We’re down to The Big Three

Here’s an update on the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC)

Hola a todos. Yes, we’re down to The Big Three in lockstep. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this phenomenon or fad in the classical music world, with the exception being some years ago nearly all local pianists in San Francisco like a bunch of sheeple were locked into this fad of playing an entire programme of Chopin or some pieces by Frédéric on their programme. When I performed, I chose Sergei Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux instead which are rarely played by comparison and which the audience seemed to enjoy — how could you not?! — they’re such lovely pieces and quite difficult to play depending upon which one you’re playing. Well of course it’s difficult, it’s Rachmaninov! Did he write anything that’s “easy?” Not that I can think of. I think his Prelude in c♯ minor, Op. 3, No. 2 — which he came to hate because audiences requested he play it wherever he went — and which I “learned” in High School is considered more on the “easy” side, compared to his other piano works. But when that’s played well and the way it should be played with polish and refinement, it’s not “easy.” And as I’ve said before, after a regular diet of Rachmaninov (and or Scriabin), pretty much anything feels “easy” by comparison, and I’m too often bored by “easy.” I like more challenging pieces. And the pianist should make them (Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux) look effortless to play. I don’t know that I did that, hopefully I did. Someone else would have to tell me that. But the Rachmaninov was also such a change from the Frédéric Chopin rut. But I have noticed this symphonic choral phenomenon of The Big Three for some time. Chorus Director, Robert Shafer, in the District of Columbia (the capital City of the US and my former home City) confirmed it in an interview I read awhile back. Well he should know. Robert Shafer is the former Chorus Director of The Washington Chorus (TWC), one of the Orchestra Choruses in the District that performs in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra on occasion by invitation. TWC used to be called the Oratorio Society of Washington. Robert was also Artist-in-Residence at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University, where he is now Professor Emeritus. Since 2007, he’s been Artistic Director of the City Choir of Washington. In the interview, he said we’re now down to three symphonic choral works that the public will support.

The Big Three are (you can probably guess the first one):

Händel’s Messiah
Yes, but of course. No surprise here. Me$$iah — US dollar signs intended because I think it’s a money-maker, and probably the only reason they do it every single year. Me$$iah is performed every holiday season on cue like clockwork. It’s rare that a choral ensemble or Orchestra Chorus programmes anything but that. One would get the strong impression that Händel only wrote one oratorio.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in d, (Choral), Op. 125
This is performed at the end of each season of the Tanglewood Music Festival, as an example. Conductor Marin Alsop said the Ninth is the most popular piece in the classical music repertoire. Well I know it’s up there, but I would have thought that the overplayed Johann Pachelbel Canon in D or the overplayed Ludwig Beethoven’s Bagatelle No. 25 in a minor (WoO 59, Bia 515) which the sheeple know as “Für Elise,” — but musicologists think the correct title should be “Für Therese” — are more popular. Maybe Marin was referring specifically to orchestral music.

And then there’s:

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana
Everyone seems to be doing this as well.

That’s it. Rather pathetic isn’t it? I don’t mean that those pieces are pathetic but that we’re down to only those three pieces that the dumbed-down US sheeple will support. No attention span for anything other than those pieces that are familiar to them?

So, most Orchestra Choruses only need three vocal scores now to get through each season, and since they only have three works to (re)-prepare for the season, the Chorus can be available at-the-ready, if they’re not in a deep sleep from having little to nothing to rehearse during the season.

Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times. With few exceptions, mostly gone are performances of oratorios — again other than ubiquitous and often perfunctory Händel’s Messiah — Bach cantatas and other time-honoured major symphonic choral works.

All I can say is that I just feel very fortunate that I came along during a time where I was able to be a chorister in major Orchestra Choruses where there was an abundance of symphonic choral works being performed, unlike today. Today is a very different time.

I’m going to go through some of the major orchestras and their choral ensembles in the non-United States of the hemisphere called America (or the Americas) and list what (little) they’re doing for the 2019-20 season.

Opera at The Symphony?

Along with a lot of fluff programming to try to bring in the dumbed-down sheeple, I’ve noticed that most major symphony orchestras in the US are also programming some opera repertoire for some odd reason, including “semi-staged.” Why are they doing opera? Are they trying to compete with the local opera company? That programming time could be better given to the increasingly-neglected symphonic choral works that I’m talking about. If people don’t want to hear symphonic choral works (featuring the human voice), why do orchestral management think people would want to hear opera (featuring the human voice)? I thought that if people really wanted to hear opera, that they would go to the Opera House. That’s usually the way it works, or used to. I didn’t know that the public was all hot for opera — and depending upon what article I read, opera is in decline — and especially the Symphony Hall audience that goes to hear symphonic works, not opera. Want to hear opera? Go across the street to the Opera House, or wherever it’s located.

One big problem with this overlapping of genres (symphonic music and opera) is that the musically-ignorant public become confused as to what they’re hearing, which also speaks to the lack of music education in our US public schools today. To get slightly political here but it’s completely related, there’s no shortage of dinero/money for concentration camps at the border between the US and México for the storing of migrants in the most appalling and subhuman of conditions to play to the orange bloviator’s hateful base as we approach the 2020 “election” in the non-United States. (I’m almost expecting Nancy “he’s not worth it” Pelosi to start campaigning for him as his complicit enabler and or ask that she be his running mate). There’s no shortage of dinero for that bottomless pit called the US Military Industrial Complex Killing Machine — the #1 “Legal” Terrorist organisation on the planet to be precise — The Pentagon is asking for a colossal $718 billion for its 2020 defence budget. That’s a $33 billion or roughly 5 percent increase over what the corporate parasites in the US Congress enacted for fiscal 2019. Yet curiously there’s no money (so they say) for music and arts education in our public schools, because such programmes are considered “fluff,” “frill,” and unnecessary. This speaks to a very septic and rotted system, in a country that likes to pump itself up as the so-called “greatest country.” So for example, when the public hears opera at “The Symphony” (as they call it) with screaming opera divas serving as vocal soloist(s) and when they hear two of The Big Three (Orff’s Carmina Burana or Beethoven’s Ninth), they mistake both of them for opera. Why? Because of the screaming opera diva soloists invited to perform the solo passages in both the Orff and the Beethoven. Because somehow, in the public’s mind, the Orff and Beethoven become opera repertoire merely because of the screaming, obnoxiously heavy-vibrato operatic soloists on the stage. Neither Orff’s Carmina Burana or Beethoven’s Ninth are opera. They are symphonic choral works — well, the Beethoven is mostly a symphonic work except for the Choral Finale — but the public doesn’t seem to know that. The public doesn’t seem to know that opera involves costuming and scenery which neither the Orff or Beethoven have. But one would not know that from reading the musically-illiterate comments on U-toob where some people call any symphonic choral work they hear “opera” because of the screamers from the opera genre invited in to scream their way through the solo vocal passages. Commenters often gush over the soloists-screamers and say nothing about the Orchestra and or Chorus who performed the majority of the work. (Related: Is Opera music?)

In the public’s mind, if it’s not opera, then it’s “a song.”

Speaking of musically-illiterates: In the public’s mind if a piece is not opera, the catch-all term for all other music they hear is “a song.” So Beethoven’s Ninth is “opera” to them because of the (usually) screaming vocal soloists in the Choral Finale. But a piano concerto is “a song” to them. For example, they refer to the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c as “a song.” Did they hear anyone singing in the Rachmaninov? No. Then it is not a song. A song has to be sung, (sing = song) usually by one voice or in a duet. Under a performance of a piano concerto, some musically-illiterate commenters write, “I love this song.” It’s not a “song.” Why not call it what it is: A piano concerto, and that’s part of the title of the piece: Piano Concerto in c minor. I feel I’m getting so remedial here, but there are so many thick and stupid people out there especially here in the non-United States, and some of them may show up here. In the Rachmaninov, the pianist is the soloist. S/he sings nothing in the piece. (Related: I’m looking for that song called Beethoven’s Ninth. I have seen some people in U-toob comments correct these people who refer to all pieces of music as “a song.” Rather than respond to the correction with maturity and appreciation as in “Oh I wasn’t aware of that, thank you for the musical education,” the response can usually be that of immature resentment that is so common in the US especially, or the typical cesspool that U-toob comments often turn into. Unfortunately the internet really shows us the dire, dismal, dysfunctional, nasty and septic state of our society.

Bored Choristers in Orchestra Choruses?

It must be a bit boring to be in an Orchestra Chorus these days — considering the high-caliber of chorister required to be in such an ensemble — and their having so few works to (re)prepare for the season. I suspect some choristers are asking, “This is all we’re doing this season? Certainly it won’t take us weeks or months to learn this piece or that piece or the other piece that we’re doing. We can already sight-read most of these.” I don’t know what it’s like today, but when I was in Orchestra Choruses, choristers of that required caliber could almost sight-read a piece and sound “performance-ready” (spot-checking for tricky diction places, of course, such as the release of final consonants). That’s the way it was when I was a chorister in the Choral Arts Society of Washington, as one example. Norman (Scribner), the Chorus Director, chose such fine choristers and the CASW Chorus was such splendid sight-readers and experienced, that our sight-reading of a piece sounded close to performance-ready. I remember my first season with them and the first rehearsal. Norman had us sight-read with the piano accompanist one of the major symphonic choral works we were about to prepare for our performances at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra. I believe it was Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten/The Seasons, which is a fun piece to perform and it has some wonderful choruses. As we were sight-reading, I remember that the sound I was hearing was amazing. It was that of choral excellence, and we were just sight-reading. We hadn’t even begun to work on the piece.

I think some Choruses “do their own thing” during the season meaning they have their own subscription series concerts in addition to what little they perform with the Orchestra, but I’m not sure how many do that. I know the CASW and TWC do that, but neither are the Official Chorus of the National Symphony Orchestra. I’m mainly talking about an Orchestra’s Official Chorus.

Well, the abundance of symphonic choral performances was when I lived in the District and then moved to San Francisco. And looking back on that era — which in hindsight was probably one of the best times in history; I lived in DC at an ideal time although I didn’t know it at the time — it was probably the height of symphonic choral performances because fortunately there was no shortage of symphonic choral works being performed by the Orchestra Choruses in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and also around the DC Metropolitan Area. Each Chorus had 2-4 or more engagements each season with the NSO or guest (inter)national orchestras in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. It was quite a good time for symphonic choral music.

Unfortunately today, it’s the opposite.

Take the 2019-20 season, the Choral Arts Society of Washington has one (that’s one) engagement with National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and that’s, can you guess? It’s one of The Big Three: They have three nights in a row of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The Washington Chorus only has two engagements with the NSO during the season. Can you guess what they’re doing? A clue: They’re doing two of The Big Three: They’re performing the ubiquitous Messiah, and Beethoven’s Ninth. While writing this, I was thinking to myself: Aren’t they the exact same “Big Three” pieces the NSO performed recently (since the 2017 season, I think) except with different Choruses? It looks like each Chorus just swapped repertoire with each other. This is not how it would works, but in my mind I can see the choristers from each Chorus gathering in a large room as a group and saying to one another: “Here, you take the Beethoven and Messiah scores and we’ll take the Orff. Then, we’ll see you in the next season and we’ll take the Beethoven back and give you the Orff.” That’s about the extent of it when you’re down to “The Big Three.” The two Choruses just swapping scores for whichever scores they need for that particular season. In reality, each chorister buys his/her own scores through the choral organisation guaranteeing they’re all using the same edition (such as Editions Peters, Editions Henle or Editions Bärenreiter-Verlag, for example). But they are the same pieces they performed over the past couple seasons with the choral ensembles switched around. The Choral Arts Society performed the Beethoven last time. This time they’re doing the Orff, and The Washington Chorus is performing what the Choral Arts Society performed in a past season (the Beethoven). For slight variety, the NSO management or conductor might stick in a Rossini Stabat Mater as they did last season, but choristers would have to get that score from the University of Maryland School of Music because the all-student University of Maryland Concert Choir performed that with the NSO at both Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. The UMD Concert Choir replaced the now-retired and renowned University of Maryland Chorus. Oddly, the UMD Concert Choir doesn’t appear to have any engagements with the NSO for the 2019-20 season. I guess that’s in part because there’s nothing for them to do since there’s a shortage of symphonic choral works being programmed. They performed Messiah last season with the NSO, so one can’t have them doing it two years in a row.

When the University of Maryland Chorus was in existence, they had many performances a season with the NSO — especially under conductor Antal Doráti because they were his favourite Chorus — and they appeared with many guest (inter)national orchestras, such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam for performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Ninth Symphony.

For the 2019-20 season, the San Francisco Symphony has programmed only three symphonic choral works for the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. I hope they didn’t over do it. Well two really, if you take out the mandatory and perfunctory Me$$iah performance$. (Related: Not Messiah again?!) If you’re take out Messiah, they’re performing Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms (revised version) and Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, Op 45. Then, instead of performing other neglected symphonic choral works they’ve chosen to perform opera: Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer (semi-staged) with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus assisting, and also Mahler’s Symphony No. 8. From a musical standpoint, the Mahler is essentially opera — without the costuming and scenery — when you add all those screaming and barking operatic soloists throughout the piece. And it’s because of the operatic screamers that I’ve never been able to get past the organ and choral entrance of Mahler’s Eighth. After that, it becomes intolerable for me to listen to. I’ve scanned through it trying to find places where the Chorus is performing alone, only to have them interrupted by a screamer whose obnoxious voice overpowers the entire Orchestra and Chorus. The performance becomes the personal recital for the vocal soloists-screamers. Too much screaming and barking from the vocal soloists-screamers that the sheeple mistake for “beautiful singing.” Some people have no ear for music if they think that what amounts to heavy-vibrato screaming — to cover up technical vocal and pitch problems? — is “beautiful singing.” That’s like describing the sirens on emergency vehicles as “a beautiful sound.” By the way, Mahler never referred to his Symphony No. 8 as “The Symphony of a Thousand.” Somebody else added that without Mahler’s approval from my research. And the piece does not require a thousand musicians or anywhere close to that to perform. Just thought I’d pass that on. So, from what I saw on their online brochure, as I said the San Francisco Symphony Chorus has only three engagements for the season with the SFS performing genuine symphonic choral works.

As for neglected symphonic choral works, when was the last time that the San Francisco Symphony and Symphony Chorus performed A Sea Symphony or Toward The Unknown Region by Ralph Vaughan Williams? Or the Missa Sabriensis or Hymnus Paradisi by Herbert Howells? Or the Holst The Hymn of Jesus? With the trebles/boys of Grace Cathedral (Anglican Communion), assisting? Or Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie instead of predictable Messiah?

Do I need to make a list of the (neglected) symphonic choral works that symphony orchestras could be performing instead of opera, but are not? That list would nearly be endless. Yet what are they doing? Some opera, of all things. Along with “fluff” programming such as soundtrack scores, film scores, Harry Potter stuff, and some are promoting gun violence or have in a recent season. That’s just what we need more of here in the non-United States.

For the 2019-20 season, two of The Big Three (Beethoven and Orff) are programmed for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. They may also be doing Messiah, but I’m not sure about that. I’d have to scan their brochure again. The Orff and the Beethoven are programmed: “The mighty Ninth” in their language. “The mighty Ninth” appears at least twice on the CSO brochure. I can see some orchestral management sitting around a conference room table and saying, “We’ll call the Ninth ‘mighty’ and the Orff ‘powerful.’ How’s that? Does everyone agree with that? Good.” Yes, there’s all this hyped language throughout about the pieces to be performed. “Carl Orff’s powerful Carmina Burana.”

Related to my earlier article about vocal soloists-screamers, this is how the CSO is marketing their screamers (commonly known as vocal soloists):

“Muti is joined by the CSO Chorus and a cast comprising some of the world’s most distinguished international vocalists.” Hmmmmm. Having an all-paid Orchestra Chorus, I should think that some of the world’s most distinguished vocalists are in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, so why aren’t some of the choristers serving as soloists? They could easily do so. Orchestral management would say: “No, the screamers that you refer to, I mean the soloists, have to be these big-name celebrity “stars” to draw an audience. The public wouldn’t come to hear one of the finest choristers in the CSO Chorus perform the solo passages, because, well, they’re not internationally-known “stars.” Question: And the public really come to a performance solely based on who the vocal soloists are? I wouldn’t; I couldn’t care less who they are. I’m there for a superbly-prepared stellar Symphony Chorus. I’m not there for the screamers. In fact, if I had my way, I’d give the solo vocal passages to members of the Orchestra to play. The principal flautist or First Concertmaster could play the passages that the soprano screamer would normally be screaming. Those solo passages would certainly sound far better played by those musicians.

I am well aware though that whenever any symphonic choral performance is promoted on radio or television, that the announcers make it all about the vocal screamers. The Orchestra and Chorus are mentioned only in passing, as second-class musicians. Well, then, why don’t you just turn the thing into personal recitals featuring the screamers? (I guess I shouldn’t give them any ideas.) In performances and especially in Beethoven’s Ninth, the screamers — especially the screechy/screaming soprano and sometimes the harsh-sounding tenor who sounds like he’s trying to blow a tonsil seem to be in competition to see who can out-scream the other — and both seem oblivious that any other musicians are on the stage. It’s often all about them, especially the soprano screamer as she rears back, usually showing full-cleverage to make her appear “sexy.” (Too little too late for that!). Meanwhile, the tenor screamer has to be all covered up from head to toe in a stuffy tux. Both of them when screaming together turn the performance into their own personal recital, again, completely oblivious that anyone else is there or that’s the appearance. With her piercing voice, the soprano can wipe out everybody on the stage and usually does: Her glass-penetrating voice cuts through and overpowers the full Orchestra, the full Chorus and the Concert Hall’s Pipe Organ using the full resources, if that’s part of the performance. Her voice often reminds one of a siren on an emergency vehicle passing by the Concert Hall, because that’s all you hear is her. There can be over 300 musicians on the stage (a 200-voice Chorus and the Full Orchestra), and her voice overpowers all of them and she’s not mic’d. And of course she loves the attention. She adores it. During the bows, she rarely turns around to acknowledge any of the other musicians on stage and divert attention to them because “it’s all about her….me, me, me.”

The Bait: “A Distinguished Cast of Soloists.”

It’s the usual practise that one sees from misguided orchestral management with their excessive executive salaries consistently resort to: It’s called baiting the public to come to the performance because of the “world’s most distinguished CAST of vocalists.” If management were being honest it would read “A CAST of screamers.” Let’s tell it like it is. There’s nothing musical, tasteful nor is there any artistry or talent involved in heavy-vibrato/wobbling/fluttering (often off pitch meaning flat – singing below the true pitch of the note) obnoxious screaming.

When will Voice Departments in Conservatories and University Schools of Music teach blending one’s voice musically and artistically with other voices as a soloist. Not in my lifetime because in fact we seem to be going in the opposite direction, especially in the non-United States where heavy-vibrato — again, to disguise technical vocal problems and pitch problems? — and screaming seem to be increasingly popular even in some choral ensembles (among people with no ear for music and who reject one of the foundations of choral excellence: perfect intonation). I remember when I trained, I could be at one end of the hallway in the Conservatory and I could hear a private voice instruction class at the opposite end of the long hallway. In the background, I could hear pianos being played from the piano professor’s studios along the same hallway. But it was the voice professor’s voice or her student’s voice that overpowered any other sound that one heard.

Last season (2018-19), for the Philadelphia Orchestra from a symphonic choral standpoint:

They didn’t even perform The Big Three. And one of their pieces, was an opera: Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti. Again, why is a Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing opera? Why are they competing with Opera Philadelphia or some other operatic organisation? (Related: Is Opera music?)

For the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, from what I saw on the 2019-20 season, the Full ASO Chorus has only three (that’s 3, THREE) engagements with the ASO. I suspect if the late Robert Shaw were around today, he’d be shocked at that. He’d say, “Well you have to do more than that, why so few symphonic choral works?” That is an incredibly low number for an Orchestra with its own Chorus of the caliber of the ASOC. One wonders: How long before they disband the ASOC due to “there’s just not much interest in choral music these days so we really don’t have anything for you to do” being used as the rationale? Well, they are doing two of The Big Three, of course:

Orff’s Carmina Burana (with the full ASO Chorus) and Messiah (that’s with the ASO Chamber Chorus). The full ASO Chorus is performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (I am surprised to see that programmed at this point) and they’re adding to the Mahler’s Eighth category/fad. Oddly, the ASO Chamber Chorus has the most performances. They’re performing Bach Cantata Nos. 12 and 29 on one programme, and the Chamber Chorus is performing the opera repertoire: Purcell – Selections from Dido and Aeneas, and Wagner – Tristan und Isolde, Acts I, II and III. They can’t leave that to Atlanta Opera? Oh, and the full ASO Chorus is performing for the holiday concert so that technically gives them four performances for the season. But their holiday concert is an annual thing which I think was started by Robert Shaw. So that’s as required as Messiah. But still, if I were a chorister in the ASO Chorus, I’d be looking around and at the repertoire and asking: So this is all we’re doing for the entire season? Yes, that’s appears to be it unless you’re in the ASO Chamber Chorus. And what, no Beethoven’s Ninth during the season? What will the sheeple in Atlanta do? Mass depression? Orchestral management would likely say: Rest assured that will be next season along with Messiah for the umpteenth time.

Someone online was critical of the “sound” of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus in a performance of Brahms’s EDR, Op. 45, an engagement that they had with the Berliner Philharmoniker in Deutschland/Germany. The person went on to say that the ASOC had been doing too much opera repertoire under conductor Donald Runnicles and their “sound” had changed and that the late Robert Shaw would not be pleased with the “sound” of his Chorus today. Then as expected, someone rushed to defend the new “sound” of the ASOC and wrote that “Robert Shaw would love our sound.” Now how would that person know that? Pure speculation. I’ve not heard the ASOC since Norman MacKenzie became the Director of Choruses for the ASO, so I can’t make any comment on them. But they too in Atlanta have neglected symphonic choral works in their programming in favour of performing opera, rather than leaving opera to Atlanta Opera.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would appear to be in bad shape. Orchestral management cancelled their 2019 Summer Season without informing the musicians. Isn’t that respectful of the musicians? For their 2019-20 season, assuming they have one:

They’re doing one of The Big Three, Beethoven’s Ninth, on five continents on their tour — if they’re still going on tour — with performances also in Baltimore. No Chorus was listed for any of those performances. In Baltimore, my guess is that the Chorus would probably be either the University of Maryland Concert Choir or the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. They did say that they will feature a translation of the “Ode” (as in the “Ode to Joy”) by the local rapper and musician Wordsmith (his name is Anthony Parker). Rap at “The Symphony?” More combining of genres to confuse the musically-ignorant. They’re also featuring a new arrangement of the spiritual, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — spirituals at “The Symphony?” — and a newly commissioned work by Indian-USian composer Reena Esmial.

