Brahms – Schicksalslied ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Vocalconsort Berlin ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Hola a todos. Feel like some Brahms? If so, either of these performances below should help lower your blood pressure. Below are two superb performances of Brahms’s Schicksalslied from the Alte Oper Frankfurt and my favourite the hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony.

The performance date for their more recent performance of this work is: 8. Februar 2019 (8 February 2019). This performance causes tears to come to my eyes in places — such as during principal flautist Sebastian Wittiber’s lovely flute solo. That begins shortly after 14.20 in the first video below. Andrés, the conductor, looked very moved as well. How could you not be the way Sebastian played that? Absolutely beautiful playing with the consistently stellar performance results from the hr-Sinfonieorchester, and its guest Chorus.

The hr-Sinfonieorchester do not have their own Symphony Chorus. I presume by choice. There are quite a few orchestras without their own Chorus. Some that readily come to mind: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Baltimore disband their Symphony Chorus years ago citing that they weren’t that good, not up to the Orchestra’s standards and they started inviting the superb University of Maryland Chorus to perform with them. The Kennedy Center’s resident Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, does not have its own Symphony Chorus. The NSO usually invites the Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus or the University of Maryland Concert Choir to perform with them. There are other orchestras without their own Chorus. Then there’s one Orchestra that comes to mind that does have their own Chorus but might wish they didn’t if it weren’t for James Burton to work his wonders with them: The Boston Symphony Orchestra is currently having their Chorus Director, excellent James Burton originally from the UK (Hallé Choir/Choral Director of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester), overhaul their Official Chorus, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which has been lagging in choral excellence for sometime and many people have finally noticed.

As for this Brahms’s Schicksalslied performance, listen to around 15.16 in the first video with the strings. Exquisite. The tears that come to my eyes while listening to/watching these two performances below are, in part, from knowing the years and years of training, practise, devotion, discipline and high-skill level required to produce such stellar results. And with the hr-Sinfonieorchester, they do so consistently, often playing some of the most difficult repertoire such as Béla Bartók’s tour de force Der wunderbare Mandarin, op. 19, which was on the same programme as the Brahms.

Also assisting in the first Brahms performance below — as well as the Bartók — was the Chorus, Vocalconsort Berlin. I was curious how they got to Frankfurt from the Deutschland capital. Unless they flew, they likely had a 4.5-hour train ride to Frankfurt. Well it was well worth it as they sang superbly, their voices blended perfectly in all sections (SATB), and their diction was excellent. And I’m sure it was an honour for them to perform with this outstandingly stellar Orchestra.

For those who don’t know, the hr-Sinfonieorchester is the Symphony Orchestra of the Hessischer Rundfunk, German Public Radio of Hesse, one of the states of Deutschland/Germany, centrally located within Deutschland with Frankfurt being Hesse’s largest city. We have nothing like this in the States, here in the so-called “greatest country” and all that. But don’t let me get started on the ugly nationalistic mythology that many USians have been brainwashed with where they have to keep telling themselves and reassuring themselves what a (supposedly) “great country” this is, as I heard someone do while writing this which is partly why I’m bringing it up. Nevertheless, there is no npr or PBS Orchestra, and I suspect you won’t see one.

The superb Vocalconsort Berlin was prepared by Chorus Director, (Einstudierung) Christoph Siebert. He’s also Chorus Director for the Collegium Vocale Gent, the Chorus in the second video performance below. One of Christoph’s teachers was John Eliot Gardiner of The Monteverdi Choir. The Vocalconsort Berlin sang with a lovely straight (and darker) tone which gave them perfect intonation in all sections – SATB.

