(There’s an update at the bottom of this article regarding Hong Kong, below the footnote).
Hola a todos. Here in the Conservatory, at least two of the students I know of are from Hong Kong. One is a piano major and the other is majoring in violin. Both play beautifully. In fact, they’ve given recitals together with the pianist accompanying the violinist. I talk with them whenever I see them about the pro-democracy movement protests in Hong Kong which they’re closely following — a topic that doesn’t raise my blood pressure1 — where thousands-millions of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Hong Kong quite vigilantly over the weeks protesting. These well-organised protests are going into their third month. The protests began over the China Extradition Bill, which the Carrie Lam regime has refused to legally end. She’s the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Isn’t she a piece of work? I know what I’d like to tell her, the same thing I’d like to tell the current White House occupant. They had a General Strike in Hong Kong shutting down the Financial District. That was very effective. Can you imagine a General Strike in the non-United States? Not. About. To. Happen. No way. The public here in the non-United States is too lame, uninformed, brain-dead, partisan-brainwashed, and status-quo. And anything that inconveniences their self-absorbed and self-entitled lives in the slightest they oppose. The protesters in Hong Kong don’t mess around. They shut down the Metro during the work week. Hong Kong has a huge Metro/subway system consisting of 91 stations. If one of the Metro systems were shut down here in the non-United States, the status-quo US public would be whinging/hating on the protesters, saying “I missed my train.” Oh, what a shame that self-entitled and self-absorbed you missed your train. As of this writing, the public continue their support of the pro-democracy protesters, especially after heavy-handed tactics used on the demonstrators by the Hong Kong Police Department. The demonstrators have protested at Hong Kong International Airport causing the cancellation of hundreds of international flights, and protested in the Financial District. Most recently as of this writing, the Barristers (Attorneys) in Hong Kong in large numbers came out of their offices and had a silent protest at the Department of Justice in solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters. It was excellent to see that. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, refuses to resign or to meet any of the five demands of the protesters and is now belittling them in the most smug and patronising style spewing lies about them. I should think that the Barristers are offended by her most recent words since Lam was essentially slamming them as well. Carrie Lam essentially called them all enemies of the State without specifically using those words, saying the protesters were out to “destroy Hong Kong.” What Rubbish! I think she’s trying to compete with the current White House occupant in the Department of Lies and Bullying. Look up “useless politicians” in the dictionary and a picture of both politicians will be there.
There are many things — including despicable immigration raids where children are being taken from their parents — that the people in masses in the non-United States could be protesting against, including the current White House occupant(s). But, this is not Hong Kong. By vigilant Hong Kong standards, the people in the US don’t know what protests are. Unlike in the US where protesters ask The Establishment for permission to do a protest — if you have to ask permission, it’s not a protest but rather a state-sanctioned charade! — the protesters in HK don’t ask any permission. They just do it. So one should not expect that here in the pathetically lame and phone-addicted non-United States.
The Hong Kong demonstrators have been extremely creative and ingenious in their methods. Many of them are multi-lingual in Cantonese, British English and other international languages. Cantonese is the language spoken in HK as opposed to Mandarin on the mainland. These demonstrators want nothing to do with the mainland of China. Although they do use the same Chinese alphabet which one sees in their protest signs along with some English. These protesters make many of the people I see who live around me look and sound downright stupid. Partying is all that most US people seem to be into.
(A brief aside: Mi amigo/My friend was out today — it’s Sábado/Saturday — and he said it was very crowded out. He said that 90% of the people he saw were frozen in place like a statue and desperately looking at the phone in their hand. A couple of people were even texting so frantically as if it were their very last text in life.)
I see some phones in HK among the protesters (who are mostly young), but they use their phones as part of their protests and to make contact with each other. Then they put them away. Walking through the streets of HK, most are looking up and around, not down at some device in their hand. One protester yesterday was using her phone as sort of a sign or billboard welcoming visitors coming into the airport to HK. She was holding her phone which had huge fonts on the screen as part of her sign. She wasn’t hunched over it like a statue. At least from what I’ve seen, I don’t see the addiction to phones in HK nearly to the degree that I do in San Francisco where the phone seems to be most people’s entire life. Pathetic.