What I especially noticed with Baltimore is that they’re really hyping the “Star Soloists.” But in this case, they don’t mean just the vocal soloists-screamers. While reading their online brochure I thought: It’s too bad that orchestral management can’t get as excited about their own musicians — and not disrespecting them with pay cuts and cutting their benefits — as they do the “Star Soloists.” Is orchestral management taking any pay cuts or cuts in their benefits? I can take a guess: No. What I read in their marketing language for the 2019-20 season spoke of Desperation. The only symphonic choral works I saw listed were, of course, two of The Big Three:

Händel’s Messiah
and
Beethoven’s Ninth.

There’s loads of “fluff” during the season with the Baltimore SO including movies with orchestra, superpops with Jennifer Holliday, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, tributes to Aretha Franklin and Nat King Cole, the classic hits of Lerner and Loewe, and Movie with Orchestra: The Wizard of Oz. All of that music has its place and I would enjoy some of that (the jazz music), but it’s not what one expects to hear at “The Symphony,” except in a Century of Insanity and in a troubled world of financial desperation with some musical ensembles where we’re lied to and told that, “The economy is the best it’s ever been. The US economy is the envy of the world (that’s according to the chronic liar known as the orange bloviator).” But if that’s the case (which of course it isn’t in reality), then where’s the funding for superb music and arts programmes in the public schools and elsewhere?

The Los Ángeles Philharmonic has more of a sparse season for 2019-20:

They, too, are all about the “Superstars” (consisting of 8 musicians whose pictures were shown, and not just vocalists)

They’re performing one of The Big Three: Beethoven’s Ninth.
Assisting will be the Los Ángeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon Artistic Director and the performance will be conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

The only other work featuring a Chorus is the Mahler Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” with the same Chorus as for the Beethoven, and Dudamel conducting.

But that’s it for their symphonic choral repertoire. Overall, it’s a rather light season for repertoire for the Los Ángeles Philharmonic.


Now, for Boston, including an update on the Tanglewood Festival Chorus:

For the 2019-20 season, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus are much more original, and I think the most original of all, and I think the best in their programming:

First, let me say that I take no pleasure whatsoever in being critical of other musicians. As a musician, I prefer to praise other musicians because I feel we’re all together in solidarity with each other as fellow musicians. That gives me the most pleasure as well as their stellar performances, excluding many vocal soloists of course. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid criticism of other musicians because I know how unjust and unwarranted and even nit-picky criticism feels. But in some cases, there are times where criticism is indeed necessary and it might bring forth positive change, as it has done with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) under James Burton. I was rather critical — and justifiably so — of the TFC in its latter years under Founder and Chorus Director the late John Oliver. But it wasn’t just me. Other publications were writing about it. The BSO and conductor Andris Nelsons had noticed “problems” and “some unevenness” with the TFC. Sounds like political-speak. They were being so diplomatic rather than telling it like it is, which is what I like to do. If I remember correctly, Nelsons was overheard asking after hearing the TFC the first time, “Is this how American Choruses sound?” And he didn’t mean it as a compliment. No Andris, it’s not. Only those Choruses that need some work/improvement sound like that. Yet the TFC still had a few blinders-on, devout followers with this cult-like devotion to the TFC — a couple of them wrote to me as self-appointed “choral authorities”; one wonders where they trained? — who rushed to the TFC’s defence and supported their heavy-vibrato, wobbling, fluttering, quivering, shrill-sound cackling soprano section like one heard in Beethoven’s Ninth at the end of the Tanglewood Music Festival in one of John Oliver’s last seasons with them, or their Mahler Second. I couldn’t listen to either performance twice because the sopranos were so bad, and the altos weren’t much better. And the microphones picked up cracking tenor voices in the Beethoven. Completely unacceptable for the Official Chorus of the BSO. I remember asking myself: What on Earth has happened to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus? Jesus! In their early days, they were one of my favourites. And I suspect when James Burton arrived he asked himself, “What are these people doing in this Chorus? How did some of these people get in this Chorus to begin with?” A third of the Chorus left — couldn’t pass the audition and its new music theory requirements — if I’m remembering correctly after Burton arrived and he re-auditioned the entire Chorus with new standards, which I supported. From what I read, most choristers couldn’t stand him and his approach. Tough luck. Again, the TFC is the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops Orchestra, not your Community Family Chorus where everyone is welcome including the family dog. Under Burton, I read that rehearsals are of a serious nature as they should be. The guys who wrote to me asked me, “What’s wrong with vibrato?” Well, if one has to ask that question, we have no room for discussion, period. Has this guy or guys never heard the term perfect intonation, used throughout music? It’s one of the basic principles of choral excellence. Noticeable vibrato prevents perfect intonation, the perfect blending of voices. That’s what’s wrong with noticeable vibrato, you idiot. I have no patience for these people, these Vibratobots. So I was very pleased when the BSO hired James Burton to replace Oliver as I was familiar with Burton from his fine work in the UK.

So recently, I watched a short clip of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (from April 2019). For those who don’t know, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops Orchestra. The clip was from one of their performances in Symphony Hall with the BSO. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus has improved under James Burton as I had thought they would. I think James is still working on them, but they were singing with perfect intonation in all voice parts. He still has some work to do on their soprano section. As I said earlier, those sopranos were in rather bad shape especially in their upper register during the last days of John Oliver’s tenure and they were in need of the perfect blending of their voices as well as polish and refinement. With this clip I saw recently, the TFC’s soprano section’s highest note in the piece (I think it was a High C, 2-octaves above Middle C) needed a bit of polish. It wasn’t quite perfect intonation and more on the screechy side. It wasn’t a smooth and velvety top note in other words. It was more of a rough-sounding top note and a little bit of struggling sound. A highly-skilled and superb soprano section should not sound like they’re struggling at any time (although that goes for all voice parts), but rather sound effortless even on their top notes up in the stratosphere. But I suspect James is still working on them. The TFC sopranos are better than they were under John Oliver — I’m specifically referring to the time period of his last years with the TFC — but Burton needs to continue working to remove some screechy sounds, but I suspect he already knows that. The sopranos were not screaming or cackling or wobbling as one heard from them under John Oliver. I suspect most of those sopranos are gone having failed their re-audition and its required higher standards including knowledge of some more advanced music theory. I heard no noticeable vibrato, other than some on that High C that I mentioned. And under John Oliver the altos weren’t much better I have to say! But again, overall the Chorus is indeed improving under Burton and realistically speaking it could take him some time to get the ideal instrument he wants in the TFC. Overall, the TFC look like a younger Chorus to me (particularly the Women of the TFC) than under John Oliver, which is what I had suspected would be the case with the “new” TFC. Meaning that Burton would try to select younger choristers, particularly for the sopranos and altos, and even tenors. That’s why some Chorus Director have an age limit in their audition requirements. I think William Christie does that with the Chorus of Les Arts Florrisants. The Orchestra Choruses I had the privilege of being a chorister in did not have age requirements but seemed to naturally attract younger voices at that time (Choral Arts Society of Washington and the University of Maryland Chorus both performing regularly in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest (inter)national orchestras, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus performing in Davies Symphony Hall).

And that’s because the Chorus Director is looking for a certain sound which they cannot get with women of the age of your average podunk Church Choir with their untrained wobbling voices. They sound awful, but most people seem to have no ear for choral excellence, in part, because their ear hasn’t been trained to listen for it. Burton was conducting in the performance clip that I watched. I think he was filling in for an ailing Gustavo Dudamel. Burton is more than capable of conducting both the BSO and TFC. He earned a Masters in Orchestral Conducting from the Peabody Conservatory of John Hopkin’s University in Baltimore.

For the 2019-20 season in Boston’s Symphony Hall and out at the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) has the following repertoire with the BSO:

Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.
This piece is for piano, Orchestra and Chorus and vocal soloists; some people say if you don’t have the time to listen to his Ninth that they listen to the Choral Fantasy instead. They are similar. If you’re not familiar with the piece, it’s sort of like a piano concerto with Chorus at the end. I like this performance here from Nihon/Japan with Marta Argerich as piano soloist. I’m pleased to see her using her score as it gives more of a chamber music feel to the performance. And the Chorus in this performance is superb. The performance is conducted by Sergei Ozawa. I believe this was a concert in Nihon honouring Ozawa’s 80th birthday celebration.

The TFC is also performing:

Poulenc’s Gloria
Grigorjeva’s On Leaving (for unaccompanied Chorus)
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 2
Duruflé’s Requiem
and
Stravinsky’s Perséphone
Assisting in the Duruflé and Stravinsky will be the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir

Then in April 2020, (the TFC’s 50th anniversary month), they will perform selections from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, conducted by James Burton.

Also in Symphony Hall, the BSO is also performing opera, although without the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Yet another Symphony Orchestra competing with the opera ensembles, in this case the Boston Opera and Boston Lyric Opera et al). They’re performing Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Act III. It’s a concert performance, sung in Deutsch/German. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus is not part of this performance.

And the BSO Gospel Chorus will be performing in Uri Caine’s The Passion of Octavius Catto with conductor André Raphel.

Gospel at “The Symphony?”

To the BSO’s credit, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is part of the programme for the opening night of the season. Excellent to see that. In my opinion, the Official Chorus for an Orchestra should always be part of the opening concert of the season since they are the Orchestra’s Chorus and should be included.

Unless I missed it, they’re not performing Messiah. Good. If I’m remembering correctly, they performed Bach’s Christmas Oratorio last season. Maybe they leave the perfunctory Messiah performances to “those other people.” Well, they usually do the “Christmas at Pops,” a series of concerts with a reduced TFC and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Then, at the Tanglewood Musical Festival in Lenox MA — the BSO’s Summer home — they’re performing two of “The Big Three:” The TFC is performing most of this repertoire:

Verdi/Requiem (which is more like opera than symphonic choral)
RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé (complete; the Chorus is often, but not always, off stage for this Ravel ballet music)
Orff/Carmina Burana (Young Artists Chorus, not the TFC)
SCHOENBERG/ Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), for unaccompanied Chorus

and of course one of “The Big Three”:

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in d
The Beethoven always ends the Tanglewood Music Festival. This time, because of James Burton’s newly-installed standards of choral excellence, the TFC will likely sound more polished with no screechy, shrill, cackling, wobbling sopranos, or altos for that matter. And no cracking tenor voices. Well, one can hope for that. No disrespect whatsoever intended to James Burton, it’s just that it could take Burton 2-3 years or more to get his ideal choral “instrument” as I said earlier.

Realistically speaking, a Chorus Director — no matter how good he/she is — can only do so much with what he/she has to work with, as I think James Burton understood when he took over the TFC. Generally speaking, unless one goes through extensive training in a Conservatory or School of Music, one cannot take vocally and musically-inferior choristers and turn them into stellar choristers. That rarely happens. Instead, one has to change/replace the choristers with a musically-higher caliber, as Burton has done with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

I also noticed quite a few works for Pipe Organ programmed for Symphony Hall. It’s good to see them using Symphony Hall’s Pipe Organ. In other concert halls, often the pipe organ sets collecting dust, rarely used, as if it’s just for looks, even though it’s not.

They’re performing the Strauss Festive Prelude (Olivier Latry, organist). For those who don’t know, Olivier Latry is one of the — former organists? due to the fire — Titulaire Organists from La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

They’re also performing Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symfónia č. 3/Symphonie avec orgue (Organ Symphony)/ Symphony No. 3 in c minor, Op. 78 with organist Thierry Escaich in both.

They’re also performing the Poulenc Concerto in d for Two Pianos with Lucas and Arthur Jussen, pianos. They are brothers from the Nederlands. Their mother teaches flute and their father is a timpanist in the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.

