In the Conservatory

Featured Performance: A Glorious Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ MDR-Rundfunkchor ∙ Solisten ∙ Philipp Ahmann, Chorus Director

Updated 30 November 2021: It’s a very common mistake that many people make. I think it’s a mistake that is made by very amateur musicians or people with no musical training at all.  They refer to every piece of music, not by its title, but by calling it “a song.”  Someone referred to the Brahms’s EDR (Ein deutsches Requiem) as “a song,” which is of course incorrect.  The Requiem is, as its name implies, a Requiem.  A Requiem is a symphonic choral work.  Whereas a song is usually sung by one person or maybe as a duet (two people), not performed by an Orchestra and Chorus.  I’ve seen some people refer to the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 by saying, “I love this song.”  That’s wrong too. And I’ve never heard anyone singing in that. No, no one sings in the Rachmaninov.  It’s a work for piano and orchestra.  The piece is a piano concerto as its title implies.  Therefore, the Rachmaninov is not “a song.”  (roll eyes)  Beethoven’s Ninth is not “a song” either. Neither is Orff’s Carmina Burana — that’s a symphonic cantata; that’s not “a song” either — just like Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (a symphonic cantata). That’s not “a song” either. I hope you get the point by now. I’ve given multiple examples because there are a lot of thick people out there. So it’s best to call pieces by their title, because not everything in music is “a song.” Hope this helps.

Watching some of the finest symphonic choral performances, such as the one above from Frankfurt and other performances by this stellar Chorus from Leipzig, it leaves me somewhat grieving for no longer having the opportunity to be in an Orchestra Chorus.  I could get my voice back into shape and audition for the Symphony Chorus, but they’re not rehearsing/performing these days due to the pandemic.  And that’s my point here. I suspect the Symphony Orchestra Chorus choristers all over the world are grieving the loss of that unique experience that they once took for granted.  Well we all took it for granted. I’ve seen one Chorus in Amsterdam performing in very reduced size with face masks and distancing, but most Orchestra Choruses are not performing these days.  The last time I checked, the Choral Arts Society of Washington that I once sang with had scheduled a few performances for the 2021-22 season — doing their own thing — and following District of Columbia pandemic protocol.  They made that very clear on their website that they would adhere to the District’s COVID requiements.  I saw no engagements for them with the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra listed.  Pre-COVID they had 1-2 engagements a season, compared to the 4-6 engagements we had with the NSO each season when I sang with them. Up in Boston, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus has nothing scheduled and the BSO is only performing in very reduced size and only occasionally from what I could tell.  I know how all of these choristers must feel, because I feel the same way.  As my best friend tells me, “You came along at the height of symphonic choral music in performance in major concert halls.” That’s true. I did ultimately burn out on the rather grueling rehearsal and performance schedule. But if you’ve never had the privilege of performing with one of the best Orchestra Choruses in the world — as I was fortunate to do — you will likely not understand this.  Someone may say, “We’ll I’ve sung in my church Choir, does that count?” No, it’s nothing like your average podunk Church Choir, with the exception being the Choir of Men and Boys of St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (Anglican Communion) and other esteemed and renowned choral ensembles of that caliber. But St Thomas’s Choir of Men and Boys is not an Orchestra Chorus although the choral standards are the same as with the finest Orchestra Choruses. In fact one of the current choristers at St Thomas was a chorister in Robert Shaw’s superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Being in a Symphony Chorus is such a unique experience to be on a Concert Hall stage performing with a major symphony orchestra and listening to a gorgeous choral sound of choral excellence and all that entails after the hours of rehearsal time and dedication to that art form.  And when I hear the Chorus from Leipzig below, they can bring tears to my eyes because of their stellar level of choral excellence.  The Leipzig area has some of the finest choristers in the world, although some of them may come from elsewhere in the EU.  I have seen 1-2 choristers performing with a Chorus in Deutschland and I recognised the same choristers from having performed in Paris or in Belgium or the Nederlandse.

It’s not about the conductor, but that’s what the musically-ignorant think. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve read this tripe: “Oh the Karajan is the best.”  It’s interesting that the classical music armchair critics are often name-dropping Karajan’s name, considering his Nazi connections.   In the postwar era, Karajan maintained silence about his Nazi Party membership, which gave rise to a number of conflicting stories about it. But the truth is that Karajan actually joined the Nazi Party twice. You can read more about that here: [Source]. Quote: During the entire Nazi era he “never hesitated to open his concerts with the Nazi favorite “Horst-Wessel-Lied”, but “always maintained he joined strictly for career reasons.” His enemies called him “SS Colonel von Karajan”. End Quote So, if you have a problem with what I’ve said about your messiah Karajan, take that up with Wikipedia and not with me. Does your denial serve you well?

