Tag Archives: Dr Paul Traver

A Perfect Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: Cappella Amsterdam

Hola. A resident of my former home city, the District of Columbia, sent me the following e-mail which I thought I’d respond to here with his permission:

“Hola former DC resident. I was born and raised here in the District and I think we were once neighbors. You wrote somewhere that you lived in Foggy Bottom. Small world, that’s where I’ve lived most of my life. I’m writing to ask you a favor, if you don’t mind. You wrote about that memorable concert way back when of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis over at the Kennedy Center with the University of Maryland Chorus with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam. Sorry I forget the conductor’s name. You know what? I was there for that concert so I know what you’re talking about. Wow! What a performance. The memory of that evening has stayed with me all these years. I had not heard Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis before and the UMD Chorus brought tears to my eyes that night, no kidding. They gave a stunning performance. It’s depressing to think they were liquidated, some info I also learned from reading your blog. Anyhoo, do you know if those performances were recorded and how I’d go about getting a copy? Thought you might know having been in the business. Or I was wondering if you might be able to recommend a performance of the Missa Solemnis that you especially like and that may be just as good as the Maryland Chorus performance?…..is that possible? :-) I could spend hours on Youtube going through every performance on there, but I was hoping to avoid that and have you direct me to a performance you especially like. I’ve read about your orchestral choral background and know you were in the UMD Chorus and Choral Arts Society of Washington. Wow! You were at the top of your field so I know the performance you recommend would be the best which is why I thought I’d bother you by asking. Maybe you could talk a little about what was it like for you singing in the Kennedy Center and at Wolf Trap? Much appreciate it and thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail. Looking forward to hearing from you.—Kevin”

Hola Kevin, no bother at all. I love talking about music with someone as interested as yourself. I don’t get the chance to talk about music or my background — most people glaze-over and looked dis-interested; they have absolutely no interest in it — and the only time I talk about my background is on pink barrio. Other classically-trained musicians can probably relate to that. So that’s why it was refreshing and a pleasure to get your e-mail. Muchas gracias for that and for your very kind words. I appreciate that. I feel very fortunate to have accomplished what I did and to have been given those opportunities, making at least two musical goals/dreams come true. And the same goes for my membership later with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

If I remember correctly, Maryland and the Concertgebouw gave three performances of the Missa Solemnis over three consecutive nights. None of the live performances in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in those days were recorded, or recorded at all for that matter, which is something I could never understand. When I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington and later the University of Maryland Chorus there were never any microphones hanging above the Concert Hall stage to record our performances. I remember being frustrated about that because I so much wanted to have a recording of our performances. There were some really legendary performances given in those days, and they were lost as soon as the performance ended. I couldn’t understand it really because I knew that up the East Coast in Boston, WGBH-Boston was recording for PBS performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory Chorus and then later with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (not one of my favourites today, I might add), as well as the Boston Pops Orchestra from Symphony Hall in Boston. One would have thought that DC’s WGMS (known as “Washington’s Good Music Station, AM-Bethesda/FM-Washington”) would have been contracted to do the same thing and record performances from the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, but that was not the case.

To answer your question about performing at the Kennedy Center and at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts: Walking out on the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap stages for the first time was really thrilling for me, and something I had wanted to do for some time. I had just graduated from a Conservatory of Music in the area, and in part, getting to do what I wanted to do with my music. But after awhile I did burn out — which is fairly common with symphonic orchestral choristers — because of the busy/demanding performance schedule which took lots of time and none of us were paid. (Today, very few Symphony Choruses are paid. The only two I know of are the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and about 20% of the choristers of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.) In all three: the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the University of Maryland Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, I sang with some really wonderful choristers, some wonderful people and we had that bond of our shared-interest in symphonic choral music, and we became friends and often talked music when we were together. None of them were stuck on themselves or the least bit arrogant — very friendly people and most of them were Queer and we also shared that common bond — despite having the privilege and honour of being in some of the best Orchestra Choruses in the US. None of the people I knew were like — what I call — the Classical Music Snots. Those dreadful people. Aren’t they the basura who wanted to be a professional musician but didn’t possess the talent, and who were kicked out of Conservatories and Schools of Music? They serve as know-it-all armchair critics for any and all varieties of musicians. They pick at this and pick at that. Can’t stand them! I don’t like being critical of other musicians because I know what is involved for them to master their art and the “stress of performance” (especially solo performance) and the only time I’m critical of anyone is usually with a Symphony Chorus or choristers who sing with vibrato because vibrato prevents perfect intonation in a Chorus.

Before I give you my recommendation, there are a couple of stories (some chisme/gossip) connected with those performances. I’ve told them before in another article, but they’ll be new and maybe interesting to first-time readers:

During the choral season you’re talking about Kevin, I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington (CASW) and I remember Norman Scribner, the Founder/Director of the CASW, saying during one of our rehearsals, “a Chorus which shall remain nameless is performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis this week at the Kennedy Center.” He was referring to the UMD Chorus. I thought it was funny the way Norman announced it, but I later came to realise it had to do with the superb Choral Arts Society’s one-way jealousy of the superb 150-voice University of Maryland Chorus (also known as The Maryland Chorus) having so many performance engagements in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall at that time — especially with the National Symphony Orchestra (the resident orchestra of the Kennedy Center), under conductor Antal Doráti (Doráti preferred The Maryland Chorus) — and for Maryland to get this very prized engagement with the visiting Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam was very special indeed.

