Hola a todos. Of all the topics I write about, I enjoy writing about music the most, probably because music is my background and training and it gives me the most pleasure. That’s especially true when I’m writing about choral and orchestral ensembles of this high caliber. The most recent article I wrote about music was about my favourite organist, Benjamin Straley, at Washington National Cathedral in the District, which you can read about here. And he gave a very enjoyable organ recital back en diciembre/in December which you can watch below in the third video.
The first video below is an excellent performance of Johannes Brahms’s Schicksalslied, Op. 54 (Song of Destiny) performed by the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Chorus (Collegium Vocale Gent from Belgium) was founded by Philipp Herreweghe and he’s also conducting these performances which are from 2013, I believe. At one place in the piece (around 5.52 in the video), he looks very pleased with his Chorus, as he should be. They are superb, very refined and with very clear German diction. Currently on their website under auditions for the Chorus, the age limit is 40 years old which is unusual. I’ve never seen an age limit for choral auditions but I understand why he’s doing that. He’s looking for a certain “sound” which one can really only get with mostly younger voices.
The second video features a performance of Brahms’s Alt-Rhapsodie (Alto Rhapsody) with soloist Ann Hallenberg and assisting: the Men of the Chorus and they did a lovely job accompanying her. Ann Hallenberg is described as a mezzo-soprano and not an alto. Mi amigo/my friend said she has too much vibrato for him. I understand. I don’t like vibrato either but overall I like her voice in this performance and as I told him: She has about the least amount of vibrato that I think one would be able to find in a soloist for this type of performance.
We performed both of these choral works when I was a chorister in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. Some people consider the Schicksalslied a mini-Ein Deutches Requiem. The Alt-Rhapsodie is also similar to one of the movements of Ein Deutches Requiem.
One thing I especially like about this outstanding Chorus is that they have “a tenor section of steel” (that’s my description). I’ve heard them perform several works including Brahms’s Ein Deutches Requiem and they have one of the finest tenor sections of any Chorus I’ve heard in a long time. Never any struggling for high notes or weakness whatsoever. They remind me of the tenor section of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street (with tenors Steven Caldicott Wilson, Eric Dudley, et al).
I ended up down in the comment section below one of these videos and someone mentioned their favourite conductor for the piece. I found that curious because that didn’t really tell me anything. My first thought was: But which Chorus was it that your “favourite conductor” was conducting? To me, that’s what’s utmost important. The person said nothing about the Chorus or Orchestra for that performance. With a choral work, I’m not focused on the conductor. And to me, a performance is about a lot more than who’s conducting. With some conductors and a choral work, one can mention just the conductor’s name and one can pretty much guess who the performers are. For example: mention Seiji Ozawa — who I think is still involved with the Tanglewood Music Center — and I automatically think: Boston Symphony Orchestra and either the (in the earlier days) New England Conservatory Chorus (Lorna Cooke de Varon, Chorus Director) or from 1970s on the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (John Oliver, Chorus Director), unless Ozawa were appearing as guest conductor somewhere. And the same with Sir Georg Solti. I think: Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Margaret Hillis, Chorus Director). Or there’s Sir Simon Rattle. But he’s a little bit more difficult because he’s moved around more so he could be either: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Simon Halsey, Chorus Director) or the Berlin Philharmoniker (although Simon is leaving Berlin soon and Petrenko is succeeding Rattle).
Of the three Orchestra Choruses I had the opportunity/privilege of performing with, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus was the only Chorus that recorded. That’s one of my complaints about my choral experience in the District. There were so many outstanding performances given in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington or the University of Maryland Chorus and those performances evaporated into thin air once the conductor lowered the baton and the applause began. I never did understand why they weren’t recorded live — for at least radio broadcasts — or at least similar to what WGBH-Boston did on a regular basis. Or did it have to do with union rights, copyrights and la plata/$$$$$? Probably. The University of Maryland Chorus had made two recordings with the NSO before I was a chorister with them, but to my knowledge that was the extent of their recording with the NSO. I think the Choral Arts Society was featured on one NSO recording. But nothing on a regular basis with either one of them.
Back to conductors, generally speaking who’s conducting a piece is not something I give any thought to and never have, unless it’s Händel’s Messiah (where I look for an authentic performance practise conductor), for example. Maybe who’s conducting a work is more what the Classical Music Snots do? I’m focused on the quality of the Chorus, because one can have the best or the worst conductor but if the Chorus is not very good, it will not be an enjoyable performance at least to a person who is there especially for a well-prepared Chorus. Too many people are hung up on big-named conductors and dropping their names to try to impress somebody. And when they do so, I ask: Well who was the Chorus for the performance? Their answer typically is: “I’m sorry, you know I don’t remember.” Ugh. Well, that’s what’s most important for a choral work, not the conductor. The conductor didn’t sing the piece nor did he/she play it. The musicians called the Orchestra and Chorus did that.
For these performances, for those interested the grouping of the SATB choral sections on the Chorus risers is:
Back Row: Tenors (left) Basses (right)
Front Row: Sopranos (left) Altos (right)
Enjoy. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Schicksalslied, Op. 54:
Benjamin Straley’s organ recital that I mentioned at the beginning of the article: