Tag Archives: “Margaret Hillis”

Chicago Symphony Chorus treated as Second Class Musicians

Update (29 abril/April 2019): Well, the strike by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has ended due to the intervention of Chicago’s corporatist mayor — who shall remain nameless — and his connections to the super-wealthy. Even though the outcome of the strike has been described as a “compromise,” in the end CSO management accomplished their goals defined in their (what was called) “last, best and final” offer. They accomplished their major goal of gutting fully-paid retirement plans. From the beginning to the end of the strike, the Chicago Symphony Chorus was never mentioned in the articles I read, as if they don’t exist. I was turned off by some of the comments made by the CSO musicians when the strike ended who referred to the CSO as “the greatest Orchestra in the country” and that they would be returning to their audience, “the best audience in the country.” Here we go again with USians having to pump themselves up with the “we are the greatest” pabulum. Even if the CSO were “the great Orchestra in the US” — and how exactly does one determine that? — shouldn’t somebody else be saying that, and not the musicians? What happened to modesty and humbleness CSO musicians? Your comments come off to me as extremely arrogant. Then you have the “best audience” remark/nonsense, which is equally a turn-off. All of this reminds me of a form of Chicago territorial nationalism, and it’s rather childish. “Our Orchestra is better than your Orchestra and we have the best audience, you don’t. Na na na na na.” (roll eyes) You can stand around and pat yourselves on the back and feed yourselves feel-good pabulum (lies?) about how great you think you are, but does it matter at this point when in the end your management got what they wanted? Strikes seem about as futile as protests these days. With the exception of the Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vests in France, now in their 23rd or 24th consecutive Saturday of protests throughout the country. Their protests have generated some “reforms” from French President Emmanuel Macron, but not enough to fulfill their wishes. So, their protests continue. I think they are banned from protesting on the wealthy Av. des Champs-Élysées. Gilets Jaunes are rather vigilant. Unusual these days. You’d never see that here in the US. Here, especially in the San Francisco, the only thing that people are “vigilant” on is their phone. For the phone zombies, it’s their entire life. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Hola a todos. You’d never know that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has its own Chorus — the Chicago Symphony Chorus — by the coverage of the Orchestra’s strike, going into its seventh week as of this writing. “Outlook is dim” wrote one article I read about the strike.

You’d also never know that the CSO has its own Chorus by any of the free performances given by the CSO in Chicago during the strike because they’ve not included their Symphony Chorus — members of or the Full Chorus — in any performances. Why is that? They’ve only performed orchestral works.

I haven’t heard, because no one is even mentioning the Chorus, but does the elitist management want to erode the salaries of the all-paid Chicago Symphony Chorus too? I don’t know, since nothing has been written about them. According to the performance schedule I saw, the CSO Chorus doesn’t have a performance with the CSO until the latter part of June 2019, and that’s opera, of all things, as opposed to what one might think they would be performing: a symphonic choral work since they are a Symphony Chorus after all, and not an Opera Chorus. They are two different instruments, hence the two names.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on strike (which I support) for some of the usual reasons that major symphony orchestras go on strike these days. They rejected — what was called — managements (here we go) “last, best and final” offer almost two weeks ago. Elitist management with their bloated executive salaries proposed destroying the musicians defined-benefit pensions. They also imposed the predictable salary cuts. In the negotiations, the elitist Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) Board which is controlled by billionaires and Chicago’s one-percent, would not agree to the musicians’ demands regarding pensions or salary. And the bourgeois management — incapable of feeling shameful — has cancelled all performances through the end of April 2019. In the meantime, members of and or the full CSO have been giving free concerts around Chicago, without the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

I sense that the Chorus does not have (quite) the same reputation it had during the years that its Founder’s name (Margaret Hillis) was attached to it, but then that was a different time and era. And nothing stays the same, does it? Even corruption doesn’t stay the same. It gets worse and worse and more vile. And many people become the opposite of who and what they were as people.