Then, it was either at that same rehearsal or another rehearsal that I heard some chisme/gossip. A chorister in the back row during our break was telling the choristers around him in a rather loud manner about something that had supposedly happened. He said, “Did you hear that Paul Traver stormed into the Kennedy Center and demanded that his Maryland Chorus perform with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam?” (Which they did do.) It was either for the Missa Solemnis or on another occasion for Beethoven’s Ninth, one of the signature pieces of The Maryland Chorus. They performed that many, many times over the years with (inter)national orchestras.

This was written about them on their 36th performance of the Ninth in the late 1980s:

National Symphony Orchestra & 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, Joseph McLellan

But after talking with Dr Traver, Founder and Director of the UMD Chorus, a number of years later about these performances, what I had heard at Choral Arts rehearsal was merely rumour. I asked him how Maryland got that engagement with the RCO Amsterdam. He told me that the University of Maryland Chorus had been recommended to conductor Claudio Abbado by Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Abbado had called her asking for her recommendation for a Chorus in the DC area for these Missa Solemnis performances at the Kennedy Center. She had worked with Dr Traver and The Maryland Chorus during a choral workshop at the University of Maryland at College Park, and she recommended them to Abbado. Quite nice of her.

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is one of my favourite choral works. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to perform it although I know it so well — I was prepared to perform it had one of the Orchestra Choruses I sang with programmed it — but I feel as though I did perform it, if that makes sense. Kevin, I think it’s fair to say that The MD Chorus “owned” the Missa Solemnis when you and I heard them perform it.

Like you, I remember that performance to this day. It was thrilling. I think part of the review of their performance the following day was: “Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus was glorious throughout.”—Washington Post Classical Music Reviewer.) I remember that a friend of mine who worked in the classical records store over in Georgetown remarked, “That Maryland Chorus can sing the shit out of choral music!” Yes, and their performance was equal to the one I have to recommend to you, Kevin, I’m pleased to say. My recommendation is based on the following:

1. Choral Excellence
2. Orchestral Excellence
3. The Soloists and Conductor

This Chorus, Cappella Amsterdam, reminds me of a smaller Maryland Chorus. So I recommend this performance from Amsterdam with the Cappella Amsterdam Chorus and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century conducted by Daniel Reuss (who is known as a choral director and very enjoyable to watch him conduct). This Chorus is absolutely splendid. Superbly prepared. I have nothing but positive things to say about them. The same for the orchestra.

And let me say outright here and this is specifically directed at the Classical Music Snots (CMS) who might show up here: No one needs to write a comment such as this: “The Missa Solemnis conducted by [big-name conductor] is much better than this performance that you’re recommending. It has [big-name soloists].”

Then go watch that one with the big-named conductor and big-named soloists! Go away! I don’t care what you think, pendejo. Kevin asked for my opinion, not yours. But The Classical Music Snots usually write that tripe. They love to name-drop as if it makes them look like such (self-appointed) “philosophical” snooty authorities (Dahling). They usually write in pretentious language trying to put on airs, desperate to impress somebody. From my unfortunate experience with the CMS, they are there for the soloists of the performance — as if they think this piece is opera when it’s not; it’s a Mass setting — and they couldn’t care less about the Chorus from my experience.

I’m well aware that most people are not “choral people” (I’m a choral person; it’s my background and part of my training) so even for major symphonic choral works they go on about the conductor and soloists. For a major symphonic choral work, the name of the conductor is one of the last things I look for. And that’s because with many pieces, it doesn’t matter who the conductor is they all sound roughly the same; they’re using the same scores. (With some of the finest orchestras, they play without a conductor). I’m not into dropping the name of big-name/international conductor to try to pump myself up like the Classical Music Snot trash do. I can’t stand them. They ruin classical music for so many people because of their pretentiousness, their snootiness and having to nit-pick other musician’s performances to death as if waiting for them to make a mistake, often critiquing them measure-by-measure. Find yourself a new hobby (maybe flower arranging), los pendejos! I’ve listened to some of the performances they’ve (Classical Music Snots) recommended and would have written them a comment in response such as, “Obviously, no one has an ear for choral excellence and that’s not the reason you’re watching this symphonic choral work, because that Chorus in that performance that you’re going on about needs work. They have bad intonation, their diction sucks, wobbling soprano voices, cracking tenor voices in their upper register, just for starters.” And yet you’re calling this the best performance, Mr/Ms Classical Music Snot?

In this performance, Daniel conducts this work pretty much the way everybody else does that I’ve heard for decades. Someone left a terribly disrespectful comment regarding the Chorus, which AVROTROS Klassiek has since deleted. He wrote: “The least heard from the Chorus the better.” What? To that idiot, the Missa Solemnis was all about the soloists and the orchestra.

Mi amigo/My friend asked me: There’s not a thing you would improve on in this performance from Amsterdam, if you were the Chorus Director? If I were being nit-picky, I could use more consonants from the Chorus. It could have been the mic’ing or maybe Daniel preferred the consonants to be a bit quieter. Some Chorus Directors as well as conductors do. It depends upon the piece they’re performing. For example, conductor Antal Doráti did that on one occasion with The MD Chorus for our performance of the Mozart Requiem with the NSO. Dr Traver had prepared us for the Mozart with the usual “Maryland Chorus crisp consonants” (Maryland was known for their diction). But then in the dress rehearsal with the National Symphony Orchestra, Doráti changed that and told us to use the Italian pronunciation of the text. Well, that meant that a final “t” on the end of a word (such as “et”) was pronounced more like a “d.” We immediately made the change as if we had been trained that way all along, but a friend of mine from the Oratorio Society of Washington came to the performance asked me about it later. He said he didn’t hear any consonants and “The Maryland Chorus is known for their diction. What happened?” I said: Yeah I know you didn’t. I didn’t really hear any either — other than the hard “Key” for the “K” of the word “Kyrie” — and I was right there in the Chorus. I told him that at the last minute Doráti asked for the Italian pronunciation of the Latin text of the Requiem, so that’s why you didn’t hear the usual crisp “Maryland Chorus diction.” I personally didn’t like the change Doráti made and I suspect Dr Traver didn’t either, but there was nothing he could do about it since he wasn’t conducting the performance. I don’t remember reading a review of that performance, now that I think about it. I wonder if the reviewer remarked, “What happened to the University of Maryland Chorus last night at the Kennedy Center and their usual sparkling diction? I didn’t hear any consonants last night in their Mozart Requiem.”

