Note: The University of Maryland Concert Choir is the Symphonic Chorus that replaced the superb University of Maryland Chorus — that I had the privilege of singing with and which I’ve written a lot about to help keep their legacy alive — when the University of Maryland “retired”/liquidated them.
Hola. I was reading a review the other day about a performance of Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the University of Maryland Concert Choir (UMD Concert Choir). The performance was conducted by the new principal guest conductor of the BSO, Markus Stenz.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra once had their own Symphony Chorus. But like the University of Maryland Chorus (also known as the UMD Chorus and The Maryland Chorus), years ago the Baltimore Symphony Chorus was also disband, a rather unusual thing for an orchestra to do. I read this was for financial reasons but also because their Symphony Chorus wasn’t that good. A Symphony/Orchestra Chorus is expected to be of the same high-quality level as their orchestra. I never heard the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus to make any comment on them. And as one of my commenters said awhile back: The BSO management probably realised they could save money by not having to pay a Chorus Director and instead invite the best Orchestra Chorus around to perform with them which was the superb University of Maryland Chorus, and they regularly performed with national and international orchestras and conductors. So after disbanding their Symphony Chorus, the BSO began inviting The Maryland Chorus — especially for their Beethoven’s Ninth — to perform with them, as well as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. These days, the BSO continue to invite the Baltimore Choral Arts Society as well as the UMD Concert Choir. Their debut performance with the BSO was in 2013 in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. They have also had many performances with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
I’ve been wanting to hear how the UMD Concert Choir compares with the former UMD Chorus but unfortunately that’s not been possible other than a couple of brief video clips with not the best sound quality. None of their performances are available online probably because of copyright and other rights’ issues with the orchestras they have performed with. As was the case with Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus, I would assume that the highest standards of choral excellence are expected of the UMD Concert Choir under Dr Edward Maclary, Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Maryland. In my opinion, Dr Traver’s standards/expectations were the same as those of Margaret Hillis, the founder/director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus which were honoured with nine Grammy Awards for “Best Choral Performance” under Ms Hillis.
I looked to see if a broadcast of this Brahms’s performance was going to be made available to the public but I couldn’t find any classical music station or any source that was broadcasting this concert around Baltimore or the District. It doesn’t look like many classical music stations (the ones that remain) are doing that these days, except WGBH-Boston. If someone knows of a source where a broadcast of this performance of the Brahms is available online, leave a comment below, por favor. Or if commenting has ended when you read this, you can e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Gracias.
I read a review of this performance. The reviewer spoke of “the fine UMD Concert Choir.” Well that’s good to hear. He also wrote about their excellent diction (the weight of every word has never been clearer, or something to that effect). That sounds like The Maryland Chorus as we were known for our diction. He also spoke highly of the soprano section and wrote that they barely have any vibrato. That’s good to hear since I don’t like vibrato especially with a Chorus. He made a derogatory comment about the wobbling vibrato often found in older (volunteer) Choruses. Oh yes, I know all about that; I’ve heard too much of that in my experience, unfortunately (the unrefined-sounding/wobbling soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus comes to mind). In this performance, according to the reviewer, apparently there were occasional ensemble problems with some rushing and imprecision in the tenor and bass sections which he referred to as “greenness.” Now why did he have to go and say that? (Sigh). “Green” or “greenness” means inexperienced and amateurish. Or was he referring to the choristers young age, since it’s an all-student Chorus? Regardless, just because they’re young doesn’t necessarily mean they’re inexperienced or amateurish. Either way, “greenness” didn’t need to be said. Rushing the tempo creating ensemble problems — meaning things are not exactly together — is not necessarily a matter of “greenness” or amateurish. I found the term “greenness” a bit harsh and almost trollish. If I were reviewing their performance, I might have said that there were occasional ensemble problems and left it at that. But depending upon how often it happened (a couple of times or what?), I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. Because why call them “fine” and then start criticising them and describing half of the Chorus (tenor and bass sections) using the term “greenness?” The University of Maryland Chorus was never described that way to my knowledge. That’s one reason I would like to have heard this performance to hear what he was talking about it. The reviewer did make a comment about another work on the programme and that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians seemed uncertain about the conductor’s beat in that piece, leading to some ensemble problems (the reviewer used the word, “misalignment”). Oh really? I’m wondering if that’s what was going on with the tenors and basses of the Chorus in the Brahms? Just asking. I’ve sung under some conductors where it was difficult to figure out where the beat was. Not saying it’s the case here, but some orchestral conductors are not that good when it comes to conducting a Chorus. They’re much better with the orchestra since orchestral conducting is mainly their experience.