The protesters are most organised, even down to their chants in the airport where they sound like a rehearsed Chorus chanting in unison. And as of this writing, the pro-democracy protesters are launching another 3-day rally in Hong Kong at the HK International Airport to greet international visitors to The City and handing out leaflets to them, and they will be having another march through the City. (Related: Hong Kong Protesters).
I mention all of the above, in part, because I was talking with the piano major I mentioned earlier who is from Hong Kong, and she was telling me how she read one of my previous articles where I specifically mentioned this piece by Lenny Bernstein (his Sinfonie No. 3, Kaddisch) and she finds it most appropriate for these days. Yes it is, I do so agree.
Also, this week, the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra and 150-voice Symphony Chorus announced their performance schedule for the coming year. One of the pieces I noticed that they’ve programmed is Bernstein’s Sinfonie No. 3 (Kaddisch), with the Trebles of the Choir of Men and Boys from the local Anglican Cathedral assisting. It should be a splendid performance.
As I said, I mentioned this Bernstein piece recently in an article as one example of the combination of Classical Music and politics in this article from my conversations with some students in the Conservatory, and I thought I’d talk more about it.
It’s quite a piece in many ways. Even though the narration — written by Lenny Bernstein — was written decades ago, you wouldn’t know it. It could have easily been written in recent years or even recent weeks considering the current dire political climate in the non-United States and around el mundo/the world. Bernstein wrote his choral symphony, Symphony No. 3 (Kaddisch) in 1960 and then revised it a bit in 1973.
So where does one begin with this piece in describing it? Well, it’s a symphonic choral work for Orchestra, Chorus, Trebles, soprano soloist and a narrator. If you’re expecting to hear something resembling Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (if you’re familiar with that), you won’t. It’s not like any Bernstein I’ve heard. It’s not like any Bernstein we performed when I was in major Orchestra Choruses. It’s a very difficult piece for both the Orchestra and Chorus. And it looks difficult to conduct. The conductor’s score — published by Editions Boosey & Hawkes I believe — is quite large (it’s a tall score) judging by the score on the conductor’s music stand in this performance from Frankfurt with lots of parts to read/scan quickly down the page.
Below is a performance from 2014 by my favourite Orchestra, the outstandingly superb hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Also assisting in this performance is:
Tschechischer Philharmonischer Chor Brno (The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno). Brno is a City in the Czech Republic.
Limburger Domsingknaben – The singing boys of Limburg Cathedral, or as I refer to them: The Trebles of Georgsdom/Limburg Cathedral (German Catholic, High Church, from Hesse Germany)
The Narrator: Samuel Pisar
The Soprano soloist: Pavla Vykopalová
Eliahu Inbal, conducting
The choral forces in this performance are superb. They sing with perfect intonation in all voice parts.
I noticed how intently the trebles were watching their scores throughout. They were very involved. There were no distracted boys here. Some of the boys on the front row seemed fascinated by the percussionist who was near them and to their left. Perhaps one or more of them was thinking, “I’d like to do what he’s doing; I’d like to be a percussionist one day.” Yes, that is indeed how children are inspired to go into music as a career. And these boys at their young age already know how to read advanced music scores — being the choristers at Limburg Cathedral; and I read that they sing for the High Mass — so they are way ahead of things musically-speaking for their age.