Imagine a Beethoven Missa Solemnis with a strong soprano section that does not wilt midway through (think: the Credo), and no failing or cracking tenor voices

You don’t have to imagine it. You can listen to it here. The 42-voice Cappella Amsterdam Chorus is one of the finest I’ve heard. The Missa Solemnis is typically performed with a much larger Chorus, usually between 150-200 voices or more. Although as you’ll hear in this performance (if one has an ear for music), a larger Chorus is not necessary when one is fortunate to have forty-two highly-skilled and carefully-selected well-trained choristers. These choristers are among the finest in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. I recognise one of the alto choristers from Philippe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale, Brussels, that performs in Paris with the Orchestre des Champs Élysées. In this performance, the Cappella Amsterdam sound like a large Chorus. They sound much larger than they are, especially in the Gloria and the Credo. For those interested, the Chorus is seated on the risers in SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) formation.

The reader might be interested to know that the Missa is considered an impossible piece to perform, especially for the Chorus because of the difficulty of the work. The soprano section, for example, is often up in the stratosphere sustaining long notes in the top of their register. By the time they get to the end of the Credo, one often hears straining voices. But not with this Chorus.

I have some thoughts about that: I suspect the reason straining is heard in some other choral ensembles is that the weaker choristers are pulling down/decaying the sound of the finest choristers. But when you have 42 top-notched choristers as is the case with Cappella Amsterdam, the result is no straining or wilting of voices and a perfect performance. I especially love their tenor and soprano sections since they are usually my two favourite sections of a Chorus. Those tenors. Ah! Exquisite. I’m not positive about this, but I think Daniel may have fortified his soprano section with a couple more choristers than the other sections have.

Mi amigo and I watched this together. His response was: “This piece is nonstop. The Chorus and Orchestra never have a break.” The Chorus does have a break in the Sanctus which I’ve always heard sung by the Chorus and I prefer that — it sounds grander with the Chorus — rather than the soloists singing it. Although my Editions Peters score indicates that the Sanctus is mostly to be sung by the soloists. I told mi amigo: Yes, and it’s usually in the Credo that one wonders: Does the soprano section have another sustained high B Flat perfectly on pitch in their reserve to give us when needed without any wilting or decaying of sound? With Cappella Amsterdam there was no concern about that, but with most other Orchestra Choruses it can be a concern.

Cappella Amsterdam is accompanied by the equally superb Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. And the Chorus Director, Daniel Reuss, is conducting the performance.

Also, a superb Chorus has the ability to sing beautifully quietly, and there’s no more stunning example of that in this performance than the end of the Sanctus on the text “Osanna in excelsis” starting at 57.00 in the video. Absolutely exquisite. Nearly brings tears to my eyes every time I hear that in this performance it’s so beautiful. Even Daniel looks stunned by what he’s just heard from his Chorus and Orchestra after he gives the release of the final “s” for excelsis at 1.00.50 in the video. (I’m probably getting way too technical for most readers. I read this to mi amigo/my friend who has some choral knowledge and he started glazing over; he said I was getting too technical for him.)

I should mention the soloists even though I’m typically not into soloists with symphonic choral works. The soloists are:

Carolyn Sampson [sopraan]
Marianne Beate Kielland [alt]
Thomas Walker [tenor]
David Wilson-Johnson [bas]

All of these soloists are superb in their own genre. They are probably the best soloists that Daniel could have chosen for this performance in regards to singing with as little vibrato as possible. My favourites are the alto and tenor soloists. I like them a lot. Followed by the bass soloist. I would have chosen a different soprano soloist who is less overpowering and who could sing without vibrato at loud(er) volume levels. It seems that with most symphonic choral performances, they insist on bringing in screaming, glass-breaking soprano soloist, many of whom seemed to have just walked off the set of La bohème and now are over for this other job with this symphonic choral work.

If you’ve read anything else that I’ve written along this line, you may remember that I don’t like the use of wobbling and fluttering vibrato in a symphonic choral music setting especially when the Chorus is singing with a “straight/flat tone” (which helps with the perfect blending of voices). In this performance, at times the soloists don’t sing with vibrato and at other times they do (especially the soprano when she’s singing ff or fff). I think the soprano’s voice could cut through everyone on that stage. Other than to draw an audience for the performance, I’ve never understood why opera or opera-style soloists are invited as soloist for symphonic choral works. This is not opera. Mi amigo — who can’t stand vibrato either — had difficulty listening to the soprano soloist. But fortunately, the Chorus sang with a beautiful “straight tone” and the soloists should have too, so that they match in sound.

Nearly all of the soloists for this performance (according to their smiles) seemed to enjoy listening to the exquisite Chorus standing behind them. Maybe it wasn’t possibly due to space problems, but I would have placed the soloists in places inside the orchestra — as I saw them do at Boston University’s School of Music for their performance of Rachmaninov’s The Bells — either that or seated them back near the Chorus.