Unfortunately, many people who comment on AdTube classical music videos love to name-drop the name of celebrity conductors, as if all performances are all about the conductor, who doesn’t play one note (unless conducting from a keyboard).  But that’s what these shallow people have been brainwashed to think. Rather than listing all the names of the performers of a performance as is standard — the Orchestra, the Chorus and vocal soloists — the idiots list only the conductor. Which really doesn’t tell us anything, especially if their messiah conductor recorded the piece more than once with different musicians. I think they name-drop to give the impression they know something about music or are an expert on all-things classical music. As violinist Nigel Kennedy said, many conductors are over-rated. Agreed. I’ve watch many conductors and if I were in the Symphony Chorus I would find the conductor very difficult to follow or understand what he’s doing and I have considerable experience with conductors from my Conservatory training and Orchestra Chorus experience.  Many conductors don’t even beat time.  They just wave their arms around.  I look at the faces of the orchestral musicians and most are not even looking at him.  Because at their stellar level of musicianship, they’re able to play the piece essentially without a conductor just from being a stellar ensemble.  So the piece can be a symphonic choral work and someone on AdTube will be engaged in verbal masturbation over their favourite messiah conductor.  They fail to list the Orchestra and Chorus who performed the majority of the piece.  They just drop the name of their god conductor.  One problem with that is if a certain conductor recorded the piece multiple times and used different musical forces each time.  They can’t all be “the best.”  Which Chorus was performing in each performance since it’s a symphonic choral work.  To the commenters, it doesn’t matter.  It’s all about their messiah conductor.  The commenters fail to understand that their god conductor had little to do with the performance of the Chorus because he didn’t train the Chorus.  That’s the job of the Chorus Director who they consistently ignore and or don’t bother to look up or research. And if one writes what I’ve written here in an AdTube comment, AdTube will block the comment OR orchestral management will block it because most of the audience — which includes these commenters — are not musicians, and they know little if anything about music. They are just there to be entertained, not educated as I’m attempting to do with these plebs.  When the camera shows the audience, many often look utterly bored.  Some brought books to read during the performance — yes I’ve seen that — so they see none of the performance.  They could have easily stayed at home and listened to a CD.  Many of the people in the upper boxes on the side of the stage look as if they couldn’t care less what’s going on below them on the stage.  One wonders why they’re there? Or was that concert part of their season subscription so there’s just there to be there. It’s also part of the reason that I’ve said that as a musician particularly when performing in Orchestra Choruses I rarely related to the audience because they’re not musicians and are just there for “fun.”  Whereas when I watch a performance, I watch it from the perspective of a Conservatory-trained musician.  There’s always something interesting to see and watch, especially with the string section.  The bowing instructions, the pedal point in some pieces, the wind section, brass and I especially enjoy watching the superbly trained choristers.

I can list the conductors I admire — those who are genuine conductors as opposed to those who just wave their arms around — on one hand probably. There are so few and they’re not necessarily celebrity world-renowned conductors. god Karajan is not one of them I can tell you that. Three who readily come to mind: Andrés Orozco-Estrada of the hr-Sinfonieorchester, although he’s on his way to Vienna or is already in his new post. Then there’s Paavo Järvi, also Adrien Perruchon, Gregory Carreño, Václav Luks of Collegium 1704 and Collegium 1704 Vocale in the Czech Republic and, well, let’s see, there’s probably another one or two. Maybe I’ll add their names later. As you can see, a very short list, in part, because I don’t put conductors up on any damn pedestal like the classical music armchair critics insist on doing. It’s not all about the conductor, people! Without the other musicians on stage, you wouldn’t hear any beautiful music. There would be silence with just your god conductor on stage by himself. Like Andrés who is extremely humble and modest and extremely good at working with a Chorus, I give most of the credit to the other musicians — both Orchestra and Chorus — who actually performed the music.

Now on to this performance from Deutschland (where Angela Merkel is on her way out as Chancellor).

I’ve featured this stellar performance from Frankfurt for some time and I will continue to do so. This Chorus — singing with perfect intonation in all voice sections and impeccable diction — was exquisitely prepared for this performance by Chorus Director Philipp Ahmann. Philipp doesn’t miss a thing and has some of the finest choristers in Deutschland! This is how the New England Conservatory Concert Choir should have sounded in their performance of this piece and in their other performances, such as the Haydn. Some musically-ignorant person will say, “but they’re students at New England Conservatory.” And what does that have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s absolutely moot. It has to do with their training; how they’re trained and whether the Chorus Director is doing his or her job. Student Choruses can be trained — and many are trained — to sing with perfect intonation just like this Chorus from Deutschland, particularly in the soprano and alto sections. Depending upon when I’m watching this performance, it brings tears to my eyes because of its absolute beauty and high level of excellence. Today after watching part of it, I cried because it brought back memories of my own Orchestra Chorus experience with the Brahms in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (with Norman Scribner’s superb Choral Arts Society of Washington) and in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall with Vance George’s equally superb San Francisco Symphony Chorus. My friend tried to comfort me by reminding me that I came along at the height of symphonic choral music performances in the Kennedy Center at the time. So I experienced the best of times in that regard. That’s true. Unfortunately, I later burned out because of the rigorous rehearsal and performance schedules. These days, performances of symphonic choral performances are rare in the Kennedy Center usually featuring two or three of the local Orchestra Choruses: the Choral Arts Society of Washington will have one engagement (Orff’s Carmina Burana) and The Washington Chorus (TWC) will have one engagement (Beethoven’s Ninth) and the University of Maryland Concert Choir may have one engagement (Rossini’s Stabat Mater, I think that’s the last thing they did in the Kennedy Center and in Carnegie Hall). Then the next season, the Choral Arts Society will do the Ninth and TWC will have Carmina. Just switching the pieces around between the choral ensembles because we’re down to mostly The Big Three at least in the States. Apparently orchestral management think that the concert-going public in the States has little to no interest in symphonic choral works any longer other than in the perfunctory Beethoven’s Ninth, Orff’s Carmina Burana and of course Händel’s Messiah. We can’t be without that over-performed oratorio. You would think it’s the only oratorio he wrote! (And no, oratorio is not opera. They are two very different genres). Yet Georg Händel wrote nearly 30 some oratorios. And some of Zelenka’s symphonic choral works are just as good as those of Händel. Zelenka loved choral fugues and wrote some beautiful fugues. But we don’t get to hear them because “everyone must have Messiah” because of silly tradition!

