Is it Chorus or chorus?

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

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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.

University of Maryland Concert Choir performs at Carnegie Hall with NSO

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 not The 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 Requiem here.

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

Related:

What happened to the renowned University of Maryland Chorus?

BSO and the University of Maryland Concert Choir perform Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45

New England Conservatory’s U-toob Channel

Tangling with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

New Chorus Director for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Tschaikowsky: 2. Klavierkonzert ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Yefim Bronfman ∙ Paavo Järvi

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

Chicago Symphony Chorus treated as Second Class Musicians

Update (29 abril/April 2019): Well, the strike by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has ended due to the intervention of Chicago’s corporatist mayor — who shall remain nameless — and his connections to the super-wealthy. Even though the outcome of the strike has been described as a “compromise,” in the end CSO management accomplished their goals defined in their (what was called) “last, best and final” offer. They accomplished their major goal of gutting fully-paid retirement plans. From the beginning to the end of the strike, the Chicago Symphony Chorus was never mentioned in the articles I read, as if they don’t exist. I was turned off by some of the comments made by the CSO musicians when the strike ended who referred to the CSO as “the greatest Orchestra in the country” and that they would be returning to their audience, “the best audience in the country.” Here we go again with USians having to pump themselves up with the “we are the greatest” pabulum. Even if the CSO were “the great Orchestra in the US” — and how exactly does one determine that? — shouldn’t somebody else be saying that, and not the musicians? What happened to modesty and humbleness CSO musicians? Your comments come off to me as extremely arrogant. Then you have the “best audience” remark/nonsense, which is equally a turn-off. All of this reminds me of a form of Chicago territorial nationalism, and it’s rather childish. “Our Orchestra is better than your Orchestra and we have the best audience, you don’t. Na na na na na.” (roll eyes) You can stand around and pat yourselves on the back and feed yourselves feel-good pabulum (lies?) about how great you think you are, but does it matter at this point when in the end your management got what they wanted? Strikes seem about as futile as protests these days. With the exception of the Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vests in France, now in their 23rd or 24th consecutive Saturday of protests throughout the country. Their protests have generated some “reforms” from French President Emmanuel Macron, but not enough to fulfill their wishes. So, their protests continue. I think they are banned from protesting on the wealthy Av. des Champs-Élysées. Gilets Jaunes are rather vigilant. Unusual these days. You’d never see that here in the US. Here, especially in the San Francisco, the only thing that people are “vigilant” on is their phone. For the phone zombies, it’s their entire life. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Hola a todos. You’d never know that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has its own Chorus — the Chicago Symphony Chorus — by the coverage of the Orchestra’s strike, going into its seventh week as of this writing. “Outlook is dim” wrote one article I read about the strike.

You’d also never know that the CSO has its own Chorus by any of the free performances given by the CSO in Chicago during the strike because they’ve not included their Symphony Chorus — members of or the Full Chorus — in any performances. Why is that? They’ve only performed orchestral works.

I haven’t heard, because no one is even mentioning the Chorus, but does the elitist management want to erode the salaries of the all-paid Chicago Symphony Chorus too? I don’t know, since nothing has been written about them. According to the performance schedule I saw, the CSO Chorus doesn’t have a performance with the CSO until the latter part of June 2019, and that’s opera, of all things, as opposed to what one might think they would be performing: a symphonic choral work since they are a Symphony Chorus after all, and not an Opera Chorus. They are two different instruments, hence the two names.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on strike (which I support) for some of the usual reasons that major symphony orchestras go on strike these days. They rejected — what was called — managements (here we go) “last, best and final” offer almost two weeks ago. Elitist management with their bloated executive salaries proposed destroying the musicians defined-benefit pensions. They also imposed the predictable salary cuts. In the negotiations, the elitist Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) Board which is controlled by billionaires and Chicago’s one-percent, would not agree to the musicians’ demands regarding pensions or salary. And the bourgeois management — incapable of feeling shameful — has cancelled all performances through the end of April 2019. In the meantime, members of and or the full CSO have been giving free concerts around Chicago, without the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

I sense that the Chorus does not have (quite) the same reputation it had during the years that its Founder’s name (Margaret Hillis) was attached to it, but then that was a different time and era. And nothing stays the same, does it? Even corruption doesn’t stay the same. It gets worse and worse and more vile. And many people become the opposite of who and what they were as people.

For some time, I’ve had little to no regard for the so-called elitist “management” — they’re usually corporate parasites — that run or try to wreck/ruin musical organisations. We’ve seen this over and over.

I was pleased to see CSO Conductor Riccardo Muti join the strikers and not side with the corporate parasites.