So, in my opinion, Boston has the best season that I’ve seen, being the most original.

The bottom line:

Most major symphony orchestras in the US with few exceptions are unfortunately avoiding symphonic choral works — except for obviously The Big Three, as one can see saturated throughout this article — and the average number of engagements for the Orchestra’s Chorus is between 4-5 appearances with the Orchestra a season. For Orchestra’s without their own Chorus, each local guest Chorus has one or maybe two engagements with the Orchestra for the season. Pathetic really.

At least for the 2019-20 season and to their credit, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus are more closely holding to the standards of when I was a chorister in Orchestra Choruses when symphonic choral works were not avoided. I wonder if James Burton and his influence has something to do with that?

Not to give them any ideas, but one wonders how long it will be before Orchestras that have their own Chorus will disband their Chorus deciding that they’re really no longer needed? On the odd occasion they want to perform one of The Big Three, they could invite one of the finest local choral ensembles to perform with them as a guest Chorus. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra did that many years ago. They disband the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus. The reason I read for that was that the BSO Chorus wasn’t that good. I don’t know as I never heard them. After that, the BSO started inviting the superb University of Maryland Chorus to perform with them, which was an excellent choice. Then, when the UMD Chorus was disband by the University of Maryland — they were “liquidated” or “retired” for some reason; well I think part of the reason was because the UMD Chorus was not an all-student Chorus and the University of Maryland’s School of Music did not like that. Since then, the BSO has been inviting the all-student University of Maryland Concert Choir (they replaced the University of Maryland Chorus as the symphonic Chorus on campus) to perform with them on occasion as well as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

Mi amigo/My friend said: It’s interesting how locked-in US orchestral management are into The Big Three. Such absolute conformity. It seems that everyone has to be doing The Big Three like a bunch of sheeple. He also asked a very good question:

Why are major symphony orchestras competing with local opera companies by programming some opera?

What is that about? That’s what it appears that they’re doing when they programme operatic repertoire. By contrast, I don’t see Opera Orchestras and Opera companies competing with major Symphony Orchestras by performing symphonic works or performing piano concerti, violin concerti, clarinet concerti, trumpet concerti and so forth, and giving the day off to the operatic divas-screamers who are usually there to possibly blow out a tonsil. I’m glad that Opera companies are not performing symphonic choral works because I couldn’t bare to listen to that. Opera Choruses are not at all known for having learned anything about perfect intonation. I read a comment from someone recently very critical of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and their absolute lack of perfect intonation. Yes, that’s what I mean. When it comes to operatic screaming and operatic choral singing, the basic music concept of perfect intonation seems to have escaped them or long been abandoned by these people. And they call themselves musicians? As I said, any fool can scream! No talent, artistry or musicality required for that. And if one cannot sing on pitch — as many cannot — just turn on vibrato and few people in the audience will know the difference. They’ll just think, “Oh, that person is ‘classically-trained’.”

As for myself, Orff’s Carmina Burana is one of The Big Three that I can still listen to without feeling burned out on it and assuming that the Chorus is superbly prepared and singing with perfect intonation (no noticeable vibrato), followed by the Beethoven. As for Messiah, if I don’t hear that again it will be just fine with me. I’m thoroughly burned out on that. I much much prefer to hear some of his other oratorios. But with the Beethoven, these days I’m more interested in all of the other movements of the work superbly played by the Orchestra and not the Choral Finale, which might surprise you since I’m a “choral person.” For me, the Symphony Chorus has to be top-notch, superb singing with perfect intonation in all voice sections (SATB) and impeccable diction (spit those consonants so that they can be heard in the last row of the hall, as renowned Dr Paul Traver, Founder and Director of the superb University of Maryland Chorus would say when he was alive). And with the soprano and tenor sections, there should be no wilting or decaying of sound in the notes of their upper register. Both choral sections should sing as if the piece is effortless for them to sing, especially the sopranos floating up on those high notes in the stratosphere. And of course the Choral Finale is usually ruined for me by what sounds like a train wreck when the vocal soloist-screamers wind up and, well, most unfortunately mistake screaming for singing beautifully, musically and with artistry.

Apparently, somewhere along the way, screaming with heavy-vibrato — to hide flat singing/pitch problems — became popular and a fad and it has stuck. I’d like to ask some of these vocal soloist-screamers: Why are you singing flat, or can you not hear that you are? Your concert management and you are receiving generous salaries for you to sing flat and give an inferior performance. But of course the conductor won’t say a word of criticism to “god” you, because you’re the “god” soloist. If anything, he will gush over you, especially if you’re a female. Have you had no advanced ear training in a Conservatory or School of Music? The screamer might say: Well, I can’t hear the Orchestra. I would respond: Even though you’re standing right in front of them? Well maybe, just maybe if you toned it down and stopped screaming and actively listened to the Orchestra you would be able to hear them and correct your pitch problems. Where did you train? How did you get where you are? Who’s posterior did you have to eat to get where you are? I know what your bio/résumé says. Is all of that true or is some of it made up and you think no one will notice?1 Try listening to the Orchestra and not make it all about you as if this performance is your own personal recital. (roll eyes). Chau.—el barrio rosa

——————

1 That reminded me of a bio I read recently of an organist who claimed to have been either Organist or Assistant Organist at Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia. I thought: Really? How’s that? That’s news to me. I’ve never seen him there and nothing came up about that from my search about him. I think he made it up thinking no one notice but that it would look good on his bio. Or maybe he filled in for Benjamin or George on one odd Sunday, but usually something that small wouldn’t go on the bio. (Related: Washington National Cathedral Organist Thomas Sheehan).

Händel – Israel in Egypt – Early Music Vancouver

Israel in Egypt, known as the oratorio of choruses, for Double Chorus.

Hola a todos. In video format, it’s hard to find a good performance of Händel’s Israel in Egypt, and there aren’t that many performances where everything is just right/polished especially from a choral perspective — since an oratorio is a symphonic choral work — but this performance below from Early Music Vancouver comes the closest to being ideal, even though it’s not quite a complete performance and they left out one of my favourite choruses (“The Lord Hath Given Strength Unto His People”). I watched other performances on U-toob and keep coming back to this one.

It also depends upon which version is being performed, either the 1739 or the 1756 version or a combination of the two, give or take this part or that part. There’s quite a bit of history about the piece:

Frankly speaking, Israel in Egypt (IiE) has been a mess of sorts following its first performance. It seems that the oratorio was not well-liked when it premiered in 1739, because those attending apparently didn’t like all of the choruses in the work. What? What’s wrong with people? Mi amigo/My friend said, “Oh so they preferred hearing screamers (he’s referring to the vocal soloists) who often mistake screaming for singing beautifully?” No one has said, but did this lack of interest and enthusiasm for the choruses in the oratorio have anything at all to do with the quality or caliber of the Chorus that performed the work for the premiere? Perhaps, but I don’t know what the state of the Choral Arts was at that time, since we don’t have any recordings from that period of music due to the obvious. Was the choral performance at that time as poor as your average podunk Church Choir? Did they have attention to detail? Were they concerned at all about perfect intonation and diction? And in the English-Anglican choral tradition, did the premiere feature a Choir of Men and Boys? Händel moved to London in 1712 which is 27 years before Israel in Egypt premiered. Nevertheless, after the first performance, Händel started changing IiE and began adding arias to it from other works to give the oratorio more solo material. IiE was originally in three parts. Then, when he revived the oratorio in 1756, he replaced the first part entirely — “The Lamentation of the Israelites” — which was mainly choral writing. Someone wrote that Händel’s audiences must have been desperately short of good taste if they couldn’t take Part I, which contained some of the composer’s very finest choral writing. Yes, there’s no accounting for good taste. Reminds me of today in the US and the decline of symphonic choral performances by major symphony orchestras. I’ll talk about that in a bit. But anyway, at that point of this revision, the oratorio became known by the second and third parts because of their thrilling-to-hear choruses. Oh so they liked those choruses? Maybe the public’s opinion of the choruses had changed by then. Part I at that point was mainly the “Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline” that Händel had changed slightly, but the public didn’t have much interest in that. Part I was mainly replaced with an Overture which he took from his oratorio Solomon along with a chorus or two, such as the chorus “Your harps and cymbals sound” for Double Chorus from Solomon. I could keep going with more details, but I’ll cut to the bottom line these days: Those listeners who want to hear something close to the original IiE, say they listen to Part III first, then Parts I and II in that order. Today, it’s the abundance of choruses that carry the work if one has a superbly-prepared Chorus, which Early Music Vancouver most assuredly is. There is no definitive version of IiE today to my knowledge. Even as the composer, I don’t know that Händel could get away with all of that swapping and trading material from one oratorio to another today with the ludicrous copyright laws we have. Today, it depends upon who performs it as to what you’ll hear. The first parts of this performance by Early Music Vancouver I had not heard before. To get even more complicated, there’s also a version of IiE arranged by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy which begins with an Organ Prelude followed by a Trumpet Overture composed by Mendelssohn. Then things get more on track with the “original” Händel version with “Nun kam ein neuer König”/”Now Came a New King.” I don’t know why Felix decided to get involved in this mess but anyway, he did and came up with his own version.

Without confusing you any more, according to the late Christopher Hogwood (Founder of the Academy of Ancient Music), he said:

“…eventually it was Parts II and III of Israel in Egypt that survived (our present day Parts I and II, which begin so awkwardly with a recitative.” So, as for a “complete version” of IiE, I guess you’d have to have both versions at-the-ready. Messiah was his tenth oratorio and that premiered in 1742.

Regarding Christopher Hogwood’s death: He died in Cambridge, England in 2014, fourteen days after he turned 73. He had recently separated from his partner, Anthony Fabian, who is a film director. How sad that he and his partner were not together when Christopher died. I read two obituaries from the UK of his death. Neither were obituaries written by the family but rather article-style obituaries written about his life as a musician, which by the way, he started out as a continuo player for Neville Marriner’s Academy and Chorus of St Martin-in-the-Fields. One obituary in The Guardian unfortunately kept both Christopher and Anthony in the closet as that publication just couldn’t bring themselves to mention his gay partner. According to them, Christopher was survived only by his sisters and brothers. Of course if Christopher had been straight, we would have read about his wife that he recently separated from as one of the survivors. The anti-gay double standards especially in obituaries. Or did they think that their readers would have a problem with their mentioning that Christopher was gay? It’s always good to cater to people’s prejudices and bigotry isn’t it? [sarcasm] And doesn’t The Guardian pretend to be “liberal” or “progressive?” I think so. Yeah well, those words have little real meaning these days. The other publication, The Telegraph, didn’t come across an anti-gay as they mentioned that Christopher had recently separated from his partner, Anthony Fabian.

As a musician, one of many ways I agree with Christopher Hogwood was that he didn’t put conductors up on a pedestal as I think many people unfortunately do. I’m not sure why people do that — brainwashing? — since conductors don’t play a note in a performance, unless they’re conducting from a keyboard. Conductors deserve the same respect as all other musicians in the performance — including the Chorus which usually gets the least respect as I think they are seen and heard by many in the audience as no different than one’s podunk Church Choir; the average person’s musically non-trained ear wouldn’t know choral excellence if they heard it! — even though no comparison can be made between the average Church Choir and a highly-skilled and well-trained Symphony Chorus. But most people have no clue of what is involved in being a chorister in an Orchestra Chorus or the audition requirements. But conductors are no different than the rest of us. I’m well aware that the Classical Music Snots, those arm-chair critics — who ruin classical music for a lot of people — worship, genuflect to and glorify and love to pretentiously name-drop the name(s) of their favourite big-named conductors. When I was in Orchestra Choruses, I didn’t see the conductor any more special than the rest of us, and most of them don’t act like they are either. They act like very humble and modest people. I’m of the opinion that conductors are over-rated, the same thing violinist Nigel Kennedy says. Christopher Hogwood recognised that his musicians often brought deep levels of understanding and experience to the Orchestra and he took the role of conductor more of that of a moderator, rather than an omnipotent authority creature at the podium. “I’m for democracy to the point of anarchy,” he once said. He felt that the idea of an autocratic conductor — I don’t like the term “maestro” as to me it sounds pretentious when, again, all of us trained musicians are equal on the performance stage — dictating performance practice to professional musicians was absolute nonsense to him. Other musical ensembles (including many not specialising in early repertoire) began to adopt a similar approach, which is good to hear.

