to take a guess, considering how things are going here in the US with what seems to be a tacky heavy-vibrato fad, I suspect the audience might want to bring ear plugs — just in case — to dampen the noise from the vocal soloist-screamers who mistake screaming (with heavy-vibrato) for lovely, beautiful singing. And again, if the vocal soloists insist on singing with vibrato, why not use just a tasteful amount, such as the tasteful amount heard from soprano soloist Lydia Teuscher in this performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy performed in Nihon/Japan. Performing forces in that video: The Saito Kinen Orchestra with pianist Marta Argerich, soprano Lydia Teuscher, Rie Miyake, alto: Nathalie Stutzmann tenor: Kei Fukui, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, baritone: Matthias Goerne and the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival Chorus, all conducted by Seiji Ozawa. The OMF Chorus was excellent. They sang with perfect intonation.
One of my favourite Orchestra Choruses from Copenhagen performed some choruses from opera awhile back. They always sing with a lovely straight tone giving them perfect intonation and the finest of choral excellence. So I was hesitant to listen to their performance of a chorus from an opera. But I was very pleased with them, as well as surprised. Even when they perform opera, they use only a tasteful amount of noticeable vibrato. It was mostly noticeable in the sopranos and altos with a fluttery sound, but their superb Chorus Director had them add just the right amount of vibrato. I suspect some of the choristers had to work to sing with any noticeable vibrato since they normally don’t, fortunately. The Men didn’t really use any noticeable vibrato. They reminded me more of the Men of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw. They had a darker, rich, warm sound than they usually do. But I enjoyed the opera piece from this Danmark Chorus (it was the same Chorus as in this performance of the Fauré Requiem). They are absolutely superb in all the symphonic choral works I’ve heard them perform. You can also hear their superb performance of the Brahms’s Ein Deutches Requiemhere.
So when might we see the University of Maryland School of Music turn their performance venues into a serious recording studio like my favourite Orchestra (hr-sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony) has done, or like the NEC has done with Jordan Hall, and have the UMD Concert Choir perform major symphonic choral works on a regular basis with the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra? At least one a year, at minimum. I shouldn’t think that’s asking too much. If they had done what I’m suggesting when the centre opened, they would have at least 18 major symphonic choral works on their U-toob channel as of this writing for viewers to watch. And if their performances are as stellar as those one heard from Dr Paul Traver’s outstandingly superb University of Maryland Chorus over the decades — is anyone still talking about The Maryland Chorus these days in the School of Music or have they sort of been forgotten about? — their performances from the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center would be thrilling to watch and hear. Chau.—el barrio rosa
The hr-Sinfonieorchester is the Radio Orchestra of Hessischer Rundfunk, the public broadcasting network of the German state of Hesse. From 1929 to 1950 it was named Frankfurter Rundfunk-Symphonie-Orchester.
Hola a todos. This is a beautiful performance of the Tschaikowsky 2. Klavierkonzert/Piano Concerto No. 2. I suppose someone might say, “Why the Tschaikowsky Second? I like his First Piano Concerto.” Well, his First Piano Concerto is so over-performed by comparison. And I’ve come to like the Second better, particularly the second and third movements and especially the way both are played in this performance.
While watching this with mi amigo/my friend, I said (referring to the pianist, Yefim): “The boy can play!” Mi amigo said: Yes, I think he’s played this a few times. No doubt about that. He had his score with him but he didn’t use it. It stayed closed inside the piano. Yefim makes playing this concerto look rather effortless, the sign of a true artist. He seemed very humble and modest when it came time for the bows and despite him being the piano soloist he seemed to want to give primary attention to the First Concertmaster and principal cellist soloists. He didn’t make it all about himself which was nice to see and he really seemed to appreciate this superb, outstanding Orchestra. Frankfurt does have a stellar Orchestra, and their string section! Ah…exquisite.
Yefim and Paavo (the conductor) seem to have an excellent rapport, which is critical for a good concerto performance. Notice the looks they give each other at times such as at 40.37-40 in the video. We laugh every time we see that. Yefim spoke very highly of Paavo as a conductor in a brief interview I read awhile back. I’ve seen some conductors and pianists on the odd occasion where they look like they can’t really stand each other or barely get along or the conductor doesn’t feel like dealing with the pianist and the pianist rarely looks at the conductor (which annoys the conductor of course). Some pianists seem to take the approach that they are the soloist and the Orchestra can just follow along, which is not the best way to approach a piano concerto. It should be a collaboration between the two considering the pianist couldn’t play the piece as a concerto if the Orchestra wasn’t there! I don’t think too many people want to hear only the piano part and hum in the orchestral part.
This Orchestra, the hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony is my favourite Orchestra. I love watching them, and their beautiful playing. The hr-Sinfonieorchester seem to keep most of their musicians. I see them over and over. Glad to see them staying. They seem like a very good group of people and they’re all supportive of each other, from what I can tell.
The second movement of this concerto is more like chamber music than a piano concerto. Maybe it’s just me, but the second movement of this concerto always moves me, especially when the principal cellist and First Concertmaster play their solo and duet passages so beautifully. One almost forgets this is a piano concerto until the pianist quietly comes back in with his part.
The hr-Sinfonieorchester have one of the finest Steinway & Sons pianos. Lovely tone and the treble is absolutely sparkling. I’ll presume it’s a Hamburg Steinway — since they are in Deutschland — as opposed to a New York Steinway, although I did read awhile back that they’re trying to now make them all the same so the New York factory is in contact with the Hamburg factory on that. Which one will they end up going for? The more expensive Hamburg or the cheaper-built New York? I remember concert pianist Cristina Ortiz saying she prefers the Hamburg piano and can tell immediately from playing a few notes/keys if the Steinway she’s about to play is a Hamburg. It’s one of several reasons why she doesn’t like performing in the US because Concert Halls here only have the New York Steinway. (Related: The All-Steinway Schools). She also doesn’t like the placement of the piano on the outside of the Orchestra for concerto performances rather than more inside the Orchestra (First Concertmaster right behind her) so she can feel as one with the Orchestra and hear the Orchestra better. Understandable. Yes, it annoys me when I see a piano stuck out on the edge of the stage for a concerto performance. How on Earth is the pianist supposed to hear the Orchestra well stuck way out there? And the conductor is way over there with the Orchestra having to turn, crane his neck and look way behind him in order to have eye contact with the pianist. I think that’s an Arrogant Empire/US thing as well as a BBC Proms thing, since they seem to have to copy anything The Arrogant Empire does, even when it doesn’t make any sense musically! Cristina said that she will ask the conductor if he could move the piano in closer inside the Orchestra — where it should be — where she’s much more comfortable playing, and the placement of the piano affects her playing. I can certainly understand that. It’s sort of hit and miss though. She said some conductors are very accommodating to her request where others are not. The seating of the strings forms an even line across the front of the stage, and the right side of the piano should be inside that line even with them, is the point being made. Often in the US, the left side of the piano is way outside that line closer to the audience. In the video below, the piano in this performance of the Tschaikowsky is in the correct place and the pianist and conductor are virtually side-by-side and have extremely close and direct eye contact with each other, as it should be. No craning of necks to see each other.
Maybe you’ll enjoy this concerto splendidly performed from Frankfurt by the hr-Sinfonieorchester. And the Orchestra looked like they really enjoyed playing this piece. Chau.—el barrio rosa