For some time, I’ve had little to no regard for the so-called elitist “management” — they’re usually corporate parasites — that run or try to wreck/ruin musical organisations. We’ve seen this over and over.

I was pleased to see CSO Conductor Riccardo Muti join the strikers and not side with the corporate parasites.

This story has repeated itself time and time again. Why do orchestras need an elitist and out-of-touch group of people called “management?” Now I know why “management” exists, but I think the “management” should be entirely comprised of the musicians themselves, including the members of the Chorus and not elitist corporate parasites. Someone might say: “The musicians have enough to do as it is without being their own management or part there of. The musicians want to play and make music, and not do all that other stuff.” That’s true and I understand that, but this is exactly the problem you run into when billionaires, corporate parasites and non-musicians try to run a musical ensemble. Utter disrespect for the musicians.

To my knowledge, the Chicago Symphony Chorus is still an all-paid Orchestra Chorus. Also to my knowledge, the CSO Chorus is the only all-paid Symphony Chorus in the country/the US. By contrast, only twenty-percent of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus are paid, something the choristers had to fight for and they used the CSO Chorus as an example. I know because I was there at the time. Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, offended many San Francisco Symphony Chorus members when she had the nerve to give her opinion during a rehearsal with the Chorus (rather than staying neutral) and sided with San Francisco Symphony management who were bringing her here at the time from Chicago as interim San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director. I remember her saying, “Professional does not mean paid.” Someone should have stood and said, “Well since ‘professional does not mean paid,’ Ms Hillis, may we assume that you won’t mind volunteering your professional services here for free so as to save SFS management the thousands of dollars they’re paying you in salary and to fly you back and forth from here to Chicago to prepare this Chorus? Can we count on you for that, Ms Hillis? Since again, as you say, ‘professional does not mean paid.’ Wouldn’t you like to set an example of that for us? I’m merely making an enquiry, Ms Hillis.” As she’s standing there with a red face and boiling inside from being put on the spot in front of the entire San Francisco Symphony Chorus after sticking her nose into it and supporting “management” with her all-paid Chicago Symphony Chorus. Yes, I’m sure she would have gone for that. The hypocrisy!

To my knowledge, all other Orchestra Choruses in the US are all-volunteer, including orchestras with their own Chorus, such as the 200-voice Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its currently beleaguered Tanglewood Festival Chorus. By the way, someone came to pink barrio recently searching, “Tanglewood Festival Chorus Christmas performance poor.” Oh dear. Well, TFC Chorus Director, James Burton, is currently working to bring the TFC up to the standards of choral excellence expected of the Official Chorus of the BSO.

It should also be pointed out that “all-volunteer” does not mean amateur in this case. These are professional Orchestra Choruses I’m talking about whether they’re paid or not. They all should be fully-paid, just like the Orchestra for which they serve as the Chorus for. Rather than relegating the Chorus to Second Class Musicians’ status.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus became quite a stellar instrument during the Solti years under Founder and Chorus Director, Margaret Hillis, who was appointed by Fritz Reiner. I trained my “choral ear” on the Chicago Symphony Chorus under Hillis/Solti from their recordings. The same performances that won nine Grammy Awards in the Best Choral Performance category under Ms Hillis. I read online in recent years that some of the choristers of the CSO Chorus complained that Ms Hillis was “too nit picky.” (roll eyes) I bet they didn’t say that when they won nine Grammy’s! Being “nit picky” is partly how one earns a Grammy for Best Choral Performance. Ms Hillis’s rehearsal style was very serious; she didn’t mess around. She was superb with a Chorus, even though I didn’t care much for her personality.

Under the current Chorus Director (since Hillis), the Chicago Symphony Chorus has only won one Grammy.