My recommendations for CD performances of this work are also based on choral excellence as the # factor:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti (Margaret Hillis, Chorus Director)

or

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Shaw, Chorus Director and Conductor

Chau.—el barrio rosa

Previously:

What happened to the renowned University of Maryland Chorus?

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

University of Maryland Chorus (A Tribute)

What happened to the renowned University of Maryland Chorus?

Hola a todos. After writing my article titled “Musicians need to stand for something!” and after the commenting period on that article ended, I received some e-mails from international readers enquiring about what happened to the University of Maryland Chorus? As readers pointed out, I wrote about the Chorus in past tense. Their question is answered in my tribute article to The Maryland Chorus, but some people wrote back saying they didn’t see anything about that (even though it’s there; it is a very long and thorough article), so I’ll answer their question here.

Back in the Spring of 2009, the University of Maryland at College Park decided to disband their University of Maryland Chorus. Dr Paul Traver, the founder and director of the Chorus, had already retired and the new Director of Choral Activities was their Chorus Director. A publication in the District of Columbia wrote that several area Choruses in the Washington Metropolitan Area had undergone financial problems in recent years and were forced to disband. The writer listed (I think it was) four choral ensembles, including the University of Maryland Chorus. He wrote that The Maryland Chorus had been liquidated, which is a legal term, which also means dissolved. I don’t have any more information about that. The University said that the University of Maryland Chorus (also known as The Maryland Chorus and the UMD Chorus) had accomplished their goals and was being “retired,” and the name “University of Maryland Chorus” was also being retired to respect the Chorus and its long legacy.

I realised a few years before I had the opportunity and privilege (and a goal achieved) to sing with the University of Maryland Chorus that they were outstandingly superb. They were an example of choral excellence at its finest. I and mis amigos/my friends who moved to the District from the Conservatory of Music where we had graduated compared the UMD Chorus to Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus. They were that good. Margaret Hillis recommended them to conductor Claudio Abbado for performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The Washington Post classical music critic wrote about their performance: “Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus was glorious throughout.” One of my musical friends in the District who worked at the classical music store on Wisconsin Avenue over in Georgetown often said after one of Maryland’s performances with the National Symphony Orchestra or a guest international orchestra, “that Maryland Chorus can sing the shit out of choral music!”

When I sang with them, I think we were mostly a student-based Chorus of students from the School of Music. But I sensed from what the University wrote upon their retirement that this was no longer the case and probably had something to do with the disbanding of the Chorus as the University wrote that the mostly community-based Maryland Chorus was being ended. They could have just kept the name “University of Maryland Chorus” and changed the requirements to an all-student based Chorus.

In those days, from my experience, it was possible for the general public to sing with the local University Chorus if a chorister qualified and passed the audition requirements. Such a choral ensemble is known as a “town and gown” Chorus, meaning town’s people and university students. I think that was also true at that time at the University of Virginia’s School of Music with their choral ensemble called The University Singers, and the same was true at the University of Maryland. At Maryland, non-students had to pay a nominal fee to sing with The Maryland Chorus. But in hindsight, I get the impression that the University of Maryland was possibly never quite pleased that the University Chorus was not a student-only Chorus and perhaps that’s why they wanted to end them since Dr Traver was no longer there. Even from their founding, they were not an entirely student-based Chorus. They were started when the National Symphony Orchestra asked Dr Traver at the University of Maryland’s School of Music to form a Chorus for a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”). He did — and the Chorus was comprised of students from the UMD School of Music and auditioned choristers from the community, rehearsing in the School of Music — and their performance achieved so much critical acclaim that they decided to stay together. Good idea. They became known as the University of Maryland Chorus and over the years performed with many of the world’s finest orchestras and in major concert halls (Kennedy Center Concert Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and so forth). When they were “retired,” they were down to about 90 voices from what I read. The Chorus that I knew and loved when they were at their height — when one got the impression they were almost the Official Chorus of the National Symphony Orchestra especially under conductor Antal Doráti — had roughly 140-150 voices, so they had lost a lot of choristers over the years. Was this because the Chorus did not have the same appeal to choristers because they were not performing with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest international orchestra as often as they once did? Or, did the new Director of Choral Activities deliberately want the University Chorus to be smaller? I don’t know. Or was this reduction in their size part of the classical musical arts dying? If that were not the case, weren’t there enough qualified choristers in the School of Music — which is an excellent music school (and an all-Steinway school) — to meet the requirements of the University Chorus to keep it up to size of 140-150 voices?

I do know that many people on the UMD campus were not pleased with the decision by the University to disband their University Chorus. Ending your University Chorus does seem weird, doesn’t it? I haven’t heard of any other universities ending/”retiring” their University Chorus. Just the idea of that seems loco. Well there was one (although not a University but rather a Conservatory of Music): Decades ago, the New England Conservatory Chorus was “retired”/disband by the NEC and they performed regularly and recorded with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall across the street. This was before the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) became the “Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.” The TFC is not one of my favourite Orchestra Choruses in main part because of their fluttery/wobbling vibrato soprano section. Sopranos: Could you possibly “get a grip” on that annoying fluttery-vibrato you have? jesus!…You’re not an Opera Chorus, you’re a Symphonic/Orchestra Chorus. There’s a difference; that’s why they have two different names. John Oliver thinks that fluttery-wobbling vibrato you have sounds good, does he? Maybe his ears are beginning to fail him. In their early days, I liked the Tanglewood Festival Chorus very much. They were one of my favourite Choruses, but not now. And when they perform, they look like a motionless bank of zombies regurgitating on cue what’s been drilled into them. That’s because John Oliver, the Chorus Director, has this ridiculous requirement that they perform without their vocal scores, even though everyone else on stage has their scores! What exactly are they trying to prove with that and is this intended to impress someone? I’ve heard his reasoning for this but I find it rather ludicrous. I much prefer to see a Chorus use their scores. Well really, I feel that way about all musicians, especially pianists. Using the score, makes musicians look more involved in their performance. It shows that they’re reading music and interpreting the markings in the score.