As for Early Music Vancouver, these are all superb musicians consisting of the Festival Chorus and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. I’m not usually into vocal soloists due to their overuse and reliance on vibrato, but my favourite soloist in this performance is the countertenor who did a splendid job with his part. He has an impressive well-blended vocal range. And, in this performance the soloists come from the Double Chorus which is one of the things I’ve repeatedly stressed should be the case and have requested with symphonic choral performances, not that they’ve read anything that I’ve written about that. With some of the soloists in this performance, they used their “solo voice” when soloists and their choral/chorister voice (no noticeable vibrato) when in the Chorus which sings with a straight-tone giving them perfect intonation. The conductor in this performance is interesting to watch and he conducts from the harpsichord, which I don’t think was mic’d.

Someone usually asks if I ever performed the work I’m writing about so I’ll talk about that: I always wanted to perform Israel in Egypt, but I never had the opportunity during my years with Orchestra Choruses. But I had the vocal score at-the-ready (Editions Novello) and was prepared to perform it whenever it was announced as part of the repertoire for the next choral season when I was a chorister in Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington or Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus or the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George, Chorus Directors). This has been one of my favourite choral works for decades mainly because of all the choruses in the work.

Thinking back on it now, I didn’t get to perform several of the symphonic choral works I really wanted to do, such as Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah. Well, we performed that at the Conservatory where I trained and I served as rehearsal piano accompanist for that, but I wanted to perform it with a major Orchestra Chorus in the Kennedy Center or in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. But that didn’t happen, and that’s the way that goes sometimes. I also didn’t have the opportunity to perform another favourite which I was also prepared for, Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton. A chorister can be waiting around for years waiting for one of their favourite choral works to come along again in the repertoire and finally be selected by the Chorus Director or orchestral management. Or, one will hear from other choristers, “We just did that a couple of seasons ago.” Translation: So we won’t be doing it again soon (for maybe 5-10 years). With the exception of course being the — what has become — ubiquitous and perfunctory performances of Händel’s Messiah as well as Beethoven’s Ninth. The latter ends every season at the Tanglewood Music Festival.

As for other symphonic choral works I always wanted to do, we performed Beethoven’s Ninth when I was a chorister with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and also the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. I believe the Orchestra for the Kennedy Center performance was the National Symphony Orchestra if my memory serves correctly. I would love to have sung the Ninth with the University of Maryland Chorus — they owned that piece — it was their signature piece so much so that The Maryland Chorus, as they were also known, was invited to perform the Beethoven over 38 times over the decades with the Kennedy Center’s resident Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and touring national and international orchestras during their legacy. I don’t know that any other Orchestra Chorus can say that about that piece. Here’s one of their reviews of their performance, you might be interested in reading:

National Symphony Orchestra and the University of Maryland Chorus

“…an excellent performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was presented to an overflow audience Saturday night at Wolf Trap. This excellence, however, was a last-minute development, and primary credit goes not to the National Symphony, which was the orchestra for the occasion, but to the University of Maryland Chorus, which came to the orchestra’s rescue. The Chorus—one of the best—celebrated its 20th anniversary and its 36th Beethoven Ninth by singing the final movement as well as I have ever heard it sung, live or on records.”
Source: The Washington Post Classical Music Reviewer: Joseph McLellan

Yes, the superb University of Maryland Chorus always “stole the show” when I heard them perform Beethoven’s Ninth on a couple occasions. They brought chills up and down my spine and tears to my eyes — they were amazing — when of heard their absolute choral excellence, once at Wolf Trap (a choreographed version with the Maurice Béjart Ballet) and in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Unfortunately, the Ninth was not part of our repertoire the season I sang with The Maryland Chorus. Wouldn’t you know it!

Maryland Händel Festival (MHF), 1981 – 2001
Official Chorus: University of Maryland Chorus
Official Orchestra: Smithsonian Chamber Players

After I left the District of Columbia and moved to San Francisco, about eight years later the University of Maryland Chorus and Smithsonian Chamber Players performed Israel in Egypt at the University of Maryland as part of the annual Maryland Händel Festival (MHF) which was founded and led by Dr Paul Traver, one of the finest choral clinicians around in his day. Dr Traver founded the Maryland Händel Festival in 1981 and the Festival ended in May of 2001 with the University of Maryland Chorus’s performance of Jephtha. As I’ve written before, Dr Traver was one of two Chorus Directors who left the most lasting impression on me. A wonderful musician and human being. I will always fondly remember him. He was so down-to-Earth despite all of his accomplishments, especially with The Maryland Chorus (as they were also known).

With the MHF, which was at the College Park campus (the same campus as with the University of Maryland Chorus), Dr Traver’s goal — which he accomplished — was to perform all of the Händel oratorios in the order in which they were composed and as Händel first presented them. One of the goals of the MHF was “to focus attention on the unjustly neglected musical masterpieces.” Händel composed 27 oratorios (that includes revisions to a couple of them), so the boy was busy composing you could say. Well, there were no phones in Händel’s day for him to become addicted to or distracted by, fortunately. So he got something worthwhile accomplished in his life, as opposed to wasting his life endlessly texting on a phone as most people do today. How many people of his caliber are there these days? (Silence.)

That’s one of my complaints about that warhorse Messiah being dragged out every holiday season on cue at the neglect of other so many beautiful symphonic choral works. Can we please give this oratorio a rest? No, I’m afraid not. That’s not going to happen because the sheeple need their traditional fix of Messiah per tradition and I suspect that’s the main reason it continues to be dragged out every holiday season during Advent. It’s rarely performed during the Twelve Days of Navidad/Christmas (25 December through 5 January). It predictably brings in dinero/money whereas other symphonic choral works would not most likely. And by the way, the oratorio is called Messiah, not The Messiah. That mistake has been made now for decades by some people who don’t know any better, including some recording companies and a few music publishers. I won’t name names. But no, there’s no “The” in the title as you can see on this vocal score: Here is a picture of the Editions Novello authentic performance edition vocal score used by respected Orchestra Choruses. Give it time to load, por favor/please.

The last I heard and I think it’s now more true than it was, especially here in the US, we’re down to only three symphonic choral works that the public-sheeple will support: The perfunctory Händel’s Messiah in December, Beethoven’s Ninth and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. That’s it. Oratorios and other symphonic choral works? They’re now relegated to history and dusty archival library shelves. Retired, in basic language. Instead, the public’s addiction-interest and distraction today is all about: “Where’s my phone?” screamed in panic-stricken mode and on the verge of having a stroke. “Why did you forget to charge my phone?! It’s my entire life. Without my phone, I’m nothing; I can’t live or exist.” Yes, that’s about the extent of it. Pathetic really. Yes, these days one’s dopamine-inducing phone is like the adult pacifier, isn’t it? It’s a person’s entire life. Their only friend in the world in some cases. That addiction is right up there with their other addictions: coffee and cigarettes, and often they have all three addictions going at the same time with two hands. One wonders if evolution will lead to humans growing a third arm/hand? But hopefully these lobotomised phone zombies with no life of their own are considerate enough of others to turn that phone off before a performance of Händel’s Israel in Egypt. Although they weren’t performing IiE, I read that conductor Gustavo Dudamel stopped a performance of the Los Ángeles Philharmonic because someone’s phone addiction was disturbing their performance. Using my search engine, I found that other conductors have stopped performances due to people’s phone addiction disturbing the performance. What pathetic people that cannot be without that phone. Culo. They need to see psychological help for their addiction, but of course they won’t because most refuse to admit they have an addiction in the first place. It’s called Denial. Then those who do admit they have the addiction, find it funny and just laugh it off. They don’t possess the maturity to realise it’s a serious addiction.

Mi amigo/My friend watched this performance by Early Music Vancouver with me and he was fascinated with parts of the text, such as in the chorus, “He Spake The Word” — and as I told him: there is no US “r” sound in the word “Word”; in other words all the text should be pronounced in British/Queen’s English — with “flies and lice” where one can hear the flies buzzing around in the music texture played by the first violin section when the Chorus sings that text each time. He also liked the “fire mingled with the hail” and “the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” He was fascinated by a horse and his rider being thrown into the sea. This is some wild stuff we’re talking about here! Well, there’s a lot of wild stuff and violence in that bible.

This is not at all a criticism, but I might have added a couple more sopranos to each Chorus so that they had more than 3 sopranos for each Chorus. That’s a bit thin for a soprano section although their soprano section performed admirably. From watching them, they had 3 choristers in most sections. And a countertenor in each of the alto sections.

As you’ll see the Chorus is split because this is an oratorio for Double Chorus where one Chorus often answers the other. Listen for that. The cameras also often show the viewer which Chorus is singing at the moment and then flips over to the other Chorus.

I wanted to hear other performances by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the Festival Chorus, but unfortunately, the last time I checked according to their U-toob channel they haven’t performed anything together since, at least that they’ve uploaded to U-toob. That’s a shame. Such highly talented and superb musicians It’s almost as if this performance were a one-time thing for this Chorus. Most, if not all, of the choristers are professional singers and by that I mean they come from artist management companies. I didn’t take the time to check each one but of the names I checked from their credits at the end of the video, they list an artist management site as their contact information, such as one of the superb tenors Jacques-Olivier Chartier. He has a lovely soloist voice too. I suspect this was a one-time thing because — I’ll take a guess — all the chorister musicians and orchestral musicians were paid, and that can be very expensive when one is dealing with artist management and their fees. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Here’s their performance:

Related:

What happened to the renowned University of Maryland Chorus?

BSO and the University of Maryland Concert Choir perform Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45

Is it Chorus or chorus?

The Second Class Musicians

Iran: Tehran Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Orff and Rachmaninov

Hola a todos. At least with thinking people and one who is not prejudiced by someone’s nationality or ethnicity, I think this performance of the Rachmaninov Second (Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor) by the excellent Tehran Symphony Orchestra and its excellent Iranian guest piano soloist — whose name is not listed, although one or two commenters said his name is Amir Mahyar Moradi, but I can’t confirm that — should put to rest the myth that “only Russians can play Rachmaninov.” I’m always annoyed when I read that very outdated rubbish in YT comments. Although I don’t remember ever reading “only Germans can play Bach.” I have read, “leave French music to the French” which is just as ludicrous as the Russian myth. But unfortunately there are some fossils living among us who still hold to that “Dark Ages” nationalistic thinking. I think it’s the same crowd that engage in conductor worshipping and name-dropping of big-name conductors, when in reality the conductor in a performance doesn’t play a note unless he’s (usually it’s a guy) conducting from a keyboard. (Related: Dudamel does it best! No, Bernstein! No, Solti! No, Karajan!)