The Men of the CSO Chorus continue to be as superb as they were under Hillis (or at least they were in their Beethoven’s Ninth performance that I heard), but the sopranos and altos are not quite as good, in my opinion. Their soprano section suffers from what seems to be an increasing problem in the US: some shrill, screechy ugly sounds in the sopranos upper register with some noticeable (but needless) vibrato, which I heard in their Beethoven’s Ninth performance. I didn’t hear any of this when the Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. They always sang with a velvety rich smooth, polished sound under Ms Hillis. I suspect if she were alive today and walked into a rehearsal, she would say in her baritone-alto voice: “Sopranos, we need to do a bit of fine-tuning with you. It seems that something has gone a bit haywire since I left and when you won all those Grammys.”

The absence of any mention or participation of the CSO Chorus during the strike, once again, relegates choristers of the highest caliber to that of second class musician status, and I’m sick of it frankly. The thinking seems to be that “they’re just the Chorus; they don’t matter. They’re not real musicians.” Yes, but of course. Just like the Orchestra is “just the Orchestra. They’re not real musicians either, are they?” I bet no one thinks that! Sadly, musically-ignorant people look at choristers differently than they do other musicians. Anyone who thinks that “the Chorus is just the Chorus” doesn’t have a clue what is involved in being in a Symphony Chorus of this caliber and what it takes to get in the Chorus in the first place. I think most people probably think — particular those with no ear for music — that being in a Symphony Chorus is no different than being in one’s podunk church choir, even though no comparison can be made.

Even if the Chicago Symphony Chorus is not at all being affected by the strike, they should indeed still be mentioned and acknowledged in articles about the strike — such as, “the Chicago Symphony Chorus is not affected by this strike” — since they are the Official Chorus for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Again, I’ve not read that the Symphony Chorus has been included in any free performances the CSO has given to the community. The Symphony Chorus — either the Full Chorus or the Chamber Chorus (a smaller group of them) — could easily perform any number of symphonic choral works with the Orchestra. Works they prepared earlier for this season and previous seasons. A Chorus of this caliber has quite a repertoire at-the-ready. They could perform their Beethoven’s Ninth again, as one example. The Orchestra recently performed at a rather large apostolic church in Chicago. The Chorus could have performed there with the Orchestra, but didn’t. I’ve also read nothing about the choristers being on the picket lines to support their orchestral musicians.

“The Big Three”

Assuming there is a next season, the CSO has announced the 2019-20 season and two of “The Big Three” are programmed:

Händel’s Messiah
Beethoven’s Ninth
Orff’s Carmina Burana

Yes, we’re now down to “The Big Three.” Why are they called “The Big Three?” Because they are pretty much the only symphonic choral works that the sheeple will support these days. (Sigh). Mostly gone are oratorios, Bach cantatas and other symphonic choral works, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony. I haven’t seen anyone programme that in the US. There has been a run on the Rossini Stabat Mater in the last couple years with at least two major orchestras and their Chorus or a guest Chorus performing it. Even Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah hasn’t survived and that was one of the more frequently performed oratorios in its day. Put back on dusty archive shelves. I had noticed this sometime ago about “The Big Three,” and DC Chorus Director, Robert Shafer, confirmed that. He’s the former Chorus Director for The Washington Chorus (they used to be known as the Oratorio Society of Washington and performed in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall). He’s also Professor Emeritus of Shenandoah Conservatory where he prepared some of the Conservatory’s choral ensembles.

For the 2019-20 season, Chicago is also performing two of “The Big Three:” The Orff and the Beethoven. “The mighty Ninth” in their language. “The mighty Ninth” language appears at least twice on the brochure. I guess some “management” people sat around a conference room table and said, “We’ll call the Ninth ‘mighty’ and the Orff ‘powerful’. Does everyone agree with that? Good.” Yes, there’s all this hyped language throughout the brochure about the pieces to be performed. Another example: “Carl Orff’s powerful Carmina Burana.” And related to my earlier article about vocal soloists-screamers, this is how the CSO “management” is marketing their screamers: “Muti is joined by the CSO Chorus and a cast comprising some of the world’s most distinguished international vocalists.” But I thought that some of the world’s most distinguished vocalists were in the CSO Chorus, so why aren’t they serving as soloists? They could easily do so. It’s the usual: Baiting the public to come to the performance because of the “world’s most distinguished CAST of vocalists.” If they were being honest about it, it would read “A CAST of screamers,” since that’s what most of them amount to. For the 2019-20 season, it looks like the Chicago Symphony Chorus has only 4-5 performances with the Orchestra all season. Other orchestras have really reduced their performances of symphonic choral works as well.