But back to UMD, upon the retirement of The Maryland Chorus, the University of Maryland Concert Choir (an all-student based Chorus) replaced the UMD Chorus as the Symphonic Chorus on campus. They have performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as well as with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on occasion (Britten’s War Requiem was one of their performances). But the UMD Concert Choir (I’ve not heard them) has not performed nearly as frequently with the NSO as the University of Maryland Chorus did, particularly during the Antal Doráti years. After Doráti left and Rostropovich took over, the UMD Chorus had fewer engagements with the NSO from what I noticed, which was disappointing. I sensed that Rostropovich preferred the Choral Arts Society of Washington. If I’m not mistaken, I think the Choral Arts Society was the first Orchestra Chorus Rostropovich worked with after arriving there. I also think that the first Chorus that a new conductor works with becomes his/her favourite/preferred choice.

One might find it interesting to know that before The Maryland Chorus was “retired,” the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra dissolved/disband their Symphony Chorus. That’s true. Can you believe that? That’s another weird one. I’ve not heard of another major symphony orchestra disbanding their Symphony Chorus. I read they weren’t that good although I never heard them. So the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra began inviting the University of Maryland Chorus to perform with them. One of my commenters said that the orchestra management must have had a meeting and asked why they were wasting money on a Symphony Chorus (paying a Chorus Director) when they could be inviting the best Orchestra Chorus around, the University of Maryland Chorus, to perform with them. Since the UMD Chorus was “retired,” the BSO has been inviting the UMD Concert Choir to perform with them, as well as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. I read one excellent review for the University of Maryland Concert Choir. They were described as having a very clear tone and excellent diction in one of their performances of Händel’s Messiah. I hope this helps answer readers questions. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Musicians need to stand for something!

Hola a todos. Musicians all over el mundo/the world need to stand for something, despite any possible consequences. Just as concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa did when she expressed her pro-Russian feelings. After making her views known, her scheduled performance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was cancelled for her 2015 soloist engagement to perform the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor. You can hear her play the Rachmaninov with another orchestra in the video below. I have no details on this performance (which orchestra?) as they are not listed in the video description. One of my commenters (Conservatory Student) refreshed my memory about this story which I too had read about sometime back having to do with the cancellation of Valentina’s performance with the TSO. Valentina was taking a stand for her principles and convictions. Also in 2015, there was another musician, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim announced his plans to take his Berlin orchestra, The Staatskapelle Berlin, to Iran despite protests from the #2 Terrorist State on the planet, Israel. One might be asking: “Who’s the #1 Terrorist State on the planet?” That would be Los Estados Unidos/The United States, the World’s #1 Arrogant Bully and World Police Operative. The US is constantly dictating to other nations what they will and will not do usually from a place of blatant hypocrisy. That’s because the US often lectures/makes demands of other countries not to do what the US has been doing for decades. One example of that: The US demands: “You must get rid of your nuclear weapons,” while the US has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in el mundo and with no intention of getting rid of them and the US is the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons on a civilian population while pretending to be a christian nation. The US of Hypocrisy is such a barbaric nation! A third example of a musician standing for his principles and convictions was when Pianist Evgeny Kissin protested against BBC’s anti-Israel bias.

These days, most musicians don’t seem to possess the integrity, principles and convictions of the three musicians I’ve listed. Most musicians are the “go with the flow” type of sheeple. They follow the herd and therefore are part of problem. They are wet-doilies. They are the spineless musicians who stand for nothing like what one finds at Washington National Cathedral. Musicians such as organists Benjamin Straley, George Fergus, the Director of Music/Choirmaster Michael McCarthy and the Men of the Cathedral Choir along with the parents of the Boy and Girl Choristers, all of whom could have refused to perform for the vile and repugnant Führer Trump, (the parents could have refused to allow their child to perform for that basura). But the musicians of Washington National Cathedral stood for nothing as I wrote about in this article.

World history shows that revolutions happen, in part, because of musicians and music. Here en los Estados Unidos/in the US, the 1960s revolution — the most recent revolution here — was in major part because of artists and musicians of all genres, from the classical music tradition to the rock field. Related: The Sixties and Protest Music.

The world would not have pacifist Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem if he had held to the ludicrous view that politics must be completely separate/divorced from music. I’m well aware that the Classical Music Snots (whom I can’t stand) like to divorce music and politics. I know of one art’s writer in Turkey where bombs could be falling outside her window but she wouldn’t dare bring herself to write about it because she’s of this backward thinking that politics and art have no connection. Utterly moronic. Apparently la mujer/the woman never learned that much of music and art is indeed inspired by and connected to politics and what was going on in the lives of composers when they wrote their music and the artists who performed them.

During the Vietnam War Era, we had radical Leftist — and I’m using that language in a very positive sense — composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. He wasn’t shy about standing for his convictions. But unfortunately, the musicians at Washington National Cathedral have chosen not to emulate Queer boys Leonard Bernstein or Benjamin Britten.