Philipp Ahmann stellt sich im Nachtgesang dem Leipziger Publikum vor

MDR-Rundfunkchor Chorus Director, Philipp Ahmann

As for this performance, all credit for this choral excellence goes to Chorus Director Philipp Ahmann and his superb choristers, and not to David Zinman, the conductor for this performance. No disrespect at all intended to David but he did not prepare the Chorus and had little to do with their superb performance. This Chorus would have given this same absolutely stellar performance under any other conductor. So no need to engage in celebrity conductor worshipping as the often know-nothing classical music armchair critics like to do who are usually genuflecting to the conductor — who they seem to see as some deity — whilst ignoring all the other superb musicians on stage (both Orchestra and Chorus) who really performed the work. It should be noted that a conductor doesn’t play a note during a performance unless conducting from a keyboard. Mi amigo/My friend and I have watched this performance many, many times. We never tire of it. This and the two Brahms’s piano concerti go together nicely. He, my friend, commented about this the other night. This performance from Frankfurt, Deutschland with the hr-Sinfonieorchester is so well done in every aspect. Give this piece to another Chorus and Orchestra and production crew, and you won’t get these results. This Chorus from Leipzig is just ah, choral excellence at the highest level and the same for the orchestral playing. Most of the orchestral musicians really get a workout in this piece, especially the principal flautist (Sebastian). I don’t know of a finer performance anywhere. It’s right up there with one I heard decades ago in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with Dr Paul Traver’s superb University of Maryland Chorus and National Symphony Orchestra (Antal Doráti). That performace was equally exquisite. The impeccably-trained 150-175 voice University of Maryland Chorus reminded me of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus (Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director) and their performance of the Brahms under Georg Solti. I don’t usually think of the Brahms’s EDR as “glorious” — “glorious” would apply to a superb performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and the immaculately trained Chorus in that (singing with perfect intonation) — but “glorious” is indeed how this performance feels to me at times with this stellar Orchestra and Chorus, when they nearly bring tears to my eyes from their choral excellence, and brings back memories of my Orchestra Chorus experience when we performed the Brahms when I was in Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington (that performance was with The Cleveland Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; they didn’t tour with The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Page – Chorus Director) and also with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George, Chorus Directors) in Davies Symphony Hall. Read article here.

Lorna Cooke deVaron’s New England Conservatory Chorus sang with perfect intonation. Why doesn’t the NEC Concert Choir?

Perfect Intonation: One of the foundations of Choral Excellence.

I wish I could write as positively about the New England Conservatory Concert Choir (and Chamber Singers) as I have about the New England Conservatory Philharmonic and their performances, but unfortunately I can’t do that and be honest. Also, on this page I give examples of choral ensembles of all sizes from Chamber size to large-scale Orchestra Choruses which sing with perfect intonation. The size of the Chorus is irrelevant. Instead, it has to do with how they are trained. Some Chorus Directors are doing their job. Others clearly are not but remain in their positions. Read the rest of article here.

New England Conservatory – Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 1 in d, Op 15, pianist Wei-Xin (Byron) Zhou – NEC Philharmonia

Featured Performance: 侬好! Nóng hō! That’s “hello” in Shanghainese. The pianist in this performance grew up in Shanghai. This is a performance from 2015 in Jordan Hall — with its superb acoustics — on the New England Conservatory campus, which is down the street from Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Wei-Xin (Byron) Zhou graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, studying under Christopher Zhong. In 2008 he made his concert debut in New York, and in 2011 moved to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied under Wha Kyung Byun. He graduated in 2015 with a Master’s degree and went on to earn a Graduate Diploma in 2019, studying under Bruce Brubaker. Currently he is completing an Artistic Diploma at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, studying under Sergey Schepkin. [Source]

The first thing I noticed about this performance was that the piano was properly placed “inside” the Orchestra as it should be for a piano concerto, with the conductor and pianist within hand-shaking range and the conductor is right beside the piano so that he and the pianist can have close, direct communications throughout the performance. Fortunately, the piano was not stuck way out the way it’s often done elsewhere in the States (as well as in the UK for the BBC Proms), in some of those (podunk) places — where the conductor and pianist seem to be Kilometres apart — and where they’re more interested in “show biz” than in achieving the best musical performance. I said to mi amigo/my friend, “Oh good, they have the piano in the correct place. Exactly as it should be for a piano concerto.” I bring this up because it’s also a peeve of concert pianist Cristina Ortiz. She’s written about having to ask some conductors if they would mind moving the piano “in” the Orchestra because it has a bearing on her playing and she feels one with the Orchestra and makes it easier for her to hear the Orchestra. Makes sense to me. She said some conductors are very accommodating to her request. Others conductors won’t budge.

I really enjoyed Byron’s playing. He plays superbly. Very clean playing, light use of pedal. He’s quite an artist. He played some parts a little slower than I’ve heard them played, which I found interesting, because I heard notes played articulately that I’d not heard played before like that because other pianists blur over them. He played part of the second movement the best I’ve heard it played especially the part after the “organ chords” with the pedal point in the cello and double bass sections. Also, production showed the keyboard at that point where the wind section has the melody in the “climax” of the second movement after the pedal point. Usually, production crews show the wind section at that place. The string section doesn’t play there. You would think the strings would have the melody there but they don’t. Johannes gave that to the wind section. At that place in the score, the strings sit with nothing to play listening to and watching their excellent wind section. So I got to finally see that part played on the piano. Well I’ve seen it sort of in other performances but not as clearly as in this performance. It’s mostly arpeggio writing in the RH and trills in the piano and Byron played it beautifully and very cleanly. I enjoyed it. One of my pet peeves with production when it comes to this piece is that most production crews never show the strings — cello and double bass sections — who are playing the pedal point. I like watching their random bowing in that section to see who is doing what. But in this performance, production showed viewers a little bit of the pedal point. I saw some of the cellists bowing at different rates to keep the sound going like a pipe organ’s bass pedal, rather than bowing in synchronised manner as usual per their bowing instructions from the First Concertmaster and or conductor. Although to be clear, the pedal point bowing instructions are marked in the score just like all the other markings from the First Concertmaster.

Now for the (mild) criticism: There’s just a tad and it has to do with Byron’s theatrics. And the more he got into or through the concerto, the more the theatrics occurred. At first I thought the theatrics were his way of playing from memory and seeing the score in his head, which could be the case. I just noticed that near the end of the piece he was making it look very difficult to play in places — even though it wasn’t any more difficult for him than the rest of the piece really — and well-trained pianists are taught to “make it look easy even when it’s not.” He didn’t make it look easy consistently. What comes to mind is when some pianists play the Rachmaninov Third. Some pianists are bouncing around on the piano bench and lifting their hands/arms up high (which is unnecessary) near the music rack area, whilst others are rather still on the bench and don’t bang or do all of that needless hand/arm lifting, which is really just for show. It’s absolutely not necessary. I’ve worked on the Rachmaninov Third so I know from experience having it close to performance level. So I felt there was too much of his energy spent on needless theatrics. Or again, is that his way of playing from memory? If not, that could/will hamper him as he gets older and he’s not able to adjust all that, one would think. Theatrics require a lot of energy, and that energy could be directed elsewhere whilst performing. Related: Pianists and their needless theatrics.

And good to see one of the piano majors audition one of the Brahms’s Piano Concerti, instead of the typical (overplayed) Beethoven or Mozart or Chopin. And at NEC, the concerto competition winner gets to play the entire concerto rather than just the first movement, the way it’s done at some other schools.

I mentioned production earlier. They did an excellent job recording this performance. Very high quality both with the video and audio, as one would expect from the esteemed and highly-regarded New England Conservatory.

For those who don’t know, the Boston Metropolitan Area is rich with music with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, the New England Conservatory and Boston University’s College of Fine Arts (BU has a Conservatory environment), and the BSO’s Official Chorus, the (New) Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC). I say “new” because pre-COVID, superb James Burton was revamping the TFC and bringing them back up to the level expected of them as the Official Chorus of the BSO. They now sing with perfect intonation or rather they were pre-COVID the last time I heard them in a brief clip. They weren’t singing with perfect intonation before, well, the Men were but the Women were not. But James Burton is fixing all of that, or will be when the TFC begin performing again, after everyone gets vaccinated. Also, the Tanglewood Music Festival — the Summer home of the BSO — and BU’s Tanglewood Institute are very much a part of the music scene around the Boston and Lenox areas. Someone wrote me awhile back asking why the TFC was not named the Boston Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Well, that’s because the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was founded by John Oliver, at the suggestion of Seiji Ozawa, as the Chorus for the Tanglewood Music Festival. Then they gradually became the Official Chorus of the BSO and Boston Pops. Before the founding of the TFC, the BSO was inviting Lorna Cooke deVaron’s New England Conservatory Chorus to perform with them. Then, one day they disappeared and there on stage in Symphony Hall with the BSO was John Oliver’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

You might think it would be, but the NEC is not one of the all-Steinway Schools — well neither is The Juilliard School for that matter — but they at NEC have quite a few Steinways, both New York and Hamburg (I prefer the Hamburg):

“NEC has a total of 169 pianos. All studios, performance halls, classrooms, faculty offices, and general-purpose practice rooms are equipped with pianos or electronic keyboards. [Does that mean Digital Pianos?]

  • The performance halls are equipped with Steinway model D concert grand pianos as the primary instruments (with the exception of the Keller Room, which is too small for that size instrument and has two Steinway model B pianos instead).
  • Piano teaching studios are equipped with two grand pianos each (Steinway model Bs).
  • Piano Priority practice rooms also have grand pianos (usually Steinway model Bs).
  • String and voice teaching studios have one grand piano each (a mix of Steinway models B, M, L, and O).
  • Classrooms have either an upright or grand piano, depending on the size and use of the room.
  • Faculty offices and general-purpose practice rooms have upright pianos. A few general-purpose practice rooms have electronic keyboards.

Over the past eight years, NEC has purchased 20 new Steinway and Yamaha grand pianos and 14 new Yamaha uprights. In addition, NEC has aggressively pursued rebuilding older instruments to bring them to near-new condition and is actively soliciting donations of quality pianos, an effort that has proven very successful so far.

A New York Steinway Model D was selected by NEC’s Piano faculty in 2009, and in 2015 NEC purchased a new Model D from the Hamburg, Germany factory. The result is that all of NEC’s concert halls have new or nearly new pianos, and the piano teaching studios all have instruments that were purchased or rebuilt within the last eight years.”

Similar improvements have been made to the pianos in the Voice and String faculty studios, the Jazz rehearsal rooms, and the classrooms. NEC has recently begun to focus attention and resources on improving the quality of the upright pianos in the general-purpose practice rooms as well.” [Source]

I was wondering whether the piano Byron was playing was a New York or Hamburg (Model D, used throughout the EU) Steinway. He played a beautiful Steinway & Sons piano. Lovely tone with the usual brilliant treble register.

Mi amigo/My friend asked: Well isn’t it good to have the experience of playing on a variety of pianos to practise and perform on, aside from Steinway? Well, yeah, but as I told him: At this level of their training, they’ve probably all had that experience of playing “on a variety of pianos” already and would prefer not to repeat it!, from some of the worse (mostly) to on occasion (rarely) some of the best. Or at least that was my experience when training. It was extremely rare to play on the best of pianos. The only time I had the luxury of playing on the best of pianos was at the Conservatory where I trained and when I gave a performance years ago on a Steinway in San Francisco. With that particular experience, the piano was on a dolly — so it could be easily moved from place to place — so the pedals were too high or higher than what I was used to playing on and I had very little time to adjust to the piano, so I didn’t feel comfortable whilst playing. But I got through it! I felt like crawling under the piano at one point to tell you the truth. “The fingers have a mind of their own in performance” is how one local pianist described it to me. That is so true. And the audience gave me a standing ovation which was very kind of them considering I didn’t feel I had played my best. In part, because the difficult concert manager who had not listened to all of my audition recording asked me to change some of my repertoire about 2 weeks before the scheduled performance (roll eyes, sigh), so honestly I didn’t feel prepared. I had prepared a certain programme (which the concert manager had failed to listen to), and then the concert manager decides up to and change it on short notice. I replaced one of the pieces with one of the Rachmaninov ÉtudesTableaux — since the concert manager preferred “fiery pieces,” — I’d been working on but I had a memory slip in that and improvised in the style of the piece until I got back on track. Apparently no one noticed, unless someone there had played the piece. But I went on with the performance. I felt rather disgusted about the whole thing to tell you the truth, but some people came over to me afterwards and said some very nice things to me, which meant a lot and helped me realise that most people didn’t notice the problems.