(This paragraph has been corrected. Were 1-2 more performances added for each Chorus since when I first looked at the brochures for the season? Or were they on another page that I somehow missed? Maybe I should stop listing specifically what Orchestra Choruses are doing since the list looks a bit different when I go back months later, then I look like I’m presenting incorrect information which is not my intent. Regardless…) For the current 2018-19 season, the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra programmed all of “The Big Three.” The Choral Arts Society of Washington have three performances with them: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, Philip Glass’s Itaipu and one of “The Big Three:” Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The Washington Chorus have two performances with the NSO: Lera Auerbach’s Arctica (Kennedy Center Concert Hall) and one of “The Big Three:” Beethoven’s Ninth at Wolf Trap. The University of Maryland Concert Choir came in with two engagements for the season. I think that’s correct: One of “The Big Three” (that war horse Messiah) and the Rossini Stabat Mater which they’re performing in May 2019 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and also in Carnegie Hall with the NSO. (Tongue in cheek: Is the Choral Arts Society “seething with envy” because the University of Maryland Concert Choir got the Carnegie Hall engagement and not them, as they did when the University of Maryland Chorus was awarded with similar invitations?) The Rossini performance is one that the now-retired and renowned University of Maryland Chorus would be performing with the NSO if The Maryland Chorus (as they were also known) were still around.

The Bottom Line: Orchestras are programming far fewer symphonic choral works these days than in the past (as when I was in major Orchestra Choruses). Because the public will only support “The Big Three?” It seems that I came along at the best time; when the performance of symphonic choral works were at their height. For example, when I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington, Norman (Scribner) would announce the upcoming season at the beginning of a rehearsal. We’d have maybe 8 performances of major symphonic choral works, mostly with the NSO in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, or with one or two touring guest orchestras, such as The Cleveland Orchestra, for example. The same for the University of Maryland Chorus who usually had the most performances especially under Antal Doráti, since he preferred them, and Robert Shafer’s Oratorio Society of Washington would have one or two engagements with the NSO, since at that time they performed only oratorios, as their name specified. They later changed their name to The Washington Chorus.

As the CSO strike continues, I hope to eventually read something about the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Either about how the strike affects them and/or that they performed with the CSO in one or more of the free concerts. But at this rate, I suspect they’ll never be mentioned, or even invited to perform with the CSO while on strike. “They’re just the Chorus, you know.” (roll eyes/groan). Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

The Second Class Musicians

Review: Beethoven’s Ninth – San Francisco Symphony and Symphony Chorus

I’m looking for that song called Beethoven’s Ninth

Hola a todos. To most people, the musically-illiterate — especially in the shithole US where some people consider it “cool” to be stupid — any music they hear they call “a song,” including major Beethoven symphonies. Even though there’s no one singing in Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 1-8. There are people singing in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in d, Op. 125 (Choral) but Beethoven’s Ninth is not “a song.” It’s a symphony with part of its title being (Choral) in parentheses. And the people singing in the last movement of the Ninth are the Chorus and the vocal quartet (4 voices).1 What they are singing is not called “a song.”

On the rare occasion, some people will point out this mistake to others such as when someone wrote in a YT comment about a Rachmaninov piano concerto: “I love this song.” One person responded with: “That’s funny, I didn’t hear anyone singing in that.” Exactamente. Gracias for that. At least someone knows that a piano concerto is not “a song.”