Some years ago I gave a solo piano recital where I played works of Scarlatti, Poulenc, Herbert Howells, Rachmaninov and one or two other composers. Some people came to me afterwards and asked, “How did you do that? How did you play pieces from composers of different nationalities all on one programme?” I must have had a “What are you talking about?” confused look on my face in response. I didn’t know how to respond to their questions because I had given no thought to it at all! I just wanted a varied programme, but mostly focusing on Rachmaninov and the two sets of his Études-Tableaux. They’re beautiful pieces. I also didn’t want to play what “everybody else plays,” which was some piece by Chopin had to be on any programme. But these people who came to hear me were obviously of a mentality that “only [fill in nationality of pianist] can play music of [his country's name]. Astounding really that such a mentality still exists to this day.

The fact is: Music is the international language and crosses all people-made geographic borders. One does not need to “leave Russian or French music to the Russians or French” when other nationalities can play it just as well if not better. Where one was born or lives has little to do with how well one performs a piece of music. Instead, it has to do with many other factors, such as talent — which cannot be taught — being one of them. Cultural differences do play a part, and the example I often use of that is how Rachmaninov was heavily influenced by Russian Orthodox Church bells, so much so that he wrote a symphonic choral work he titled: “Колокола, Kolokola” (English translation: The Bells).

The Russian School of Piano Playing does have this (undeserved?) reputation for producing “banging” pianists. Well that is a generalisation, because I’ve heard many Russian pianists. Some “bang” at times where others don’t, and it can also depend upon what they’re playing. And “banging” is not limited to Russian pianists. The best performance, in my opinion, of the Rachmaninov Third is not by a Russian pianist but by a Braziliana: Cristina Ortiz who was born in Brazil but has lived most of her life en Londres/in London and who won the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1969 plays a very musical, unique — she plays parts of both cadenzas — and non-banging Rachmaninov Third which you can hear here. Recently, I heard a well-known Russian pianist “bang” his way through the third movement of the Rachmaninov Third. I thought he was going to break some strings. He was even lifting his hands so high above where the music rack would be if he were using his score slapping the keys. Needless theatrics.

By the way, Iran is pronounced “E-rahn,” and not “I ran” the way many culturally-ignorant people in the US pronounce it. I think they learned it wrong from the US corporate media who thoroughly enjoy mispronouncing words of international languages. They seem quite proud and find it funny when they mangle any world language that is not their precious US-English and the only language they speak or often slur through in some cases. The same goes for most US politicians, and other people before network cameras. I remember when Whoopi Goldberg seemed to find it funny when she mangled the pronunciation of Univisión, the major español language network. The woman couldn’t pronounce it. It was obvious she hadn’t prepared and found humour in that. The typical embarrassing USian. They find humour in their willful-ignorance. One of the major complaints that I’ve read repeatedly from los Latinos/Hispanos about the English language corporate media in Los Ángeles, for example, is how those networks enjoy and seem to take great pride in mangling español language words, which deeply disrespects their large Latino, Hispano, mexicano, Chicano (et al) audience.

Iran’s capital city, Tehran, is a beautiful, very modern city with a population of about 9 million people in the City of Tehran and 16 million people in the greater Tehran Metropolitan Area. Related: Tehran, the biggest city in the Middle East with a metro population of around 16 Million, also one of the biggest cities in the world.

Los Ángeles came to my mind while watching the tour of the Tehran video below. Tehran has a very nice and modern Metro (subway system), nicer than some Metros here in the US (it’s nicer than San Francisco’s, although we have received some new and very nice Metro cars lately to replace the ageing cars). Modern Life: 65 New Passenger cars added to Tehran subway system. And Mayor of Belgrade visit Tehran’s modern Metro system. Also: Modern Life (Home Page). Lovely, friendly people live there. I don’t see any homeless people in Tehran so apparently they take care of their people, unlike the US which chooses to treat homeless people like basura while the US pretends to be “A Christian Nation” — yet another myth — because its domestic and international policies as the world bully, world police force and world military are the exact opposite of what we know about the life and teachings of Jesus from learned historians.

I enjoyed these excerpts of the performances from the Tehran Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In 2015, they performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (“Choral”), just to give one example of their repertoire for Orchestra and Chorus.

The TSO was founded in 1933 and many notable musicians, such as Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern played with the Orchestra in their day.

In the first video below, pianist Amir Mahyar Moradi (presumably) is playing the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra (TSO) in this excerpt of his performance below.

The TSO use the Bösendorfer piano, considered by many to be the finest pianos en el mundo/in the world and even better than the Steinway & Sons pianos (New York or Hamburg). Their Bösendorfer has a beautiful sound. They’re very expensive pianos — handcrafted in Austria — they sell for between US$256,000 and $560,000. For this performance the TSO uses the European seating arrangement with the violins seated on both sides of the orchestra and cellos seated inside the Orchestra.

I read an article from a tourist from los Estados Unidos/the US now living in Tehran who has spent 3 years there. He loves Tehran and spoke about the anti-Tehran lies, disinformation and propaganda constantly fed to the US and world public about Tehran. He said that Tehran is a very safe city without exceptions and the people are very friendly. There’s also very few Western tourists there. He said there’s probably approximately five in the entire country.

Also assisting for their performance (below) of the final chorus from Carl Orff’s symphonic choral cantata, Carmina Burana, was the Tehran Symphony Chorus. They’re quite good. The Orff is in Latin, so the Chorus Director (unfortunately I don’t know his or her name to acknowledge him or her) must have brought in a language coach — as credible Orchestra Chorus Directors usually do — for the training of the text/diction. Their diction was clear. The languages of Iran are (and note that Latin is not one of them):

Persian: 53% of the population
Azerbaijani and other Turkic dialects: 18%
Kurdish: 10%
Gilaki and Mazandarani: 7%
Luri: 6%
Arabic: 2%
Balochi: 2%
Other languages: comprise 1%, and they include Tati, Talysh, Georgian, Armenian, Circassian, Assyrian, Hebrew, and others.

Yet many people born in the US struggle to speak just one language (US-English) correctly. Pathetic really, while they hallucinate about their supposed “greatest country” myth and other US-nationalistic ugliness promoted by corporate parasitic politicians from both partisan cults, dutifully supported in lockstep by their partisan-brainwashed disciples.

I used the title for this article because I wanted to credit the Tehran Symphony Chorus, even though they don’t perform in the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor, of course. And since someone usually asks, yes, I played the Rachmaninov Second — which I learned on my own during Summer breaks from the Conservatory — although unfortunately I never played it with an Orchestra. I would love to have done that. Well isn’t that one of the main reasons why we musicians learn concerti so that we can perform with an Orchestra? I think so. I played it with one of my piano professors at the Conservatory (two pianos, he played the secondo). But that’s not the same experience as with an Orchestra. For those who don’t know, concerto opportunities are indeed rare unless one is a concertising artist with artist management (which I’m not). Generally speaking, concerto opportunities — for those without artist management — diminish the older one gets, with the cut-off point being around age 30, I think. Orchestras often like to feature young “Rising Star” artists to “wow the audience” or (what I call) the latest “fad artist.” Concertising sounds glamorous to some, but after some time doing it, many concert artist find it very unappealing, and even come to dread having to get on a plane and jet off to some location to perform dealing with time zone differences and jet lag, lack of sleep and not in one’s own bed at home. They mainly do it for the dinero/money, I think at that point. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

Asked to ban female musicians, Tehran Symphony Orchestra cancels performance:
“The authorities had pointed out that the female performers were not wearing appropriate hijab (head covering)…The women musicians were going to perform the country’s national anthem. Why shouldn’t they? I have said many times that I was born in this country and I know very well where the red lines are. As long as I’m the director of this orchestra, I will not allow this kind of treatment,” he [the orchestra's artistic director Ali Rahbari] added.

Iran defends the execution of LGBT queer people.
The same goes for the strong US ally sacrosanct Saudi Arabia. For your search engine: 27 April 2019: “Five men beheaded by Saudi Arabia were gay according to ‘confessions extracted under torture’.
Lovely company the US keeps. Also, speaking of Saudi Arabia:

20 June 2019: So unlike them and surprisingly, the ultra-conservative US Senate passed 22 measures aimed at blocking White House plans for $8.1 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, setting up a veto showdown with the current White House resident.
Now let’s be honest: Wouldn’t he just prefer to dissolve Congress — the House and Senate — and get on with his true intentions and agenda? I should think so.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers to Iran
“Barbaric laws aside, there is no reason why gay and lesbian travellers shouldn’t visit Iran. There are no questions of sexuality on visa application forms. Do, however, refrain from overt acts of affection.”

Here’s the Tehran Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the final movement of the Orff:

In this video, notice the modern traffic signals that let motorists know how many seconds remain before the light changes, for both red and green lights. We don’t have that in San Francisco and I’ve not seen that anywhere in the US, the so-called “greatest country.” (LOL, oh how we do so love to pump ourselves up to try to make ourselves feel superior to other genuinely great countries around the world).

I enjoyed this video recorded on their Metro (their Metro is well used which is good to see), although I would have preferred different music more authentic to the region:

A nice segment about the Metro and about the Persian food in this video. Someone was having jugo de zanahoria/carrot juice, like I make most days. Now that’s real food as opposed to coffee — nothing nutritious about that — that the typical USian would likely be ordering. Those stuffed bell peppers look good to me. Are they vegetarian?

Assuming Amir Mahyar Moradi is the pianist in the first video above, he has performed the Rachmaninov Second with the TSO more than once as you can see in these videos:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Has Iran ever attacked another country unprovoked?
“Iran has not invaded any countries in the past 200 years since the establishment of Qajar dynasty. This is despite the fact that Iran is more than a match for most of its neighbors….Iran believes in soft power and will try to influence countries in the region through other than military means. Iran’s defense doctrine states that this type of influence is more effective in protecting Iran against hostile neighbors or external powers stationed within them.” The same cannot be said about the US, can it? The US is the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons on a civilian population. With their massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, they have the hypocrisy to dictate to other sovereign nations what arsenals they can and cannot have. The Empire makes a hobby out of invading and bullying sovereign nations.

el 7 de julio de 2019: And how hypocritical to hear the insane, demented and bloviating current White House resident lecture Iran that they will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, considering the huge stockpile of nuclear weapons that the US has, and the US is the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons on a civilian population. When might we expect the US to get rid of their stockpile before they go lecturing other nations? I oppose all nuclear weapons. I’m merely pointing out the blatant hypocrisy, which is so typical of the US with their arrogant, “Do as we say, not as we do; it’s all right for us but not for you” septic mentality. But this guy campaigned as a “non-interventionist” and “not part of the swamp” when he’s been the opposite. I asked some of Mr Non-Interventionist Intervenionist’s rabid disciples how they justify their messiah rubbing shoulders with, shaking hands and getting cozy with non-white world leaders around the world since many if not most of his rabid disciples are white supremacists/anti-ethnic, sexist and of a Male Patriarchy mentality and very proud of all of that. I explained that I had read probably thousands of comments online from his supporters and so I asked how they justify Mr White Supremacist hanging out with people of various ethnic backgrounds? Can you predict their response? No one would answer the question but as expected attacked me for asking it, saying that my comment was based on “fake news.” No, it has nothing to do with “fake news.” The comments I was talking about were written by his supporters on message forums. I got nothing from the news or “fake news.” So, I realised very quickly that the bottom line with these insipid people is that whatever he does is perfectly fine with them as long as he continues to tell them what they want and expect to hear from him: Hate and banks of lies. They still support him. They consider him meeting with Asian and Middle Eastern leaders as part of the job. It’s just that they refuse to talk about the things they don’t like that he does. Well that’s the same thing that the Obamabots did with their messiah Obama. These two cults share the same tactics and mentality. They’re just differently named cults based in blind brainwashed partisan faith and allegiance. As I wrote during his first campaign, the two mentalities are the same. I just wanted to update about that. Now, no more politics due to my blood pressure readings.