In the District of Columbia where I used to live, Richard Nixon was inaugurated as US president and there was an inauguration concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. There’s a story connected with that:

The Anti-War University of Maryland Chorus

The following is from David Taylor, assistant conductor of the University of Maryland Chorus at that time:

“Although my day job is now lawyering for the CFTC, in those days I was a graduate student in conducting at the University of Maryland and assistant conductor of the University of Maryland Chorus. Your post brought to my mind an experience I had involving president Nixon, Leonard Bernstein, and the Nixon inauguration in 1973, that I thought you might find of interest. In 1973 and throughout most of the 1970s, the University of Maryland Chorus performed several times each year with the National Symphony under its great music director Antal Doráti. In January of that year, the Chorus sang four performances with the NSO of Beethoven’s great Missa Solemnis (an amazing musical experience I will never forget). Given the times, those performances intersected with both president Nixon, the Vietnam War, and Leonard Bernstein. As luck would have it, our Beethoven performances were slated for the week of the inauguration. It had been a tradition for decades that during the week of each Presidential inauguration the NSO played (outside its normal subscription season) what was labeled the Inaugural Concert, as part of the festivities of inauguration week. The performance was usually attended by the president-elect, and after the building of the Kennedy Center it always took place there. Normally, this would have had nothing to do with the Beethoven concerts. However, it turned out that president Nixon had been a life-long fan of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and for what was going to be his final inauguration he expressed a wish to have the Philadelphia play the Inaugural Concert, which they did. The NSO leadership was very gracious about this change, and responded by dedicating the week’s regular NSO subscription concerts to the inauguration of the president. Of course, the anti-war movement, further fueled by the developing Watergate affair, wanted to protest the Nixon inauguration. One musical consequence of this, as you may remember, was the hasty arranging of a sort of “Anti-Inaugural Concert” consisting of a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Mass in Time of War at the National Cathedral by a large chorus (I believe it was either the Cathedral Choral Society, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, or parts of both) and a pick-up orchestra, conducted by none other than that famous musical leftist, Leonard Bernstein. I was not present, since we were singing Beethoven at Kennedy Center, but was told by people who did attend that the Bernstein performance drew a huge attendance, including 2000+ inside the Cathedral and thousands more listening on loudspeakers outside. There were also nearly consequences for our Beethoven performances. A significant number of the approximately 140 members of the University of Maryland Chorus shared the sentiments of the anti-war, anti-Nixon protesters and were upset that the NSO had dedicated the Beethoven concerts to the president’s inauguration. Quite a few of them initially refused to go onstage to sing something dedicated to president Nixon. Paul Traver, the conductor of the UMD Chorus (and my major teacher) and I had to do a considerable amount of fast talking to convince them that they owed it to the Chorus, to Maestro Doráti, and to Beethoven to sing as scheduled. In the end that view prevailed, and the Missa Solemnis—one of humanity’s greatest choral treasures, and a work that dwarfs Bernstein’s Mass into utter insignificance—went forward magnificently and without incident. But it was a close-run thing.”—David Taylor, University of Maryland Chorus

I have always had the highest regard for the late Dr Traver as a choral director and founder and director of the University of Maryland Chorus. He achieved superb results with his Maryland Chorus just like Margaret Hillis (Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus) and Robert Shaw (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus) achieved with their highly-regarded Orchestra Choruses. And from what I know about Richard Nixon, he was no fascist and no hate-filled arrogant bully like Donald Trump turning the presidency into a dictatorship ruling by executive orders essentially dissolving congress. But regardless, in this situation with Nixon, Dr Traver was wrong in my opinion and he refused to take a stand unfortunately and I strongly disagree with his decision. The University of Maryland Chorus should have refused to go on stage to perform for and in the presence of Richard Nixon. They should have boycotted this event. Let’s tell it like it is: This concert was about Nixon. It was not about The Maryland Chorus or Beethoven or Doráti as the Chorus was led to believe. The concert would have been cancelled because the Philadelphia Orchestra could not perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis without The Maryland Chorus. And with the audience seated in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, there would have been no time to find another Orchestra Chorus in the District prepared to perform the monumental Missa Solemnis. Some of the audience would have been pissed — but they would get over it! — with the UMD Chorus for standing for their anti-war convictions, while others would have applauded them for standing for what they believed. I knew nothing about this incident when I sang with them. I learned about this while writing my tribute article to them.

A brief aside: Years later, while I was a chorister in Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, I heard the University of Maryland Chorus perform the Missa Solemnis with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam with Claudio Abbado conducting in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Their performance was glorious. They were superb. Their performance reminded me of the performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Margaret Hillis. The following day on the local classical music station WGMS, they interviewed the soprano soloist for the performance, Sheila Armstrong. She said in the interview, “this is one of the finest Choruses I’ve ever heard.”

I have considered this: Had the UMD Chorus refused to perform for this concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the presence of and for Nixon, would that have been the end of future engagement invitations with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest international orchestras? I doubt it, because they were Doráti’s favourite Chorus and he invited them to perform with the NSO as often as possible. From what I know about him, he too was an anti-war person and stood for peace. Although he didn’t initiate or suggest a boycott of these performances as conductor, he may have supported them in their decision. We’ll never know. It’s much easier for an individual to stand for what s/he believes than a (large) group of people, as in the case of The Maryland Chorus, where some choristers wanted to perform for Nixon and others didn’t. What does one do in that case? Well, the decision to perform or not is decided by the Chorus Director. If only the choristers who wanted to perform went on stage, it would have been a much smaller Chorus — perhaps more the size of a Chamber Chorus — and in that case the Philadelphia Orchestra would have been too large and needed to have been reduced in size so as not to overpower the Chorus. And there may have been problems with downsizing the Orchestra, such as union issues with the orchestra. I have heard a performance with a smaller Orchestra and Chorus such as in this historically-informed superb performance from Europe: Beethoven – Missa Solemnis in D major, Op.123 | Philippe Herreweghe conducting: La Chapelle Royale & Collegium Vocale Gent (combined Choruses, from Belgium) accompanied by Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (Paris).