The Steinway & Sons piano is considered the standard for the world’s concert halls. On the rare occasion, I’ll see a Steinway-Fabbrini piano. Simply put: That’s a modified Steinway — modified at the Fabbrini Piano factory in Italia — that has a thundering bass register or at least that’s how I would describe it. And I think that the Bösendorfer — considered superior to the Steinway by some — is the official piano of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra where I saw a superb pianist play the Rachmaninov Second with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. So, most Conservatories and Schools of Music want their students to have the finest pianists available to them for practise and performances purposes. Also, these schools are expected to have the finest pianos available. That’s why the All-Steinway Schools advertise as such. It’s a special attraction to the school.

On their AdTube channel (that’s what I call tacky YT, having been ruined by G**gle), I was pleased to see an image of the NEC Philharmonia musicians wearing face masks and distanced on stage each with their own desk. If only my favourite orchestras in the EU would have the intelligence to do that. I’ve had trouble watching performances from the EU during the pandemic because no one was wearing a face mask on stage. Even the conductor takes his or her mask off when stepping on the podium. I didn’t know that the virus avoids podiums, did you? The musicians were distanced to some degree, each with their own desk, the winds and brass more distanced than the strings, but still, only the production crew had the intelligence to wear a mask.

Although the Collegium 1704 and 1704 Vocale in the Czech Republic have done it correctly all along. Václav Luks has his Orchestra and Chorus and himself in masks and distanced. But they’re the only one I’ve seen in the EU who seem to take things seriously when it comes to the health and lives of their superb musicians. So good for NEC.

The Brahms’s PC1 and PC2 are both very difficult pieces. I’ve not worked on either of them yet — I do plan to — which is why I have the scores. Some concert pianists say they like playing the Brahms’s First and Second back-to-back in one performance. But some people are into torture, aren’t they? I think one Brahms PC would be enough for me at a time. The amount of endurance required for playing just one of them in a performance would be enough for me. I’d have to question: What are you trying to prove by playing both concerti at one sitting?

The NEC Philharmonia is superb. They are a professional ensemble and they sound like one. I say that because I’m tired of some people on AdTube minimising outstanding ensembles just because their musicians are students or all-students. What does that have to do with anything? Only the finest musicians are accepted to NEC per their admissions policies and audition requirements. If you can’t cut it, out you go. Also, many musicians from the BSO teach at the NEC, so these students are studying with some of the finest musicians in the world and they know that. They have a superb string section, all following their bowing instructions from the First Concermaster and or conductor. Well, all of their orchestral sections are outstanding really.

I also wanted to mention this: At the end of the performance, someone from the audience walked up to the stage to give Byron a bouquet of flowers. He politely accepted them. Then moments later, when he walked over to the conductor he offered the flowers he had just been given to the conductor. Why would he give away his gift of flowers that he had just received from a member of the audience? The impression left was that he appeared ungrateful of the flowers. The conductor did not accept them and motioned that they were given to Byron. But it brought to mind, once again, this problem with many male performers and their inability to receive flowers graciously. As if flowers threaten a guy’s masculinity. Quite odd really. (Related: Replace the flower tradition with organic chocolates; also here). Enjoy the performance (video at top of page). Chau.—el barrio rosa

People have been brainwashed that screaming is “music”

Any damn fool can scream, and then they call that “music” or op-rah. Ha!

Hola a todos. Well, I first heard Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, a musical setting of the Catholic funeral mass, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall when the University of Maryland Chorus performed the piece — it was one of Maryland’s signature pieces at the time — with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) under conductor Antal Doráti. I think he was the conductor. He probably was since his favourite Chorus was the superb University of Maryland Chorus and he invited them as often as possible to perform with the NSO. One could have gotten the impression that they were the Official Chorus of the NSO during the Doráti years. In that performance, I enjoyed the choral parts, but the operatic-screaming parts bored me. The piece is too much like opera or — tell it like it is — screaming quite frankly. Although The Maryland Chorus fortunately did not sing like an Opera Chorus. Instead, they sang like the well-trained Orchestra Chorus that they were with perfect intonation as they always did.

I’ve asked before: Is Opera Music? With few exceptions, opera is all about screaming rather than singing beautifully. The Vibratobots will say that vocal soloists-screamers have to “sing over the orchestra.” Rubbish. Where did these morons train? Or perhaps they didn’t. That’s why they would speak from a position of ignorance. Fact: Any major symphony orchestra can play at a ppp level, so there’s no need to “sing over the orchestra.” Any major symphony orchestra is quite skilled at accompanying any soloists at any volume level. I’ve heard the finest orchestras play extremely softly in such pieces as Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, as in the third movement where the principal cellist of the Orchestra has the solo role along with the pianist (the concerto has four movements).

I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Opera Chorus sing with perfect intonation. Perfect intonation — the perfect blending of voices — is one of the foundations of choral excellence. Instead, all the Opera Choruses I’ve had the displeasure of hearing sounded like 150 divas trying to overpower each other, compete with each other with various rates of wobbling, annoying and fluttering vibrato, just like the soloists, or rather screamers in the opera and their harsh voices.