I liked the soprano soloist’s dress. It was very pretty and I enjoyed her voice when she sang in her lower register and quietly. It was lovely. But then at other times — and what is so common with soprano soloists — she resorted to what essentially was screaming, overpowering everyone on the stage. Why so loud? Even if the score says fff, it should be in balance with the other performers. When the composer wrote fff, I doubt that he meant “to be heard in the next room over” or “to be heard in the next city over” in some cases. The score doesn’t say to overpower everyone on stage. What happened to blending one’s voice with others on stage and still being tastefully heard as a solo vocalist? It’s a common problem I’ve written much about with soprano soloists, in particular. Tenor vocal soloists have a similar problem. Apparently no one ever makes these soloists aware of this problem because vocal soloists seem to be seen as sacrosanct, probably because they are hired from artist management and receiving a generous salary for their performance and are therefore seen as “experts.” And one is not supposed to question or second-guess an alleged “expert.” Good Heavens no! Wouldn’t dream of it! Therefore, it would seem that they are “off limits” from any objective criticism. It’s really a shame that some sopranos seem unable to control their voice. It speaks to their training, and I would suggest that they need additional training to work on fully controlling their voice, just as the finest choristers are required to fully control their voice at all times. Why should vocal soloists be any different?
A bit of history which you might find interesting regarding this piece:
There was a superb performance of this piece conducted by Lenny Bernstein back in 1981 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in the District of Columbia shortly after I moved to San Francisco from the District. Reading about that performance and having sung with two of the major Orchestra Choruses in the District, I was curious which Chorus they invited for that performance. Did they invite the Choral Arts Society of Washington or the University of Maryland Chorus or the Oratorio Society of Washington? That performance was by the National Symphony Orchestra and Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington — their performance was described as “impeccable” in the review I read — with the trebles (boy choristers) of Washington National Cathedral (Anglican Communion) in Upper NW who were also joined by the trebles from St Mary’s Boychoir (they are from St Mary’s County in Maryland). Mezzo-soprano Claudine Carlson was vocal soloist and the narrator was Michael Wager. I had suspected that the Chorus for the NSO performance was the Choral Arts Society of Washington (CASW) since Norman and Lenny were amigos.
I read that during the performance in the Kennedy Center, Bernstein became very emotional while conducting his composition. He said he saw the ghost of the late president John K Kennedy float across the façade of the Filene Center Organ Pipes above the Chorus and that triggered a very emotional response from him. Is this a true story or did someone make this up? The reason I ask is that his composition doesn’t use the organ, and at that time — before the Concert Hall’s renovation — in the Kennedy Center, the organ pipes were not exposed if the programme didn’t include a piece that used the organ. They were covered by a wall that opened and closed like drapes if the organ was being used for the performance. If the organ was not being used for the performance, concertgoers did not see the organ pipes in other words. Therefore, how did Lenny possibly see a ghost float across the organ pipes? Was there another piece on the programme that used the organ? If so, the wall would be open exposing the pipes. That could be the case, but his piece is not scored for organ. I don’t know what other pieces were on that programme.
Bernstein wrote the narrative text himself and had some concerns about how outspoken (or “aggressive” his word) it was, but apparently left it as it was. I’m glad he did.
A bit more history: The Norman Scribner Choir was also the choral ensemble that performed for the opening of the John F Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts ten years before (1971) in the premiere of Bernstein’s Mass. They later became the Choral Arts Society of Washington.
A little bit about The Norman Scribner Choir, that I found interesting (and I think I have this correct): Norman Scribner had recently graduated from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He moved to the District of Columbia and began establishing himself as an accomplished musician in the District. He was involved with the music at Washington National Cathedral, and became Organist-Choirmaster at St Albans Parish (also Anglican Communion) which is next door to the Cathedral.
By now (in 1965), members of the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) were familiar with Norman Scribner and they asked him to audition choristers to form a choral ensemble to perform Händel’s Messiah with the NSO. He agreed and that choral ensemble was known as The Norman Scribner Choir. Well, the choristers and audience were so enthusiastic with that performance that The Norman Scribner Choir decided to stay together. They did so for at least 6 years after that. Then, sometime after performing Bernstein’s Mass for the opening of the Kennedy Center as The Norman Scribner Choir, Norman changed the name of his choral ensemble to the Choral Arts Society of Washington (CASW) which exists today. They are one of the major Orchestra Choruses in the District performing in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The main three Orchestra Choruses in the District these days (as of Summer 2019) are: The Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus and the all-student University of Maryland Concert Choir. They replaced the renowned University of Maryland Chorus when the University of Maryland’s School of Music at College Park “retired”/liquidated the UMD Chorus saying they had served their purpose.