I was also pleased to see that Andrés acknowledged the Chorus Director at the end of the performance and had him take his bows and to have his Chorus stand to be acknowledged. I say that because sometime orchestral conductors don’t bring the Chorus Director out for bows for some odd reasons. Well, to some the Chorus Director is considered unimportant — don’t get me started on that; I fail to understand that thinking — and all the credit for the Chorus Director preparing the Chorus is misplaced by unfortunately giving that credit to the orchestral conductor who really had nothing to do with it. The only time the orchestral conductor works with the Chorus and makes any minor adjustments to how they have been prepared by the Chorus Director is usually in the one-and-only orchestral rehearsal on stage. Usually, the Chorus Director and the performance conductor go over the score before the Chorus Director prepares the Chorus according to the conductor’s wishes. So there is usually not much that the conductor has to say to the Chorus, including all final consonants being in their correct place. On occasion, a conductor might change his (or her) mind after hearing the Orchestra and Chorus together in the one and only rehearsal, and tell the Chorus to make a minor change here and there in how they had been prepared (such as: “Chorus, forget what I told your excellent Chorus Director over the phone when we first spoke. I have an idea, let’s do it this way instead…”). That was my experience having been in three major Orchestra Choruses in the US (see here, here, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus in Davies Symphony Hall).

Andrés is not one to give himself much credit for the performances he conducts. He makes it about all the other musicians, and that is so good to see. I think he would be a pleasure to work with. He’s so respectful of the musicians he conducts and smiles at them in approval at their lovely playing throughout the performance as if to say, “You’re playing splendidly and this is so much fun for me, and I have the privilege of conducting you.”

I also like how the Men of the Chorus were dressed. I’m not usually hot on all-black, but it certainly looks better than that traditional black and white tux rut worn by choral ensembles for decades — and still being worn by some — with stuffy bow ties for what seems to be centuries. I’ve seen this new all-black performance “look”/choral attire for sometime in the EU. From what I’ve seen, the choral ensembles performing for the BBC Proms wear all-black, although without jackets. That’s true for both genders, not just the guys. Some of the choral ensembles from the Nederlands feature the Men of the Chorus wearing long ties, each guy wearing a different coloured tie. I like that. That looks very pretty and adds a nice touch of colour to the stage.

Here’s the most recent performance from February 2019:

As I said, the hr-Sinfonieorchester have performed this piece at least once before awhile back (see video below). In that performance, they invited Philippe Herreweghe and the excellent Collegium Vocale Gent from Belgium to perform with Philippe conducting. I wrote about that here. In that performance, hr-Sinfonieorchester principal flautist Clara Andrada de la Calle played the lovely flute solo (beginning a little after 14.00 in the video below). Clara is also a flautist with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

I liked the way both Sebastian and Clara played it — they alternate as principals, and I think they have a third principal flautist — each played it a little differently in a phrasing sense.

Here’s the performance with the hr-Sinfonieorchester and the Collegium Vocale Gent:

Schicksalslied, Op. 54:

Some people say that the Schicksalslied is sort of a small Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. (Related: Here’s a superb performance of that from a choral and orchestral perspective: From Copenhagen: Brahms – Ein Deutches Requiem – DRSO & KoncertKoret). Or they say that if they don’t have the time at the moment to listen to the Requiem, they listen to the Schicksalslied instead to get their cravings for Brahms.

Mi amigo/My friend commented on this performance from February 2019 saying he enjoyed it. Then he said, “Is there anything that those strings can’t play? In places they seem to come out of nowhere and so flawlessly, and they blend beautifully.” I do so agree. Their string section and their volume control is unsurpassed and rather amazing. Perfection. He also noticed how the people in Frankfurt (the audience) and the Chorus from Berlin looked more natural, less artificial, like real people including the women “not all dolled up,” and not trying to hide their age with hair-colourings and loads of needless cosmetics the way the “You must always look young” sheeple do here in the States having been brainwashed by the US corporate media that one must always look “young” regardless of one’s age.

Also, one of the choristers in the Vocalconsort Berlin is (or was) a chorister in the Collegium Vocale Gent — you’ll see him on the back row in the tenor section in both videos — when they performed this work in Frankfurt. He’s a superb tenor. I recognised him, so he has performed this piece at least twice in this venue.