And for symphonic choral performances, opera divas (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) scream from the front of the stage with their back to all other performers on stage — they can barely even see the conductor and have to look to their side to see him — per silly tradition, rather than being seated appropriately in the string section (seat the soprano in the first violins section, the tenor in the viola section, as two examples) so they can see and enjoy the performance like everyone else, rather than being parked on the edge of the stage staring at the front rows in the hall or staring at the back of the hall or at their lap for the entire performance.

The classical music genre has some damn silly, odd traditions cemented in stone. What conservative nut came up with that ludicrous placement of vocal soloists/screamers on stage?

The choral sections of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem are beautiful when sung by an immaculately trained Symphony Chorus. But the soloist, or rather screamers, I can’t take them, especially the soprano. And that is nearly always the case. What is it about soprano soloists/screamers? Not just that, in a Chorus, if any voices are going to come out of perfect intonation it’s a soprano voice. I’ve noticed that consistently. Some sopranos seem absolutely unable to control their voices. What’s that about? I have no trouble controlling my voice.

Where did these screamers train? What Conservatory or School of Music or private instructor is ripping people off and teaching them to scream rather than to sing beautifully?

Recently, I scanned through a performance of the Verdi, and as expected, many of the classical music armchair critics were genuflecting to and absolutely gushing over the soprano screamer and how they were “amazed” and found it “unbelievable” at how her voice overpowered both Orchestra and Chorus at one point in the score. What’s unbelievable about some female rearing back — as this one did — and let out a High C where she screamed “at the top of her lungs” above the full Orchestra and Chorus? I think most females could do that, even close to a High C in screaming mode. Think an emergency vehicle going by and the highest pitch on that wailing at you. How is that pleasurable? It’s not meant to be pleasurable. How is that music? It’s a warning sound. This soprano screamer in the Verdi looked like she was really working it too. She did not make her singing, or rather screaming, look effortless. Well-trained musicians are taught to make their performance — regardless of instrument — look effortless. She reminded me of some screamers I’ve seen who get red in the face in the midst of their screaming.

But being able to rear back and scream on a High C and overpower all other musicians on stage is something to be admired, is it? I. Don’t. Think. So. I was never taught that at the Conservatory where I trained. Where did these idiot commenters train? It’s interesting how brainwashing works. People keep being told — often by the no-nothing classical music armchair critics in comment sections — that it’s good when a soprano screamer rears back and screams on a High C with wobbling vibrato. She was mic’d but didn’t need a mic — they likely heard her several blocks away and wondered who was in pain! — because her obnoxious voice cut through both Orchestra and Chorus, and the Chorus was by my guess probably a 300-voice Chorus. They were superbly trained. Yes, she overpowered all of them too. That’s music? That’s art? I. Don’t. Think. So. No, that’s technically called tacky screaming.

Any damn fool can scream and call it “opera” or say “I have a trained voice.” Yeah, for screaming. Too bad the training didn’t include how to sing beautifully, musically, artfully and artistically, rather than harshly and trying to get your voice to stick out above all others. Nevertheless, these idiot commenters ate it up. They fell for her act.

Screaming is not music. Screaming is not art.

Unfortunately, these days in the Century of Insanity, many (most?) people can’t tell the different between screaming and singing beautifully. That’s particularly true with the mostly white opera audience. They’ll sit through anything if it’s called “opera.” Although the opera audience is especially a class-ist audience for the “well-heeled,” Dahling. Many people go to opera as a shallow status symbol. It’s about being pretentious and giving the impression of wealth and “high society” Dahling. I have no patience for such shallow and superficial people. Basura. And these are some of the same people who don’t know the difference between opera and a symphonic choral work, in part because opera divas are dragged in to perform, or rather scream, the solo passages in symphonic choral works, rather than using the finest trained non-noticeable vibrato soloists from the Symphony Chorus.

You can hear vocal soloists singing beautifully in this video from Collegium 1704 Orchestra and Chorus from the Czech Republic. It’s not opera, but does it matter? Why can’t opera be this beautiful and beautifully sung?

Why is opera = screaming ?

Below (the Zelenka) is beautiful music. The soloists are not screamers. They don’t rear back to sing their solo parts. They are genuine artists serving the role as both soloist and chorister. They all sing beautifully. No one is screaming or trying to overpower anyone else. They blend their voices together as properly trained to do. Why can’t opera sound like this where the genuine soloists blend in with the music rather than stick out as divas demanding attention?

Why can’t the quartet in Beethoven’s Ninth — which usually sounds like a train wreck with one person screaming over the other and the deep-cleavage exposed soprano screamer usually blows everyone off the stage — sound like this?

From my years of experience in major Orchestra Choruses in the States, I never heard any conductor say anything to the vocal screamers about being sharp, being flat or about anything for that matter. He might have privately in one-on-one rehearsal, but he didn’t when the Full Chorus and Orchestra were on stage for the dress rehearsal. It was if the screamers were sacrosanct and above reproach, Dahling, because they’re from an artist management and receiving a generous salary for the screaming appearance. Even though they sit most of the time because the Orchestra and Symphony Chorus perform the majority of the work, the audience has been brainwashed to treat these screamers like gods. So they make their walk out on stage — some with their nose in the air — and the roar and whistling from the audience begins. I’m thinking: They’re just the soloist-screamers. Why didn’t they use genuine soloists from the Chorus? Because they wouldn’t sell tickets. The finest Orchestra Choruses have choristers who majored in voice and are highly-trained soloists and with extensive choral experience. They’re just not a “big name” like the screamers walking out on stage. They use their choristers voice (blending) in the Chorus just like the superb soloists of Collegium 1704 in the Zelenka performance below. They would actually sing beautifully, and not scream. But many people seem to like screaming; they don’t know any better. They can’t tell the difference because they have no ear for music.