This story has repeated itself time and time again. Why do orchestras need an elitist and out-of-touch group of people called “management?” Now I know why “management” exists, but I think the “management” should be entirely comprised of the musicians themselves, including the members of the Chorus and not elitist corporate parasites. Someone might say: “The musicians have enough to do as it is without being their own management or part there of. The musicians want to play and make music, and not do all that other stuff.” That’s true and I understand that, but this is exactly the problem you run into when billionaires, corporate parasites and non-musicians try to run a musical ensemble. Utter disrespect for the musicians.

To my knowledge, the Chicago Symphony Chorus is still an all-paid Orchestra Chorus. Also to my knowledge, the CSO Chorus is the only all-paid Symphony Chorus in the country/the US. By contrast, only twenty-percent of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus are paid, something the choristers had to fight for and they used the CSO Chorus as an example. I know because I was there at the time. Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, offended many San Francisco Symphony Chorus members when she had the nerve to give her opinion during a rehearsal with the Chorus (rather than staying neutral) and sided with San Francisco Symphony management who were bringing her here at the time from Chicago as interim San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director. I remember her saying, “Professional does not mean paid.” Someone should have stood and said, “Well since ‘professional does not mean paid,’ Ms Hillis, may we assume that you won’t mind volunteering your professional services here for free so as to save SFS management the thousands of dollars they’re paying you in salary and to fly you back and forth from here to Chicago to prepare this Chorus? Can we count on you for that, Ms Hillis? Since again, as you say, ‘professional does not mean paid.’ Wouldn’t you like to set an example of that for us? I’m merely making an enquiry, Ms Hillis.” As she’s standing there with a red face and boiling inside from being put on the spot in front of the entire San Francisco Symphony Chorus after sticking her nose into it and supporting “management” with her all-paid Chicago Symphony Chorus. Yes, I’m sure she would have gone for that. The hypocrisy!

To my knowledge, all other Orchestra Choruses in the US are all-volunteer, including orchestras with their own Chorus, such as the 200-voice Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its currently beleaguered Tanglewood Festival Chorus. By the way, someone came to pink barrio recently searching, “Tanglewood Festival Chorus Christmas performance poor.” Oh dear. Well, TFC Chorus Director, James Burton, is currently working to bring the TFC up to the standards of choral excellence expected of the Official Chorus of the BSO.

It should also be pointed out that “all-volunteer” does not mean amateur in this case. These are professional Orchestra Choruses I’m talking about whether they’re paid or not. They all should be fully-paid, just like the Orchestra for which they serve as the Chorus for. Rather than relegating the Chorus to Second Class Musicians’ status.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus became quite a stellar instrument during the Solti years under Founder and Chorus Director, Margaret Hillis, who was appointed by Fritz Reiner. I trained my “choral ear” on the Chicago Symphony Chorus under Hillis/Solti from their recordings. The same performances that won nine Grammy Awards in the Best Choral Performance category under Ms Hillis. I read online in recent years that some of the choristers of the CSO Chorus complained that Ms Hillis was “too nit picky.” (roll eyes) I bet they didn’t say that when they won nine Grammy’s! Being “nit picky” is partly how one earns a Grammy for Best Choral Performance. Ms Hillis’s rehearsal style was very serious; she didn’t mess around. She was superb with a Chorus, even though I didn’t care much for her personality.

Under the current Chorus Director (since Hillis), the Chicago Symphony Chorus has only won one Grammy.

The Men of the CSO Chorus continue to be as superb as they were under Hillis (or at least they were in their Beethoven’s Ninth performance that I heard), but the sopranos and altos are not quite as good, in my opinion. Their soprano section suffers from what seems to be an increasing problem in the US: some shrill, screechy ugly sounds in the sopranos upper register with some noticeable (but needless) vibrato, which I heard in their Beethoven’s Ninth performance. I didn’t hear any of this when the Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. They always sang with a velvety rich smooth, polished sound under Ms Hillis. I suspect if she were alive today and walked into a rehearsal, she would say in her baritone-alto voice: “Sopranos, we need to do a bit of fine-tuning with you. It seems that something has gone a bit haywire since I left and when you won all those Grammys.”

The absence of any mention or participation of the CSO Chorus during the strike, once again, relegates choristers of the highest caliber to that of second class musician status, and I’m sick of it frankly. The thinking seems to be that “they’re just the Chorus; they don’t matter. They’re not real musicians.” Yes, but of course. Just like the Orchestra is “just the Orchestra. They’re not real musicians either, are they?” I bet no one thinks that! Sadly, musically-ignorant people look at choristers differently than they do other musicians. Anyone who thinks that “the Chorus is just the Chorus” doesn’t have a clue what is involved in being in a Symphony Chorus of this caliber and what it takes to get in the Chorus in the first place. I think most people probably think — particular those with no ear for music — that being in a Symphony Chorus is no different than being in one’s podunk church choir, even though no comparison can be made.