It disgusted me all during the Obama years to read about musician after musician and other corporate media television talking heads going to the Kennedy Center for the annual “Kennedy Center Honours” event with the Obamas in attendance as well as to la casa blanca/the white house to rub shoulders with war criminal Mr Nobel Peace Prize Obama who had killed thousands of innocent people — including wedding parties — with his many wars without shedding a tear. But that along with Obama’s expansion of most of the illegitimate Bush regime’s despicable agenda didn’t matter to these musicians, most of whom were probably Democratic partisan. Obama had no trouble turning on fake tears for corporate media network cameras after some gun-violence tragedy in the US. Yet I never saw him tear up over his own violence through his barbaric wars killing thousands of innocent men, women, pregnant women and children. He pretended to be pro-GLBTQ while killing innocent GLBTQs around the world through his many wars — for the thick people: gay people/GLBTQs live all over the world — which is something the shallow GLBTQ Obamabots never considered. He’s a terribly hypocritical human being. But one devoutly partisan Democratic Party disciple after the other swarmed to the white house to perform for him and/or to speak in his presence.

Other than some Latino/Hispano/mexicano musicians and actors who stand up against hate directed at inmigrantes indocumentados/undocumented immigrants/migrant workers, it seems that most musicians and actors don’t stand for anything these days. And when they do, it’s too often based on partisan nonsense, rather than being objective and what is the right thing to do. For example, if one is being objective: war is wrong. As opposed to being a partisan Democrat: War is okay when a Democrat is in office, which was/is the thinking of the Obamabots. I recently asked one shallow and superficial Obamabot about his Obama’s 8 wars and his response to me was, “Who cares!” Yet these hypocritical basura protested illegitimate George W Bush (as I did) over the same reprehensible policies.

It disgusts me whenever I see musicians of all genres and actors performing before these scum of the Earth trash politicians just because they’re on television and considered a celebrity in our shallow pop culture. I suspect many of these musicians and actors would come up with the lame excuse, “I like to rise above politics.” Translation: And stand for nothing. Just be this empty vessel as if one has been lobotomised. “I like to rise above politics” is nothing but an easy-out for shallow people where one doesn’t have to stand for anything. Politics greatly effect our lives, so this BS about, “I like to rise above politics” is just a pathetic excuse for weak people who don’t have any convictions or principles, and I can’t stand people like that. El mundo/The world needs a lot more people like pianist Valentina Lisitsa and conductor Daniel Barenboim and others that I’ve mentioned and linked to in this article. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

Neil Young asks Obama to stop ‘violent aggression’ at Dakota pipeline protest

When Musicians Boycott to Protest Politics

122 musicians sign letter to president Obama about Standing Rock protests

Protest Music for the Trump Era

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

UMCTRIBUTE

Note: The University of Maryland Concert Choir is the Symphonic Chorus that replaced the superb University of Maryland Chorus — that I had the privilege of singing with and which I’ve written a lot about to help keep their legacy alive — when the University of Maryland “retired”/liquidated them.

Hola. I was reading a review the other day about a performance of Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the University of Maryland Concert Choir (UMD Concert Choir). The performance was conducted by the new principal guest conductor of the BSO, Markus Stenz.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra once had their own Symphony Chorus. But like the University of Maryland Chorus (also known as the UMD Chorus and The Maryland Chorus), years ago the Baltimore Symphony Chorus was also disband, a rather unusual thing for an orchestra to do. I read this was for financial reasons but also because their Symphony Chorus wasn’t that good. A Symphony/Orchestra Chorus is expected to be of the same high-quality level as their orchestra. I never heard the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus to make any comment on them. And as one of my commenters said awhile back: The BSO management probably realised they could save money by not having to pay a Chorus Director and instead invite the best Orchestra Chorus around to perform with them which was the superb University of Maryland Chorus, and they regularly performed with national and international orchestras and conductors. So after disbanding their Symphony Chorus, the BSO began inviting The Maryland Chorus — especially for their Beethoven’s Ninth — to perform with them, as well as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. These days, the BSO continue to invite the Baltimore Choral Arts Society as well as the UMD Concert Choir. Their debut performance with the BSO was in 2013 in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. They have also had many performances with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

IMG_0023I’ve been wanting to hear how the UMD Concert Choir compares with the former UMD Chorus but unfortunately that’s not been possible other than a couple of brief video clips with not the best sound quality. None of their performances are available online probably because of copyright and other rights’ issues with the orchestras they have performed with. As was the case with Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus, I would assume that the highest standards of choral excellence are expected of the UMD Concert Choir under Dr Edward Maclary, Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Maryland. In my opinion, Dr Traver’s standards/expectations were the same as those of Margaret Hillis, the founder/director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus which were honoured with nine Grammy Awards for “Best Choral Performance” under Ms Hillis.

I looked to see if a broadcast of this Brahms’s performance was going to be made available to the public but I couldn’t find any classical music station or any source that was broadcasting this concert around Baltimore or the District. It doesn’t look like many classical music stations (the ones that remain) are doing that these days, except WGBH-Boston. If someone knows of a source where a broadcast of this performance of the Brahms is available online, leave a comment below, por favor. Or if commenting has ended when you read this, you can e-mail me at: pinkbarrio555@yahoo.com. Gracias.