Although as I’ve pointed out in other articles, the performance of symphonic choral works by the NSO per season has reached rock bottom levels, compared to the days when I was a chorister in the CASW. From what I saw on the NSO’s 2019-20 season, the CASW has only one engagement with the NSO (three consecutive nights) of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Norman died awhile back after he had retired from the CASW and their new Chorus Director, Scott Tucker, had taken over with Norman’s approval.
I think it depends upon the Chorus Director, but a sense of sadness must come over some/many Chorus Directors who retire and see another Chorus Director replace him or her especially someone like Norman who started the Chorus and prepared them for performances with major symphony orchestra over decades. Whereas, I sense that some other esteemed Chorus Directors — I have one in mind but I’m not going to give the person’s name — are ready to retire and leave with some resentment for orchestral management and they leave before their replacement has been named. But also, I think some Chorus Director get tired of preparing the Chorus for another conductor and often get little to no credit for all their hard work, because the musically-ignorant public think that the conductor of the performance prepared the Chorus and was entirely responsible for their (hopefully) stellar performance. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The orchestral conductor does not prepare the Chorus. The only exception to that was Robert Shaw who had both the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the ASO Chorus. In fact, the conductor has little contact with the Chorus until the dress rehearsal on stage usually. In some cases, the orchestral conductor has little contact with the Chorus Director and will make some slight changes to how the Chorus has been prepared by the Chorus Director. That happened with the Choral Arts Society of Washington when we worked with Lorin Maazel of the Cleveland Orchestra. They didn’t tour with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus so the Choral Arts Society of Washington replaced them for their Kennedy Center performances. Maazel was difficult to work with even though we were superbly prepared by Norman. As I remember, it was a matter of interpretation differences, and I came away with the impression that Maazel and Norman had not been in contact, which sometimes is the case. In some EU performances I’ve watched, the Chorus Director was never brought out on stage to have his Chorus stand for their bows. He was never acknowledged. But that’s the way that works. In all the performances I was a chorister in both in the Kennedy Center and Davies Symphony Hall, the Chorus Director (Scribner, Traver and Vance George) always came out to be acknowledged and have his Chorus be acknowledged, as it should be. And the University of Maryland Chorus was the only Chorus that actually bowed, which was always impressive to see and “wowed” the audience.
The US premiere of Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 was by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory Chorus (Lorna Cooke de Varon, Chorus Director) and conducted by Charles Munch. I don’t know which trebles they used for that performance.
As I said earlier, Lenny and Norman Scribner were close friends. Both he and Lenny were anti-war and Lenny conducted a performance of Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli/Mass in Time of War, Mass No. 10 in C, (H. XXII:9) up at a packed Washington National Cathedral one freezing January night. The same night, the superb University of Maryland Chorus was performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for Nixon’s inauguration concert. Although that event almost didn’t happen because some of the choristers of the UMD Chorus refused to go on stage because they didn’t want to perform in the presence of Richard Nixon. UMD Chorus Director, Dr Paul Traver (he was wonderful; and he’s one of my choral mentors!), was sympathetic to the Choristers anti-war beliefs, but he said the performance was about Beethoven and not Nixon. The performance went on, and I suspect their review read: “The University of Maryland Chorus was glorious throughout” since that’s what was said about them when they performed the Missa on other occasions.