Even if the Chicago Symphony Chorus is not at all being affected by the strike, they should indeed still be mentioned and acknowledged in articles about the strike — such as, “the Chicago Symphony Chorus is not affected by this strike” — since they are the Official Chorus for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Again, I’ve not read that the Symphony Chorus has been included in any free performances the CSO has given to the community. The Symphony Chorus — either the Full Chorus or the Chamber Chorus (a smaller group of them) — could easily perform any number of symphonic choral works with the Orchestra. Works they prepared earlier for this season and previous seasons. A Chorus of this caliber has quite a repertoire at-the-ready. They could perform their Beethoven’s Ninth again, as one example. The Orchestra recently performed at a rather large apostolic church in Chicago. The Chorus could have performed there with the Orchestra, but didn’t. I’ve also read nothing about the choristers being on the picket lines to support their orchestral musicians.

“The Big Three”

Assuming there is a next season, the CSO has announced the 2019-20 season and two of “The Big Three” are programmed:

Händel’s Messiah
Beethoven’s Ninth
Orff’s Carmina Burana

Yes, we’re now down to “The Big Three.” Why are they called “The Big Three?” Because they are pretty much the only symphonic choral works that the sheeple will support these days. (Sigh). Mostly gone are oratorios, Bach cantatas and other symphonic choral works, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony. I haven’t seen anyone programme that in the US. There has been a run on the Rossini Stabat Mater in the last couple years with at least two major orchestras and their Chorus or a guest Chorus performing it. Even Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah hasn’t survived and that was one of the more frequently performed oratorios in its day. Put back on dusty archive shelves. I had noticed this sometime ago about “The Big Three,” and DC Chorus Director, Robert Shafer, confirmed that. He’s the former Chorus Director for The Washington Chorus (they used to be known as the Oratorio Society of Washington and performed in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall). He’s also Professor Emeritus of Shenandoah Conservatory where he prepared some of the Conservatory’s choral ensembles.

For the 2019-20 season, Chicago is also performing two of “The Big Three:” The Orff and the Beethoven. “The mighty Ninth” in their language. “The mighty Ninth” language appears at least twice on the brochure. I guess some “management” people sat around a conference room table and said, “We’ll call the Ninth ‘mighty’ and the Orff ‘powerful’. Does everyone agree with that? Good.” Yes, there’s all this hyped language throughout the brochure about the pieces to be performed. Another example: “Carl Orff’s powerful Carmina Burana.” And related to my earlier article about vocal soloists-screamers, this is how the CSO “management” is marketing their screamers: “Muti is joined by the CSO Chorus and a cast comprising some of the world’s most distinguished international vocalists.” But I thought that some of the world’s most distinguished vocalists were in the CSO Chorus, so why aren’t they serving as soloists? They could easily do so. It’s the usual: Baiting the public to come to the performance because of the “world’s most distinguished CAST of vocalists.” If they were being honest about it, it would read “A CAST of screamers,” since that’s what most of them amount to. For the 2019-20 season, it looks like the Chicago Symphony Chorus has only 4-5 performances with the Orchestra all season. Other orchestras have really reduced their performances of symphonic choral works as well.

(This paragraph has been corrected. Were 1-2 more performances added for each Chorus since when I first looked at the brochures for the season? Or were they on another page that I somehow missed? Maybe I should stop listing specifically what Orchestra Choruses are doing since the list looks a bit different when I go back months later, then I look like I’m presenting incorrect information which is not my intent. Regardless…) For the current 2018-19 season, the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra programmed all of “The Big Three.” The Choral Arts Society of Washington have three performances with them: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, Philip Glass’s Itaipu and one of “The Big Three:” Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The Washington Chorus have two performances with the NSO: Lera Auerbach’s Arctica (Kennedy Center Concert Hall) and one of “The Big Three:” Beethoven’s Ninth at Wolf Trap. The University of Maryland Concert Choir came in with two engagements for the season. I think that’s correct: One of “The Big Three” (that war horse Messiah) and the Rossini Stabat Mater which they’re performing in May 2019 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and also in Carnegie Hall with the NSO. (Tongue in cheek: Is the Choral Arts Society “seething with envy” because the University of Maryland Concert Choir got the Carnegie Hall engagement and not them, as they did when the University of Maryland Chorus was awarded with similar invitations?) The Rossini performance is one that the now-retired and renowned University of Maryland Chorus would be performing with the NSO if The Maryland Chorus (as they were also known) were still around.