I read a review of this performance. The reviewer spoke of “the fine UMD Concert Choir.” Well that’s good to hear. He also wrote about their excellent diction (the weight of every word has never been clearer, or something to that effect). That sounds like The Maryland Chorus as we were known for our diction. He also spoke highly of the soprano section and wrote that they barely have any vibrato. That’s good to hear since I don’t like vibrato especially with a Chorus. He made a derogatory comment about the wobbling vibrato often found in older (volunteer) Choruses. Oh yes, I know all about that; I’ve heard too much of that in my experience, unfortunately (the unrefined-sounding/wobbling soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus comes to mind). In this performance, according to the reviewer, apparently there were occasional ensemble problems with some rushing and imprecision in the tenor and bass sections which he referred to as “greenness.” Now why did he have to go and say that? (Sigh). “Green” or “greenness” means inexperienced and amateurish. Or was he referring to the choristers young age, since it’s an all-student Chorus? Regardless, just because they’re young doesn’t necessarily mean they’re inexperienced or amateurish. Either way, “greenness” didn’t need to be said. Rushing the tempo creating ensemble problems — meaning things are not exactly together — is not necessarily a matter of “greenness” or amateurish. I found the term “greenness” a bit harsh and almost trollish. If I were reviewing their performance, I might have said that there were occasional ensemble problems and left it at that. But depending upon how often it happened (a couple of times or what?), I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. Because why call them “fine” and then start criticising them and describing half of the Chorus (tenor and bass sections) using the term “greenness?” The University of Maryland Chorus was never described that way to my knowledge. That’s one reason I would like to have heard this performance to hear what he was talking about it. The reviewer did make a comment about another work on the programme and that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians seemed uncertain about the conductor’s beat in that piece, leading to some ensemble problems (the reviewer used the word, “misalignment”). Oh really? I’m wondering if that’s what was going on with the tenors and basses of the Chorus in the Brahms? Just asking. I’ve sung under some conductors where it was difficult to figure out where the beat was. Not saying it’s the case here, but some orchestral conductors are not that good when it comes to conducting a Chorus. They’re much better with the orchestra since orchestral conducting is mainly their experience.

IMG_0688Now on the topic of music education: I read the other day that the Boston Public School system is cutting their music programme. Oh yes why not?! Everybody else is or already has! Isn’t that just what we need?! [sarcasm intended]. Have these morons in positions of power who are cutting the music programme not considered where they will get some of the “next generation” of musicians for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus when students in the Boston Public School system either won’t have any instrumental or vocal music training or exposure to music? What is wrong with these lobotomised people who make these stupid decisions? Obviously they have no respect for music, the arts or culture. They consider it unimportant/”fluff.” Well, I consider people like that basura. Music programmes have been gutted throughout the US. It’s disgraceful what’s happened in the name of “there’s no money for it.” Which of course is complete nonsense. There’s plenty of money for music programmes, arts and international language programmes. Billions are being wasted/poured down a big bottomless hole called the Military Industrial ComplexTM. A huge chunk of money is being poured into the Military Industrial Complex for D and R politicians’ juvenile war and drone games, etc. Unfortunately, the priorities of the US Oligarchy (also known as the US government) are completely septic, twisted, demented, misplaced, and dysfunctional just like the politicians that make these decisions. There’s never a shortage of dinero/money to throw at the Pentagon for the US Global Imperialism and World Domination/Project For The New American Century agenda games and for killing innocent brown-complected people in the Middle East and elsewhere and keeping the public afraid of their own shadow under the guise of this phony “war on terror” nonsense, no matter who is in office. But these corporate parasite D and R bourgeois elite Establishment politicians can’t seem to find any dinero for things worth while in people’s lives, beneficial and to help people such as art and music programmes in schools which benefit and enrich people’s lives enormously. Obama would rather bomb Somalia killing 150 people with his expensive drones and bloated military budget(s) than to put one cent into music and arts programmes. Music is the international language. The music training I had in the public schools was invaluable — I always looked forward to music class — in elementary school through high school, especially when I had the privilege of being the piano accompanist for the High School Chorus. That led to my strong interest in choral music that later led me to go on to perform with the outstanding University of Maryland Chorus and the National Symphony Orchestra, and other Orchestra Choruses (Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis/Vance George, Chorus Directors).

I spent one Summer studying the Brahms on my own and was fortunate to have performed it at least once. The first time was with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. I remember Maazel was difficult to work with even though we were very well prepared by Chorus Director Norman Scribner. And I think we performed it when I was with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. It’s the last piece I heard the University of Maryland Chorus perform live with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Doráti. Their performance was exquisite. (Why was that not recorded?!) It reminded me of the CD I have of the performance by the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

A society without music, culture and the arts is a dead, lobotomised and soul-less society.

I can hear someone whining about now as is typically the case: “Why are you talking about politics and music? I thought this article was about a music performance, not politics.” It’s about both, Thick, and that’s because the funding for music programmes comes from politics and political decisions made such as budget funding/cuts. That should be self-explanatory even to the thickest people. And it’s my site so I’ll talk about whatever I want to talk about! I don’t know why some people think that politics should be completely removed from music, but I’m well aware that there’s a (conservative) crowd out there that does hold to that thinking. Loco./Crazy. The world would not have Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem if Benjamin had held to that twisted thinking that politics should be divorced from music. Politics have been very much a part of many composers’ lives and their works. But I’m aware that some people like to sanitise music and pretend that music is completely devoid of politics, which of course is nonsense.

After all this talk about the Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (which is one of my favourite choral works), if you’re now in the mood for wanting to hear the work, unfortunately we can’t hear the performance from the BSO and the UMD Concert Choir, so I’d recommend this performance (below) by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Robert Shaw. I love their tenor section. (The last part of the first movement is cut off in this recording for some reason.) Enjoy. Chau.—el barrio rosa