I decided to write this article because I get so tired of reading comments from people referring to any piece of music as “a song.” I see this mainly in dumbed-down YT comments. It seems that people who have no music training — and even a few who do and who should know better, one wonders where they trained? — erroneously call any piece or work of classical music they hear “a song.” Very amateurish.

Alright class, here’s a bit of Conservatory of Music training for you:

Question: Do you hear anyone singing in a piano concerto?
Answer: No.
Then it’s not “a song.”

Question: Do you hear anyone singing in that clarinet piece?
Answer: No.
Then it’s not “a song.”

Question: Do you hear anyone singing in that flute concerto?
Answer: Again no, just the solo flautist/flutist playing and being accompanied by the Orchestra.
Therefore it’s not “a song.”

Question: Do you hear anyone singing in that violin concerto?
Answer: No.
No one is singing in any of the above music.
Then it’s not “a song.”

A song has to be sung. A song is usually sung by just one person, a solo voice.

A song can be sung by two people in what’s called a duet (a soprano and alto, for example). But even when you hear a Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform the massive Berlioz The Grande Messe des morts (or Requiem), Op. 5, for example, where there are vocal soloists, that is not “a song.” In that case, it’s called a Requiem, as the title of the piece indicates. It’s a major work for Chorus and Orchestra. Even when one person is singing an aria in an oratorio — an oratorio is a sacred work for Orchestra and Chorus without costuming or scenery — that’s not called “a song” either. It’s called an aria. An aria is a lengthier, usually piano or orchestral-accompanied piece for a solo voice. Arias are found in oratorios and operas.

In music — especially the classical music genre — things have a specific name for what they are and they have that name, in part, to make things easier to identify. So when someone sloppily says, “I heard this song on the radio and I wanted to know who it was; I didn’t catch the name,” that would tell me nothing. I would be thinking maybe it was “a song” by perhaps Helen Reddy, Gloria Gaynor or some pop star, and not what the person was really looking for which was a Rachmaninov piano concerto they had heard that they are mistakenly calling “a song.” There is no one singing in any of the Rachmaninov concerti or in his concertante work for piano and orchestra, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Another example of things having a special name for the piece in the classical music genre: Referring to one of my long-time favourite choral works, Händel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt for Double Chorus, someone asked in YT comments: “Is this song Lutheran?” This song? An oratorio is not “a song.” Have you ever known “a song” to last for 1.5 hours? I can’t think that I have. Most songs are relatively short, 5-7 minutes or less. Israel in Egypt — often called “the oratorio of choruses” because of the abundance of back-to-back choruses in the work — is one of Händel’s well-known works for Chorus, Orchestra and Soloists. It is not “a song.” Even though there are vocal solo passages in it, those passages are not called “a song.” And no, it’s not a Lutheran work. Another person referred to Israel in Egypt as “this opera.” Opera? That’s wrong too. Why would someone think it was an opera? There’s nothing operatic about it. (Sigh) Oh the ignorance out there! Opera is a large-scale production with costuming and scenery and heavy vibrato in the singing — or more accurately described as screaming — from the soloists and the Opera Chorus. Whereas an oratorio has no costuming or scenery and hopefully no vibrato in the Chorus (or soloists), but rather all choristers singing with a perfectly blended beautiful straight tone (no noticeable vibrato).

Referring to Rachmaninov’s Колокола, Kolokola/The Bells, Op. 35, someone wrote in a comment: “Rachmaninov is my favorite composer, but this is a strange song.”

The Bells is not “a song.” It’s a choral symphony. It’s a symphonic choral work for Chorus, Orchestra and two soloists. And what is “strange” about it? What’s your problem?

I see these things all this time, which is why I’m writing about it. It annoys me and nobody has the time to correct every fucking idiot out there that refers to “a song” whenever they hear any piece of classical music.