Now on the topic of music education: I read the other day that the Boston Public School system is cutting their music programme. Oh yes why not?! Everybody else is or already has! Isn’t that just what we need?! [sarcasm intended]. Have these morons in positions of power who are cutting the music programme not considered where they will get some of the “next generation” of musicians for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus when students in the Boston Public School system either won’t have any instrumental or vocal music training or exposure to music? What is wrong with these lobotomised people who make these stupid decisions? Obviously they have no respect for music, the arts or culture. They consider it unimportant/”fluff.” Well, I consider people like that basura. Music programmes have been gutted throughout the US. It’s disgraceful what’s happened in the name of “there’s no money for it.” Which of course is complete nonsense. There’s plenty of money for music programmes, arts and international language programmes. Billions are being wasted/poured down a big bottomless hole called the Military Industrial ComplexTM. A huge chunk of money is being poured into the Military Industrial Complex for D and R politicians’ juvenile war and drone games, etc. Unfortunately, the priorities of the US Oligarchy (also known as the US government) are completely septic, twisted, demented, misplaced, and dysfunctional just like the politicians that make these decisions. There’s never a shortage of dinero/money to throw at the Pentagon for the US Global Imperialism and World Domination/Project For The New American Century agenda games and for killing innocent brown-complected people in the Middle East and elsewhere and keeping the public afraid of their own shadow under the guise of this phony “war on terror” nonsense, no matter who is in office. But these corporate parasite D and R bourgeois elite Establishment politicians can’t seem to find any dinero for things worth while in people’s lives, beneficial and to help people such as art and music programmes in schools which benefit and enrich people’s lives enormously. Obama would rather bomb Somalia killing 150 people with his expensive drones and bloated military budget(s) than to put one cent into music and arts programmes. Music is the international language. The music training I had in the public schools was invaluable — I always looked forward to music class — in elementary school through high school, especially when I had the privilege of being the piano accompanist for the High School Chorus. That led to my strong interest in choral music that later led me to go on to perform with the outstanding University of Maryland Chorus and the National Symphony Orchestra, and other Orchestra Choruses (Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis/Vance George, Chorus Directors).
I spent one Summer studying the Brahms on my own and was fortunate to have performed it at least once. The first time was with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. I remember Maazel was difficult to work with even though we were very well prepared by Chorus Director Norman Scribner. And I think we performed it when I was with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. It’s the last piece I heard the University of Maryland Chorus perform live with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Doráti. Their performance was exquisite. (Why was that not recorded?!) It reminded me of the CD I have of the performance by the Chicago Symphony Chorus.
A society without music, culture and the arts is a dead, lobotomised and soul-less society.
I can hear someone whining about now as is typically the case: “Why are you talking about politics and music? I thought this article was about a music performance, not politics.” It’s about both, Thick, and that’s because the funding for music programmes comes from politics and political decisions made such as budget funding/cuts. That should be self-explanatory even to the thickest people. And it’s my site so I’ll talk about whatever I want to talk about! I don’t know why some people think that politics should be completely removed from music, but I’m well aware that there’s a (conservative) crowd out there that does hold to that thinking. Loco./Crazy. The world would not have Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem if Benjamin had held to that twisted thinking that politics should be divorced from music. Politics have been very much a part of many composers’ lives and their works. But I’m aware that some people like to sanitise music and pretend that music is completely devoid of politics, which of course is nonsense.
After all this talk about the Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (which is one of my favourite choral works), if you’re now in the mood for wanting to hear the work, unfortunately we can’t hear the performance from the BSO and the UMD Concert Choir, so I’d recommend this performance from Copenhagen, which I wrote about awhile back. Chau.—el barrio rosa