The Bottom Line: Orchestras are programming far fewer symphonic choral works these days than in the past (as when I was in major Orchestra Choruses). Because the public will only support “The Big Three?” It seems that I came along at the best time; when the performance of symphonic choral works were at their height. For example, when I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington, Norman (Scribner) would announce the upcoming season at the beginning of a rehearsal. We’d have maybe 8 performances of major symphonic choral works, mostly with the NSO in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, or with one or two touring guest orchestras, such as The Cleveland Orchestra, for example. The same for the University of Maryland Chorus who usually had the most performances especially under Antal Doráti, since he preferred them, and Robert Shafer’s Oratorio Society of Washington would have one or two engagements with the NSO, since at that time they performed only oratorios, as their name specified. They later changed their name to The Washington Chorus.

As the CSO strike continues, I hope to eventually read something about the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Either about how the strike affects them and/or that they performed with the CSO in one or more of the free concerts. But at this rate, I suspect they’ll never be mentioned, or even invited to perform with the CSO while on strike. “They’re just the Chorus, you know.” (roll eyes/groan). Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

The Second Class Musicians

Review: Beethoven’s Ninth – San Francisco Symphony and Symphony Chorus

Gabriel Fauré – Requiem – Danmarks Radio Symfoniorkestret and Koncertkoret – Ivor Bolton

“What a lovely piece with one melody coming at you after another, and this is one of the best performances you’ve ever played for me.”—Mi amigo/My friend

Hola a todos. What a performance! Superb Orchestra (Danmarks Radio Symfoniorkestret) and Chorus (Danmarks Radio Koncertkoret) conducted by Ivor Bolton. He looks like a really nice guy and a pleasure to work with. I hope this Chorus was thrilled with their performance. They should be. Absolutely. Perfect intonation and impeccable diction. This Chorus is now one my favourite Orchestra Choruses.

Consider this performance a Requiem for Notre-Dame de Paris which was badly damaged by fire earlier this week. Musically, it certainly feel right and sets the right mood.

In this performance, we got to hear their large pipe organ. A beautiful instrument and I like the unique way the façade of the pipes were installed which you can see up in the rear of the Concert Hall. The organ is a 4-manual with 91 voices, 118 ranks, and approximately 6,000 pipes. It was built by the Dutch organ builders J.L. van den Heuvel in the Nederlands, specifically the Holland provinces since I saw the word “Holland” on the organ console below the music rack. Holland refers to only the two provinces of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland — so the organ was built in one of them — although some people mistakenly refer to the Nederlands as “Holland.” That’s like referring to the US as California. There are 12 provinces in the Nederlands.

The organ was also used quietly in their equally superb Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiemperformance which you can read about that. I saw the organist’s hands crawling from one manual to the other as I talked about in this article recently.

I also like the conductor, Ivor Bolton. He looks like a really nice guy. I think he would have been enjoyable to work with and I liked his conducting style, which looked like the Orchestra and Chorus didn’t really need a conductor, but rather someone to guide the performance, which is what he did.

Even when this Chorus performs opera, they’re still listenable for me. (I say that because I’m not into opera). With hesitation I watched their performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser/Pilgrimskorkor – DRSO – DR Koncertkoret – Lawrence Foster (second video below) realising that it’s opera and it’s expected for the Chorus to sing with some noticeable vibrato. I was just curious how much vibrato they would use, if any, since they usually sing with a smooth, polished straight tone giving them perfect intonation. In the Wagner, both the Men and the Women used a little bit of vibrato — a tasteful amount — and they didn’t quite have that smooth sound they usually have and it sounded a bit fluttery especially in the soprano and alto sections, but not enough for me to click off. I heard no shrill or ugly sounds. The Chorus Director had them sing the Wagner with a rich, darker tone reminding me more of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw. Their Chorus Director had them add just the right amount of noticeable vibrato. Very tasteful. Although I would have probably had them keep their usual straight-tone, unless the conductor insisted some vibrato be added. But I enjoyed it. By the way, the Pilgrimskorkor/the Pilgrim’s Chorus is a chorus from the opera Tannhäuser. An opera has choruses that are sung by the Opera Chorus. It’s not a “song” as some people mistakenly refer to it in U-toob comments. A “song” is usually sung by one person or perhaps in a duet. I wrote about that common mistake in this article: I’m looking for that song called Beethoven’s Ninth.

I do indeed hope that this splendid Orchestra and its Chorus are around for years. I read that the Dutch Public Broadcasting Network which they are the ensembles for has had major funding cuts and layoffs in past years. It would be ashame to see their musical ensembles disband. We have nothing like this in the US. There is no npr or PBS Orchestra and Chorus, and I suspect you won’t be seeing them either at the rate things are going over here (downward spiral). Enjoy. Chau.—el barrio rosa