Muchas gracias to hr-Sinfonieorchester and the choral forces for performing this work so superbly, and for having the courage to perform it. Because of its political message, I do indeed think that some orchestras would be afraid to programme it in that it might offend some of the delicate conservative audience, that would especially be the case in the US Midwest, I should think. But from what I could tell from the musicians’ faces, most seemed appreciative that they were having the opportunity to perform this piece. From my experience in Orchestra Choruses on both US coasts, the musicians would welcome the opportunity to perform this. It’s the conservatives in the audience who would likely have a problem with it, even to the point of walking out during the performance. Although I saw no signs of that in the Frankfurt audience. Chau.—el barrio rosa
1 I was talking with mi amigo/my friend on why writing or talking about the HK protests does not make my blood pressure rise. I said: Well it doesn’t seem to affect me because the protesters/demonstrators are so intelligent and so organised in HK and creative (such as their laser light show the other night). There’s nothing to get frustrated with them, unlike here in the non-United States. There also doesn’t appear to be any partisan brainwashing like the US is thoroughly brainwashed with. Mi amigo said: The politics in the US are completely septic. From what I’ve seen of the HK protests, they would never allow protesters to take over the airport in a major city in the US. They’d never allow that at SFO (San Francisco International Airport). They’d call in the military to deal with the protesters. They’d never let the protesters shut down BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) or the Muni Metro (San Francisco’s Metro/subway system), which is separate from BART. And most people on the Metro and in today’s San Francisco would likely start complaining about the protesters and how the protesters are “inconveniencing me,” rather than side with them. That’s the mentality here today in the US. It’s a very different culture there in HK, unlike the fascist US where none of what we’ve seen in HK would be allowed here for any length of time. The Occupy Movement learned that rather quickly. They were similar to HK, but they were destroyed by and had their skulls cracked by “Mr Hope and Change We Can Believe In,” the Obama regime. And it’s only going to get worse in the US under the current fascist regime and white supremacist White House occupant.
Update 16 August 2019: Not a good sign. Around the same time that he said he wanted to buy Greenland (for his own personal financial interests) — and Danmark said Greenland is not for sale! — the current White House occupant has been sticking his nose in the Hong Kong situation recently. China has essentially told him to mind his own business. Every day he’s sticking his nose in somebody’s business with endless sanctions, bullying and the usual that comes from this dysfunctional septic despot. The only interests he would have in Hong Kong is for his own financial gain as in real estate purchases, more Tr*mp Towers or golf courses. My concern is what one of the protesters said on camera: He said something to the effect that he was hoping that the pro-democracy movement in HK could get help from the current White House occupant — BAD IDEA, especially considering he’s not for democracy — even to the point of him visiting HK and speaking to the demonstrators. Loco./Crazy. Bad idea. I have questioned a few times why I’ve seen a couple of US flags in the demonstrations, and on today’s coverage the US flag was even more prominent. What is with that? I read on another site — not at the link below — that this movement in HK is really CIA-funded and US-backed. If that’s the case, no good will come out of this. The thing is, the non-United States has no interest in democracy in its own country. So why would they care about democracy in HK? Only for their financial gain. What the non-United States calls “democracy” is just marketing language for exploiting other people around the world for their national resources, et al. so that corrupt US politicians from both political cults (D and R) can increase their personal and financial gain. Unfortunately, some people never learn from history.
Then there was a counter-rally in HK in support of Beijing. One of those protesters said on camera “Why should we have democracy? They don’t have democracy in Beijing and their economy is really good. (To him it was all about $$$$$$$; another stupid Millennial).” To him, democracy is a bad thing. Yet he wouldn’t be allowed to express his views openly in Beijing as he just did in Hong Kong, would he? Did he not consider that? Another protesters said that “everybody knows that the US is behind the pro-democracy movement here in HK.” Perhaps they think that, but do they not know that the US couldn’t care less about democracy anywhere? The US uses the word “democracy” the same way they use the word “freedom” and other empty rhetoric. It’s just meaningless marketing language for US Imperialism and World Domination and for the stealing of other nation’s natural resources. To bully and police other nations and the world on a daily basis. Sticking their arrogant nose in everybody’s business. Anything that will benefit the financial interests of the US. That’s the bottom line. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Related: Hong Kong Free Press: US Flag Appeared at recent Hong Kong Demonstrations