The problem here should be obvious at this point: It’s musical illiteracy, musical ignorance and a lack of music education here in the shithole US and our public school system. Music and arts programmes continue to be cut in the public schools here in The Cesspool. Which reminds me that I never see anyone — particularly any young people — carrying musical instruments with them these days. All I see anyone carrying and “practising” is their phone that’s nearly embedded in their face. There are millions of people with terrible posture all hunched over staring at their screen and never seeing where they live, other people or their surroundings. Pathetic really.

To seriously study a musical instrument one would have to overcome one’s immense phone addiction, turn that phone off and put it down in order to have full attention to one’s music. Music training requires one’s full concentration. I can attest to that. From what I see out there, that would be impossible for most people. Most people cannot take their eyes off that screen even if their shoes were on fire or if someone were standing in front of them with a gun. Instead, they would have to immediately go on millionaire-billionaire owned “social media” — if they weren’t already on there — and upload images of their shoes on fire or the person about to mug them with a gun to see how much attention they can get for that and see how many “Likes” they get. Meanwhile, the person with the guy has grabbed their phone and ran off. The phone zombie becomes more concerned about their phone than their life. That’s about the extent of it. Another example of the Century of Insanity. I’ve seen what appears to be lobotomised phone zombies walk right into metal street poles and street signs in front of my apartment building in San Francisco unable to look up from that phone embedded in their hand permanently. After they crash into it, then they glance up for a split second to see what that metal sound was that their head just banged into (it didn’t seem to hurt them; there’s nothing up there anyway with these lobotomised phone zombies), but they step slightly to the left and continue on mesmerised by that screen as if they’re reading the most important message in the world. Well, to be successful as a musician, one must have talent to begin with and lots of it, as well as intelligence, years of hard work are required (for professional musicians it’s a life-long pursuit), discipline and a long attention span. And of course some dinero/money helps to pay for classes and private instruction.

Music education continues to be a primary budget cut for US schools while the pro-war, imperialistic US Oligarchy spends hundreds of billions USD on the bottomless pit known as the Military Industrial Complex Killing Machine. That’s the indicator of a sick society. In fact, the pro-war, corporate one-party system with two names voted to give the narcissistic orange despot/international joke — who is void of any sense of human decency and who makes an ass of himself wherever he goes — a larger military budget than this basura had asked for. As I’ve written repeatedly, despite their theatrics to the contrary intended to deceive their constantly gullible cultist supporters, I think the fake-opposition party (the “Democratic” Party Cult) is really quite fond of the orange despot, who’s never served a day in the US military. (He and Nancy Pelosi — whom the voters of San Francisco keep returning to the House of Representatives no matter what she does for the Republicans — are certainly all smiles standing together in this image). The orange despot conveniently got a deferral from military service by getting a diagnosis for bone spurs. Did he have to pay extra to get that diagnosis or did it come legitimately? His other four deferments from US military service were for college enrollment. That’s odd. As stupid, willfully-ignorant and absolutely devoid of any semblance of human decency and “common sense,” clearly his college years were spent partying. And can one assume that his grades were given to him rather than earned by bullying the right people? Along with plenty of “pussy grabbing” along the way? Some people do go to college or university for the wrong reasons. Yet today he’s all “rah, rah, US military.” That’s so typical of those basura who love to rattle on about (fake) patriotism and nationalism. Could someone please buy him a GI Joe set or something so that might help him therapeutically work through his military fantasies.

But with the musically ignorant:

1) Everything in music is “a song.”
Or
2) If a performance involves a Chorus, it’s always called “opera,” by the sheeple, with few exceptions. I don’t know why someone sees an Orchestra/Symphony Chorus on stage and automatically thinks “opera.”

I guess to many people, anything vocal is opera. Perhaps that’s the thinking.

One exception being that I’ve never heard Händel’s Messiahthat ubiquitous warhorse dragged out every holiday season — called an opera and I haven’t heard it called “a song” either. And I suspect most people don’t know it’s an oratorio nor do they know what an oratorio is. Messiah is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “The Messiah.” The name of the oratorio is “Messiah” with no “The” in the title, as you can see here on this Editions Novello score (the authentic/performance edition score cover. I don’t see as many people making that mistake anymore, fortunately.