Andrés is extremely good at working with a Chorus from watching him. That cannot be said about all orchestral conductors from my experience. Some orchestral conductors pretty much just ignore the Chorus. “You’re on your own” seems to be their thinking. With this unspoken, “I’m only concerned about or here for my Orchestra” which shows a lack of respect for the Chorus. (Related: The Second Class Musicians). But not with Andrés. He’s very respectful of the Chorus as well as all the other musicians on stage. He’s now one of my favourite conductors, and frankly you could count my list of “favourite conductors” on one hand. I’m not usually into conductors, per se, I’m more into the Orchestra and Chorus and or instrumental soloists. It depends upon the situation, the piece and the performing forces. I agree with Classical Music Violinist Nigel Kennedy who said, “Conductors are completely over-rated.” Finally, someone said it! Long overdue. (Related: Dudamel does it best! No, Bernstein! No, Solti! No, Karajan!)

Andrés Orozco-Estrada was born in Colombia but trained in Vienna where he lives. He’s also conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. A bit of Latin culture education: Orozco is his father’s last name and Estrada is his mother’s last name.

In this more recent performance, I would have preferred more space of silence at the end between the last chord and the applause. There must have been somebody there in the audience from the US or its poodle colony the UK — I’m specifically thinking of the audiences at the BBC Proms and their over-enthusiastic applause usually started by some screaming guy(s) — who doesn’t understand that you don’t have to jump in on the last note/chord with applause almost as if it’s written in the score. A respectful amount of silence is a good thing, especially after a piece like the Brahms. The same goes for Ein deutsches Requiem. That’s what Andrés was trying to do and signal to the audience. Watch his hands and arms, people. Allow Andrés to lower his arms completely. Then breathe. Then you can applaud. This reminds me of some classical music stations these days who leave no space at all between the last notes/chord of a piece and their jumping in and interrupting the mood by urgently telling the audience what they had just heard. Why the rush? I suppose they would say, “Oh because of the short attention span of the sheeple today, you can’t have any silence otherwise you will lose them.” You lose me when you don’t allow any silence. I find a lack of silence tacky. What’s the rush? And we’re talking about the classical music audience, not the short-attention span US pop culture audience who can’t remember 5 seconds ago. The classical music audience presumably has a long(er) attention span otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sit through lengthy musical compositions and major symphonic works and enjoy them. “But our marketing research tells us…” Isn’t your “marketing research” geared to US pop culture? (roll eyes)

Someone usually asks me: Have you performed this piece? Yes I did with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under superb Chorus Director Vance George, a protégé of the late Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Vance was very enjoyable to work with. Very down-to-Earth, good people skills, a really nice guy and he produced excellent results with the Symphony Chorus. He’s a stickler for good choral diction and that’s a good thing. And as Dr Paul Traver of the renowned University of Maryland Chorus said when they were around, “If you can’t sound good, you can at least have good diction.” (lol) That is so true, and the UMD Chorus was known for their excellent diction and their “good sound.” But I have a lot of respect for Vance George.

Anyway, enjoy these two beautiful performances from Frankfurt. We are so fortunate that they make their outstandingly superb performances available to the world. Chau.—el barrio rosa


Fauré – Requiem Op. 48 – Collegium Vocale and Chapelle Royale, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (Herreweghe)

Cristobal de Morales – Emendemus in melius (Collegium Vocale Ghent – P. Herreweghe)

2 comments on “Brahms – Schicksalslied ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Vocalconsort Berlin ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada

  1. D8

    I’ve watched this (1st video) every morning during breakfast since you posted it. I see something new in it each time that I hadn’t seen before. They are so good. Makes my disposition better for the rest of the day. Interesting article too.

  2. Suzanne Noel

    This is also my favorite orchestra. My husband and I even visited Frankfurt last year to see this orchestra perform. (We live in the U.S.) And we’re returning to see them in September. And this time, we’ll get to see Orozco Estrada conduct; we can’t wait. I also agree with you about the excellent flute playing of Sebastian Wittiber. He along with Clara Andrada de la Calle and others in the wind section are extraordinary musicians, along with the rest of the orchestra. We are so lucky to receive the free livestream broadcasts and the videos on YouTube. Danke schön, hr -Sinfonieorchester.

Fin. The End.