In this performance below, the soloists contribute to the music rather than destroy it with their harsh, screaming, damn annoying voices with wobbling vibrato where you have to guess what pitch they’re singing (or rather screaming) as they do in opera or in Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. Chau.—el bario rosa

The Language of Music: It’s Ensemble. Not Cast.

Hola a todos. In music, there are very specific words and language that are used for nearly everything that I can think of.

Some examples: A quarter note is called a quarter note. It’s not called a half note, because a half note is a half note. A whole rest can’t be called a bar line and the grand staff can’t be called the treble clef. A sharp can’t be called a flat. A Chorus cannot be called an Orchestra. You can’t have instrumental accompaniment with A cappella singing. A Perfect Fifth cannot be called an Octave. Understand? A band cannot be called an orchestra because a band does not have a string section. There are very specific language and words to use in music. So it annoys the hell out of me when I hear people who should know better refer to an ensemble of musicians as “a cast.” Musicians are not a cast.

I’ve heard idiots sitting at microphones in a certain classical music station promote some symphonic choral performance and they refer to “the all-star cast of soloists.” Can they hype it anymore? (If only they would give as much attention to the Chorus and Orchestra who perform the majority of the work; they are never referred to as “all-stars”). The announcer was referring to the 4 screamers — who would be singing or, most likely, screaming — the solo sections in a symphonic choral work. What the announcer should be saying is, “the ensemble of vocal soloists.” Leave out the corporate sports language “all-star.” That’s tacky. Why apply corporate sports language to highly-trained musicians? And as often as they use it, you’d think that every musician whose music they play is an “all-star.” Jesse “Chuy” Varela at KCSM Radio uses “cast” all the time. I guess he doesn’t know that the correct word is ensemble when referring to musicians. He still uses the outdated language “album” when referring to CDs that he plays.

Go to a Conservatory or a University’s School of Music online catalogue and you’ll see their list of Instrumental Ensembles and Vocal Ensembles. They’re not called Instrumental Casts and Vocal Casts. That really sounds stupid.

Musicians are not a cast. Actors comprise a cast. Cast is language from the theatre, not from music. Even if one is using the standard dictionary definition of the word “cast,” it has nothing to do with musicians. The word cast was used in the Conservatory’s Drama Department for the list of actors in plays. Why doesn’t someone tell Chuy and some others that?

At the Conservatory where I trained, our Jazz Ensemble was not called the Jazz Cast. Our Percussion Ensemble was not called the Percussion Cast.

The status-quo people who don’t care about language or are willfully-ignorant of such and who don’t want to change their own behaviour and word usage, will say it doesn’t matter what things are called or what words are used to describe things. With that attitude, I can assure you that you would not do well in music. Well-trained musicians are language people, because as I said earlier, in music there are very specific words and language used.

But it’s not just in music, the medical field and legal field both use very specific words and language in their fields, just like well-trained musicians. Using the correct and consistent language as we’ve been trained to do is how we communicate with each other in our respective field when in rehearsal or in performance.

When I lived in the District of Columbia, it was the law students studying to be attorneys at Georgetown University School of Law and George Washington University School of Law who gave me the friendly lecture given to new DC residents: You don’t call our city “Washington DC” they told me. That’s what the tourists call it who don’t know any better. The official name of the nation’s capital is the District of Columbia, and we call it the District or DC or Washington, but not Washington DC because there is no Washington in DC. They mean the same thing. That’s like saying “Boston, Boston” or “Chicago, Chicago.” (I already knew all that from watching newscasts from the District, but they enjoyed giving me the lecture anyway, and they were such nice guys. We became best of friends).

Those who have not been trained with a mind for detail and language say that it doesn’t matter what you call anything, unless it’s something they care about of course then it’s another story. Their hypocrisy is noted.

In national politics, there is little consistency in language. Well, with few exceptions such as superb Representative Jamie Raskin, considering the redneck hick white trash corrupt scum running the US Congress (I’m thinking of the backwater cesspool hicks in the Senate particularly) — who can’t pronounce the simple word “president” correctly — it’s a three syllable word, yet they say “praysden” or “present,” — there’s no wonder that genre is such a mess. (Think that M*tch McCo**ell piece of hick garbage.) Politicians in the House of Representatives are called Representatives. Doh. But those who don’t know any better or don’t care about language refer to them as “congress member(s).” Is that because they can’t say or don’t know the word Representative? That’s their official title. Technically speaking, everyone in the congress is a “congress member.” But Senators are never referred to as “congress member” even though senators are just as much “congress members” as the Representatives. Last month (January 2021), I was on one “progressive” website and very politely and delicately corrected a couple of people — former progressives who still live under illusions that they still are progressives — about their sloppy language regarding “Representative” and not “congress member.” Can you take a guess how that turned out? They hated being corrected, even as politely and diplomatically as I corrected them. They thought they were above reproach and infallible. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the maturity to say, “Thanks for the correction, you’re correct and I’ll keep that in mind. My mistake.” That would have been a kind and gracious response. But instead, they hated on me (they used the old “Attack the Messenger” approach) for my politely correcting them. They said it didn’t matter what you call things. Oh really? Well you wouldn’t do well in the field of music, or in medical or legal, I can assure you. One former-progressive who bragged about being a socialist was using the same language as the far-right. One example: They saw no reason why they should stop using the word “foreign” and use the word international. (Music is known as the international language, by the way. It’s not known as the foreign language). That person would have trouble at world airports where the sign reads, “International Arrivals” and not “Foreign Arrivals.” There’s a reason for that. I gave up with the former progressives. I don’t have the patience to deal with them. People pretending to be something they’re not. No one supported me and they all think they are still progressives. Since 2000, I have found that most “progressives” and most liberals have become an empty shell of their former selves.

So if it doesn’t matter what you call things — as some people have told me when I politely corrected them or tried to get them to use the correct language (usually they were former progressives) — and if one is too damn lazy to use the correct language and or change one’s own behaviour, I’ll call you Sam instead of Sarah. How’s that? I’m sure you won’t mind that considering you think it doesn’t matter what things and people are called. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Why do they use the word “maestro?” I think it’s to give the appearance they know something about music.

Who are these people? Wanna-be pianists? Who didn’t possess the talent to train as a pianist? Ah yes, the classical music self-appointed armchair critics. I find them damn annoying, and I can’t relate to them.

The Lully Te Deum performed by Collegium 1704 and Vocale 1704, conducted by Václav Luks (they’re from the Czech Republic): One of my favourite pieces. It’s for Double Chorus. Sometimes the Chorus is visibly split but in this performance it is not, unless you say it’s split with the Children’s Chorus in the middle. The video of their performance is on a third-party site so I’m not embedding the video because I don’t want the copyright nazis at G**gle to delete it, so you can watch the performance here. There’s not much information about the performance. I don’t have any information about the trebles (boys with girl choristers). Perhaps they are from the parish or cathedral church where the performance took place. It’s quite a setting. It’s a superb performance. Most, if not all, of the soloists are from the Chorus as it should be. They blend their voices beautifully together, which I rarely say about any other soloists, especially soloists dragged in to symphonic choral performances from the screaming opera genre who seem to have never been trained how to blend one’s voice with another voice. All they seem to know how to do is to scream over each other, with few exceptions to that. Sad. Václav always selects the best soloists. His musicians are genuine artists, as is he. He’s a wonderful musician and I think he would be a pleasure to work with.

The Oslo Philharmonic’s outstanding Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2 in e minor

Yes, you can turn off vocal vibrato. Real musicians do it all the time. As heard in this performance of Zelenka’s Missa Omnium Sanctorum by Collegium 1704, conducted by Václav Luks.

Read article here.

Collegium 1704 perform Zelenka’s Missa Divi Xaverii conducted by Václav Luks

Read article here.

Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat major, with pianist François-Frédéric Guy, L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Adrien Perruchon

Read article here.

Here are two interviews with Nicolas Baldeyrou, Principal Clarinetist of L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. He played in the above performance of the Brahms:

Ravel: Concerto pour piano en sol majeur (Ingo Metzmacher/Francesco Piemontesi)

Read article here.

The Encore: Debussy’s Clair de Lune. I forgot to mention that after his performance of the Ravel, Francesco’s encore was the well-known piece Clair de Lune (which translates as Light of the Moon or Moonlight) by Debussy. It’s the third movement from his Suite Bergamasque. I’m glad he played it because I don’t think it could be better played than the way Francesco played it here (video below). His playing of this piece was also aided by the Hamburg Steinway & Sons’s Model D piano he was playing. The orchestral musicians seemed to enjoy it by the looks on their faces. The Debussy begins at around 23.50 into the video. And what was with some in this audience? There were school kids on the front row — nice that they could be there — and some of them seemed to be sleeping, including the girl sitting about a foot away from Francesco. Perhaps the performance was at night and they had had a long day and were tired, and they found the music very soothing and comforting. The most annoying person in the audience was that woman with short hair and glasses and a floral shirt whose face could be seen at the keyboard end of the piano. She was sitting on the second row. What was her head trip? She was damn annoying. She was laughing and talking and doing other annoying gestures all during the performance of the Ravel. It appeared that the guy she was there with was the real “entertainment” for her and not the superb musicians on stage. At one point she had to put her hand over her mouth (laughing). Whatever he was saying, she listened attentively. Often when Francesco was playing she wasn’t even looking at him. Loca./Crazy. One sensed her friend was doing “commentary” throughout the performance and she found it all funny. What is funny about the Ravel Piano Concerto in G? People like that are damn annoying and need to learn concert etiquette. If you have something to say to the person next to you, take the pen that you brought with you per concert etiquette and write your comments in the margins of your programme and covertly slide it over to the person for them to read. That way you are being considerate of others who came there for the performance, and not for you to ruin it for them with your talking, laughing, giggling and other childish, inconsiderate gestures. What is wrong with people today? Sigh. Nobody has that much time!

Liszt – Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major, S.125

Read article here.

Mendelssohn: Elias – Radio Filharmonisch Orkest en Groot Omroepkoor

Read article here.

Girasol Amarillo
La amapola de California

Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus 2020-21 season. Read article here.

The Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra cancels most of their 2020-21 season. This is bad news for the areas Orchestra Choruses — the Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus and the University of Maryland Concert Choir — but I support the NSO’s decision due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read article here.

Is their life worth it? It was disturbing and concerning for me to see one of my favourite orchestras in the EU back to performing so soon (mid June 2020). They’ve uploaded 12 videos of pieces from their recent performances. Plenty of opportunities to get infected with COVID-19. Read article here.

What’s the difference between the Church Choir and the Orchestra Chorus? Read article here.

What are Orchestra Choruses and Church Choirs going to do in the age of COVID-19? If you haven’t heard, singing is one of the ways that COVID-19 infection is spread, along with not wearing a facial mask and not social distancing. Read article here.

KCSM’s Latin Jazz Programme. Shouldn’t a Latin Jazz programme sound Latin throughout? Read article here.

Stupid is in. Why is it that the BBC never can get it correct? They’ve been doing this how long? And still haven’t gotten a clue for what makes the best performance in a musical sense. Read article here.

The Conductor was born in Colombia? And that’s important, is it? Read article here.

What’s more difficult: Tech training or Music Training? Read article here.

An Orchestra of one. To some people, there’s only one musician on stage. Read article here.

The piano fell off the stage? It was for a performance of one of the Brahms’s Piano Concerti in Deútschland. Read article here.

The Greatest Pianist. How on Earth would one determine that? Read article here.