Violinist Florin Iliescu (First Concertmaster of hr-sinfonieorchester)

Update to this article: Last month (May 2019), violinist Gil Shaham asked Florin to join him in his encore by Jean-Marie Leclair l’aîné (1697 – 1764). How nice! They played the Gavotte from the Sonata in e minor, Op. 3, which you can watch in the second video below. Very pleased that hr-sinfonieorchester uploaded that video so we could enjoy it. Danke. As usual, Florin was most humble and modest after playing superbly, as did Gil.

Hola a todos. There are two violinists in my favourite Orchestra, hr-sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony), that I pay special attention to and one of them is Florin Iliescu.

I affectionally refer to Florin as “the kid” because even though he’s 35 years old as of this writing (born in 1984), he looks like he’s in his early 20s right out of high school. And it’s wonderful and quite the accomplishment to see someone that young as First Concertmaster, first in line to the conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, in a renowned and highly-regarded symphony orchestra like hr-sinfonieorchester. Rather unusual, I think. I’m very glad to see that. In other performances in the past he’s been Second Concertmaster. Those positioned were not given to him. Florin auditioned for those chairs and he was chosen after successfully passing the audition for First Concertmaster of hr-sinfonieorchester.

During the bows at the end of a performance, all members of the Orchestra have to watch “the kid” — the guy who looks like the youngest musician in the Orchestra — to see when to sit because the First Concertmaster determines that after the Orchestra stands to be recognised for their “bows.” (Orchestral musicians don’t technically bow. They just stand facing the audience.) At the end of a performance, both the conductor and soloist (if there is a soloist) walk over to the First Concertmaster — the primary representative of the Orchestra — and shake his hand, which is a way of acknowledging and thanking the Orchestra for their performance. They also hopefully shake the hand of the Second Concertmaster. I say “hopefully” because I’ve noticed that some soloists fail to do so; maybe they don’t know that the Orchestra they’re performing with has two Concertmasters. Their concert manager should tell them that before their performance, or they could look it up themselves just as I did.

So congratulations to Florin for his many accomplishments and his stellar musicianship. Yes, he plays beautifully. I noticed that he really makes his violin “sing” like the human voice, like a singer. The finest pianists are trained to make the piano “sing” and soar like a singer and to play with a lovely singing tone. The same thing Florin does on the violin. I’ve heard some judges of international piano competitions say that they will take a lovely singing tone over speed any day. Oh absolutely, I agree. I’m not really that impressed by speed. And there’s an art to producing a lovely singing tone on one’s instrument to have one’s instrument “sing.” Florin also seems to be very mature for his age. Well, he wouldn’t be where he is if he weren’t mature. And when he takes his bows in this performance below as well as in the Orchestra, he’s the true artist: He smiles and acts very humble and modest as if saying, “Oh it was nothing, no big deal, but thank you.”

I’m not big on applause and especially 15-30 minutes of nonstop applause and bows. You know what I’m talking about. The routine where the conductor and soloist(s) walk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on and off the stage from the podium area to the stage door where the soloist(s) and or conductor enter and immediately turn around and come back out returning to the stage. It looks so silly. Why not just stay out there on stage and bow occasionally until the audience gets tired of applauding? A brief and polite applause is sufficient, you don’t have to keep going on and on with it. I think we all got the point that you liked it. But that’s one of the silly traditions of the classical music field, which also carries over into other music genres. Regarding applause, I was pleased to see the Orchestra and Chorus of Collegium 1704 of the Czech Republic take a different approach. They — either their conductor, Václav Luks, or the First Concertmaster — decide when enough is enough with the applause. After a sufficient amount of applause and any encore they choose to do and the performers’ show of appreciation, all musicians walk off the stage signaling to the audience that it’s time to leave now. I think that’s a better way of doing it rather than leaving applause up to the audience who often don’t know when to stop.

Here’s a little bit about Florin’s background: He’s a son of musicians and he was born in Bucharest in 1984. He began playing the violin at the age of five. That’s very familiar. That’s often the age that professionally-trained and concertising career musicians begin playing their major instrument. Florin studied at the University of Music Lübeck. At the age of 19 he had his first orchestral performance as Deputy Concertmaster with the Lübeck Philharmonic. And since 2018, he has been the First Concertmaster of hr-sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt, Deutschland.

Florin plays a Gand & Bernardel Violin (it’s a French violin) from the 19th century which I found interesting, and his technique and musicality have been influenced by many internationally-distinguished violinists.

I wanted to hear him play some solo repertoire because when he’s in the Orchestra you can’t hear him play alone as he blends in with all the other superb strings and their perfect intonation of this stellar Orchestra. I’d like to see Florin (as well as Maximilian Junghanns) featured in a violin concerto with hr-sinfonieorchester. Can someone arrange that? Andrés, how about you? Could you kindly do that for us? You don’t have anything else to do, correct? I’m just playing with Andrés and being sarcastic of course because he is quite busy. He’s also the Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in the US state of Texas but he lives in Austria, which is quite a commute for him at 13 hours and 40 minutes from Vienna. And there’s an eight hour (the average) commute for him from Vienna to Frankfurt if he goes by train or roughly 1.5 hours by plane. There’s a lot of travel time there. That must get tiring, which is one of the complaints of concertising musicians. It’s not all glamour.

Some of the hr-sinfonieorchester musicians have performed a concerto with the Orchestra. One of their principal flautists, superb Clara Andrada de la Calle, played a couple of flute concerti with the Orchestra awhile back. She’s also principal flautist with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

The other violinist I watch closely is Florin’s colleague and perhaps they’re friends, Maximilian Junghanns, who is now Second Concertmaster (so Florin and Maximilian sit next to each other, for those who don’t know how this works). Maximilian is usually back on the third row in many of the performances I’ve seen, but he seems to move around occasionally. But he’s for another article.

Here is Florin’s stellar playing in part of a piece by Brahms, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A. He’s playing the second and third movements in the video below. This performance is from the 5 November 2016 International Music Festival St. Blasien. Florin’s piano accompanist was Irina Vinogradova. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

Kissing the hand of the Female Concertmaster

Hola a todos. Whether or not you agree with the #MeToo movement that has been going on since October 2017 — and I’m merely using that as point of reference — one has to wonder how out-of-touch a person has to be to not know that it’s not wise to uninvitedly kiss or touch a woman (especially a woman you don’t know) in any way other than with a brief handshake, because she can interpret the behaviour as a form of sexual harassment or sexual assault, which in some cases it can be. Or, she can interpret it as a form of sexual interest, which in some cases it is.

So at the end of a performance when I saw conductor Paul McCreesh walk over to the First Concertmaster (a female) and shake her hand, then he held her hand and kissed it, I thought: Why the kissing of her hand, Paul? Living back in the 1800s, are you? Just because the composer whose work you just conducted (Franz Schubert) lived between 1797–1828, doesn’t mean that as part of the concert you have to demonstrate the chivalry of that time. And if the First Concertmaster were a guy, Paul wouldn’t have kissed his hand because we all know how that would look, don’t we? And we can’t have that now, can we? As we head back to the 1930-40s in many ways?! Paul didn’t shake or kiss the hand of the Second Concertmaster who was also a female. Or maybe this Orchestra only has one Concertmaster, and the second chair violist is referred to as such and not Second Concertmaster. There’s also a salary difference between the two positions, I think. But assuming they have two Concertmasters, only the First Concertmaster received a kiss, at which time she looked giddy and looked like she started to melt inside “because a guy had kissed her hand! What did this mean?” Yet another example of females getting all emotional just because some guy has kissed her hand. Note to females: In many cases, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an empty gesture. No need to interpret it differently than it was meant. Then, it got more curious. The camera showed a close-up of her face 2-3 times after that and she looked like she was thinking about “the kiss.” Any other time, a close-up of the Concertmaster’s face is not shown. So apparently production was also interested in how “the kiss” affected her emotionally and wanted to spend some time on that. Were they thinking of interviewing her about “the kiss” and what it meant to her? (Sigh.) When the cameras pulled back, we saw the two women (First and Second Concertmasters) sitting there chatting with each other which is a bit unusual — other than one or two words between musicians — because it was still the bows and applause time and not a time for chatting between musicians. Were they chatting about “the kiss?” Well, Paul’s gesture evidently left a lasting impression on her — she may still be thinking/talking about it two years later!; the performance was in 2017 — even though his gesture looked very outdated, sexist and chauvinistic and based in an increasing mindset of Male Patriarchy where a female is considered second and subservient to the male. But I’m seeing more and more of this.

Seeing this kissing scene reminded me of when I saw conductor Herbert Blomstedt slobber over the female vocal soloist heavy-vibrato screamer after a performance. If I’m remembering correctly, for her bow she couldn’t just bow like anybody else. No, she felt she needed to engage in an outdated curtsy to the audience as if Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were in attendance (even though she wasn’t). Was the curtsy intended to generate more applause for Ms Soprano Screamer? I suspect so, with the audience thinking, “Oh wow, she gave us a curtsy, let’s give her a big applause for that.” Well, I guess if one’s performance won’t generate a big applause, maybe the curtsy will. Maybe that’s the thinking: “I’ll get a big applause on this stage one way or the other!” A curtsy is also a gesture of one’s inferiority mindset that the person or people you’re curtsying to are your superiors or are of a higher social standing. Of course Herbert B. didn’t kiss the male soloist on the cheek standing to his right in the same performance. Just the female screamer. Didn’t the male soloist perform as well as the female, Herbert, in your opinion? If so, why only kiss her? I suspect Herbert would say, “Well you know how that would look, and we can’t have that!” No, of course not, Herbert, we can’t have that! What would the world think? [sarcasm intended]

Seeing “the kiss” also reminded me of when I saw conductor James Conlon kiss the female piano soloist on the cheek who had just played the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 in d, Op. 30 at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. His kissing gesture also looked outdated and of another generation. The Victorian Era comes to mind. And of course if the piano soloist had been a guy there would have been no kiss. Period.

The classical music tradition has so many double-standards. Don’t let me get started on that! And I really didn’t think about these double-standards until after I graduated from the Conservatory where I trained, and I began performing more. The double-standards are too many to list, but I’ll list one that comes to mind: It’s considered acceptable for a pianist to use his/her score with a page turner in chamber music (in a Piano Trio, Piano Quartet, Piano Quintet). But when playing a Piano Concerto (with a large group of musicians called an Orchestra), a pianist is not supposed to use his/her score. Well why not? What difference does it make whether you have 4 other musicians playing with you or 75-100 musicians playing with you. They are all using their scores, of course, and I understand the necessity for orchestral players needing to use their scores. Even though pianists play far more notes than orchestral musicians. Think: Rachmaninov’s signature thick chords in his extremely difficult piano works. I’m specifically thinking of his piano concerti and the two sets of his Études-Tableaux. And according to tradition, why does the number of musicians performing with a pianist determine or make the difference (chamber music versus orchestral) as to whether the pianist is allowed to use his/her score or not? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And what idiot dreamed up that ludicrous thinking? Was that god Franz Liszt? He seems to have been responsible for some of these other ridiculous traditions we have today. Of course the boy could play — no one is disputing that — but we don’t need to take this to the extreme and demand from on high that all classically-trained pianists worldwide must follow what Saint Liszt did back in 1811-1886. Liszt was unique and not everyone has his abilities nor should they be forced to emulate him and look like cookie-cutter pianists born out of the Liszt womb. Everyone is different.

As the pendulum swings, feminism is on its way out — well it’s mostly dead now from what I see — and the mindset of Male Patriarchy is making a rapid comeback.

Bouquets of Flowers Strip Male Conductors of their Masculinity

There’s also another sexist behaviour I’m seeing regularly at the end of performances and that’s when male conductors give their bouquet of flowers that’s given to them at the end of a performance to a female in the Orchestra rather than to one of the male musicians. Didn’t the male orchestral players perform as well as the female orchestral players, Mr Conductor? They did to my ear.

To begin with, the conductor should keep his flowers since they were a gift to him presumably from orchestral management for his performance. Does he give other gifts away that he receives? And only to females? But most male conductors seem to think that an innocent bouquet of flowers strips him of his masculinity — I didn’t know that flowers had so much power, did you? — so as not to appear as if he is a “sissy” standing there holding his flowers, the male conductors quickly give their flower bouquet to one of the females in the Orchestra. The thinking seems to be that guys or “real men” don’t like flowers. Really? Flowers are only for females? That’s a new one. Gee, we’ve made so much progress, haven’t we? That’s as ridiculous as “guys shouldn’t wear pink.” Note to male conductors: Flowers are merely a flowering plant. I can think of other flowering plants that guys are not intimidated by and in fact grow in their gardens, yards or in planters, so why are flowers any different? Some of us guys love receiving flowers. I especially like White Carnations and their aroma. Where did male conductors get brainwashed with this thinking that flowers are only for females?

“Real Men” like and appreciate flowers.

Imagine if male actors behaved the way these male conductors do. The outstandingly superb actor, Jorge Enrique Abello (JEA) — who lives in Colombia and who played the role of Armando Mendoza Sáenz in the internationally-renowned telenovela, “Betty, la Fea” — and his masculinity was not threatened in the least when, in another telenovela he starred in, he played the role of a woman and a guy. Yes, JEA played a double-role in En los tacones de Eva. That speaks to how secure JEA is with himself as a person to play the role of a woman. This behaviour one sees from many male conductors speaks to their deep insecurities and archaic gender-role issues/hang-ups.

There are many other sexist and chauvinistic male conductors who engage in the behaviour like what I’ve described, but the ones I’ve listed are the ones I remember seeing. The Classical Music Snots never have a problem with this behaviour — quite the contrary, they rush to defend it on the rare occasion anyone were to point it out, such as myself — because they are usually of the same conservative, chauvinistic and sexist mindset and also view a woman as subservient to a man. Even the female commenters hold this sexist view.

Fortunately, I don’t remember ever seen a female conductor ever kiss a male soloist, vocal or instrumental. Perhaps they do, I’ve just not seen it. Well, it’s still so very rare to see a female conductor to begin with and the only ones who readily come to mind are Marin Alsop (she’s the new Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. She is currently music director of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. The other female conductor is Emmanuelle Haïm who conducted this performance of Händel’s Dixit Dominus. She was the Chorus Director — her superbly prepared Chorus — and conducted the performance, which is rare to have the Chorus Director conduct the performance itself.

No, this sexism seems to be only engrained in male conductors.

As I said earlier, the performance with conductor Paul McCreesh was from 2017, which was when the #metoo movement was getting revved up, so one might think Paul would have been more attuned to gender issues.

Our society brainwashes men to behave in this sexist and chauvinistic way towards women. Those who favour this behaviour call it “just being polite and gracious to the little lady.” Lady? Lady? During the feminist movement females preferred to be called Women, not little ladies. (To their credit, most orchestras use the word “Women” when referring to their Chorus, such as “The Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus” when they perform alone with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, such as for their performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 3). But those who favour this behaviour see it as lovely, harmless and purely innocent. From what I’m seeing these days — now that the feminist movement is virtually dead — most women seem to welcome it too because, in part, it gives needy-her attention and she’s also fallen for the “polite and gracious little lady” brainwashing of our society. As if men should be dominant over the “dainty little lady” as she serves dutifully as his submissive pet, sex toy, trophy and property. Most women today seem to be more than happy to be compliant to that backwards sexist thinking mentality and they’re more than delighted to take on that role of him-dominant and her-submissive to the point where she’s walking one-half step behind the guy she’s with, as if not his equal. I see that frequently. Or her left or right arm is latched to one of his arms (his hand in his pocket) as if on a leash as she walks slightly behind him. Him being the dominant of course. I don’t know if it’s true but I read that Queen Elizabeth II told or urged Harry to walk ahead of Meghan (she, as his subservient, is supposed to be walking slightly behind him as he is “The Head of the House”). Men are also brainwashed to put women up on a pedestal with kisses and kissing their hand, and kissing other body parts. One wonders why Paul didn’t go all the way and get down on his knees and kiss the feet of the First Concertmaster?

It’s a form of chivalry.

From my research: A hand kiss became a gesture for chivalry when it originated during the 17th and 18th century in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Spanish courts.

But then in other commonly seen situations these days — and here are some examples — men kiss women’s hands and pull out their chairs for them in public places. Does he do this at home for her or only in public places “for show” because he thinks that’s what is expected of him per societal chauvinistic brainwashing and men’s “polite and gracious” treatment of “the little lady?” Helpless her can’t pull out her own chair? The poor thing. Yet “the little lady” has no problem at all pulling out chairs and moving them all around the room when she’s vacuuming and doing what the pro-Male Patriarchy guy would describe as “Woman’s Work.” But she never pulls out his chair for him. Why not? The guy opens doors for her. Does he do this at home for her or only in public places? She never learned to open a door? Pity. She opens doors at home when cleaning. But she never opens his door for him. Why not? Why is all of this behaviour just one-way in her favour? (Rhetorical question) But that and other sexist and chauvinistic behaviour takes place in public.

Then in private situations, it’s another matter entirely. Oh yes! For example, when among their macho, sexist and chauvinistic male friends, the guy(s) will refer to the same woman that he pulls out chairs for, opens doors for, buys dinners, flowers and candy for as “the bitch” and “the cunt.” Whoa! Rather offensive and pejorative, wouldn’t you say? He will complain about what he has to do for her and to her constantly. There would seem to be a double standard, no? Such language and complaining about his requirements in order to get the “dainty little lady” (sexually) would seem to cancel out that hand-kissing gesture of “the little lady” and all that other ridiculous female-worshipping behaviour I’ve described that guys must go through of putting “the dainty little lady” up on a pedestal any other times. I don’t know how these guys do it. I wouldn’t have the patience.

Also, I’d like to point out that the term “lady” is class-ist (a big turn-off to me) and of the aristocracy, as in Lady Diana Spencer, as one example. I think Diana — Prince Harry’s and Prince William’s mother who unfortunately died in a car crash — would be the most familiar example of “Lady” to most people.

On another topic — of a technical nature — but related to this same performance which was this piece (Schubert’s Große C-Dur-Sinfonie/Great Symphony in C major, also known as No. 9), I wondered why the First Concertmaster in that performance with Paul McCreesh conducting chose the bowing instructions that she did for particular parts of the last movement of the Schubert Symphony. All the other orchestras I’ve watched play this piece — including the excellent New England Conservatory Philharmonia (many of its musicians study with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) — bowed those passages that I’m thinking of exactly the same way. But this Orchestra conducted by McCreesh did not. All other orchestras including the superb Orchestra I’ve linked to above used downbeat bowing for the four octaves in those measures that I’m thinking of beginning in the video above at 52.04, and from there on. You first see what I’m talking about very obviously in the violas (right side of stage), then in the double basses (left side of stage) and then in the violin section and the camera shows them directly. The camera work was excellent for this performance. And I imagine the first violinists drilled those runs to play them so perfectly at 52.32 and again at 52.37 in the video. I think this would have been a fun piece to play, especially the part near the end that I’m talking about. Using down beat bowing for those four octaves looks very showy that way and, again, all of the strings including the double basses bowed it that way in all performances I’ve watched (except for the McCreesh performance). It also creates a different musical effect when bowed that way (using all down-beat bowing on the four notes in the measure), as opposed to strong (down bowing), weak (up bowing), strong (down bowing) weak (up bowing) which is how the female Concertmaster in the McCreesh performance had all the strings bow this, for some reason. One can’t say that “the kiss” affected this because the bowing instructions to the strings were issued long before “the kiss” took place! McCreesh also breezed through most of the entire symphony. The performance I’ve linked to above is a much better performance and their string section bowed it “correctly” in my opinion. It’s also a better recording.

The classical music field is very slow to change any of its outdated traditions, but really, seeing male conductors still kissing the hands (or cheek) of female Concertmasters, instrumental soloists and vocal screamers is a bit much, especially when they don’t give the guys the same “courtesy” (and that’s the word they would likely use to describe what they’re doing with the females “I’m just giving her courtesy and be courteous.”) The guys don’t deserve the same “courtesy?”

Don’t you think it’s time to end the sexism, male chauvinism and chivalry, male conductors? No, you probably don’t, and have probably never thought anything of it because it’s so engrained in the classical music culture. And because of that, I live under no illusion that it’s about to end.

The thing is, we as a culture think we’re so advanced and “light years ahead,” way beyond futuristic “Star Trek” with our tech. Then one sees these sexist archaic practises from the 1800s that speak to the opposite times of “Star Trek” and advanced tech. Although it should be pointed out that the Tech Industrial Complex — some of the major tech corporations can’t even fix their own sites despite the thousands of people they employ — is well-known for being a very sexist, ageist, Millennial, male-dominated and phone-addicted culture.

Some of us were talking yesterday here in the hallway in the Conservatory, standing outside the pipe organ practise room, they asked me what I was writing about. I said, “Kissing the hand of the Female Concertmaster.” They said they had seen that happen after performances. The organ student who was taking a brief break from working on Jehan Alain’s Litanies (one of my favourite organ works) said to me: It’s surprising that the Classical Music Snots have not found your site to comment. I said to him: Good. I’m glad they haven’t. I’ve not promoted it on any classical music sites. I would not want that crowd on this site. I’ve never personally known any musicians who act like the Classical Music Snots (CMS). That’s why I’ve referred to them as wannbe-musicians and armchair critics. As I told the Conservatory students: They, the CMS, are also among the same people who have to shove their breeder sexuality in our faces with, “My husband and I went to (such and such performance)…” or “My wife and I went to see (such and such performance)…” Is it really necessary for a commenter to tell us his/her sexual orientation as a preface to a comment they write? I should think not. You don’t need to tell me you’re a breeder and shove it in my face which one does by saying (when it’s a female commenter), “My husband and I…” I don’t care about your breeder sexual orientation in the least. I find it annoying frankly. For those who would ask: Well what would you like us to say instead? You can say: “I” or “We” and leave it at that. I don’t need for you to define “We.” Or you can say, “I went with a friend.” That’s sufficient. But announcing to us all here in the Conservatory that you’re married is immaterial to us. We don’t care, considering that the straight community can’t stand to hear the same about gay couples/partners. So why should we have to hear about breeder couples? I doubt that there are many queer boys who introduce their partner as “my husband” or “my partner” or “my boyfriend” to a straight group of people or even mention him. The guy is usually referred to as “my friend” in a neutral/platonic way to avoid any hate that comes from having mentioned his queer/gay sexual orientation. Yet straight couples shove their breeder sexuality in our faces every day in many ways and think nothing of it. The Conservatory students in the hallway insisted that what I had just told them related to this inequality — since that’s what this article is about — must be included in this article. So to honour their wishes, I’ve included my statement, and I appreciate their input. Chau.—el barrio rosa