A brief aside: Händel’s Messiah along with Beethoven’s Ninth and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana are about the only symphonic choral works now on the “classical pops” list. Think: sheeple, “50 great classical moments” such as the perfunctory Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, Beethoven’s Für Elise or Für Therese (the title of that piece is not definitive; take your pick on the correct title), The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a by Tchaikovsky, Pachabel’s Canon in D, Debussy’s Claire de lune, and the Rachmaninov PC #2 is being overplayed locally on one classical radio station. He wrote PC 1 & 4 as well, why not play those? There are many more pieces I could add to the “50 great classical moments” list and some are probably played more often than these pieces, but they’re not coming to mind at the moment. These were just off the top of my head. Also, when an Orchestra decides to do a choral work on the rare occasion these days, one can count on it being one of those three (Messiah, the Ninth and Carmina Burana) usually. Symphonic choral works and especially oratorios are being performed much, much less than they were when I was in Orchestra Choruses. I think it was for this past season looking at the schedule of performances with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) in the Kennedy Center that the Choral Arts Society of Washington had only one engagement (they had 4-5 engagements each season with the NSO when I sang with them), the same for The Washington Chorus and the University of Maryland Concert Choir was performing Messiah. When the “now-retired” superb University of Maryland Chorus existed, they had numerous engagements throughout the season. During the Antal Doráti years with the NSO, Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus was practically the Official Chorus of the NSO. Doráti preferred them and chose them as often as possible, which pissed off the Choral Arts Society. The NSO used to do a lot more symphonic choral works than that, but that’s for another article.

But back to the topic, can’t the public get the name of anything correct? No, apparently not. That’s why some people show up here at pink barrio by having searched “Boston Symphony Orchestra Chorus,” because I’ve written about the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. No one has arrived here by searching “Tanglewood Festival Chorus.” There is no “Boston Symphony Orchestra Chorus.” That’s not the correct name. The BSO’s Official Chorus is called the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) having been founded by John Oliver for the Tanglewood Music Festival, the summer home of the BSO. The TFC have been around since the early 1970s with their name on the BSO programmes and with WGBH-Boston radio and television announcers crediting the Tanglewood Festival Chorus before and after their performances, yet musically-illiterate idiots with no attention to detail still don’t know what to call them. Astounding. To my knowledge, that wasn’t the case when I was in Orchestra Choruses. People seemed to know the names of choral ensembles back then. I heard performance-goers say, “that Maryland Chorus (referring to the University of Maryland Chorus which also went by the name “The Maryland Chorus”) can sing the shit out of choral music” (I heard someone say). Even one of my non-musical relatives who often listened to country music talked about the Choral Arts Society of Washington when I was in that. She didn’t say, “that Chorus, whatever the name of it is, that my relative is in….” But these days? Ugh. I swear, the dumbed-down public. But I need to keep in mind that choristers are often most unfortunately considered second class musicians, they’re not considered “real musicians” by much of the public and or by some orchestral management, so perhaps that explains that.

So class: I’ve attempted to cover this topic thoroughly and hope I’ve done so. If you’re unclear on what to call something that you hear in classical music, to be on the safe side use these words: “that piece” or “that work” or just use the name of the composition, the name of the piece listed in the title area such as Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor. Or you would call that: This piano concerto. See how easy that is? And hopefully one learned something today. This Conservatory instruction has now ended. And you’ll never refer to a piece of music as “a song” again, unless it is “a song,” correct? Oh yes I’m sure. Ugh. (roll eyes) Chau.—el barrio rosa

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1 What usually sounds like a screaming quartet in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in d nearly always sounds like a train wreck (as one guy online astutely described it) because the four soloists — especially the screaming, heavy-vibrato soprano soloist — are not trying to sing beautifully and harmonise with each other. Instead, the soloists/screamers seem to be trying to out-scream, out-do each other as the prima donna some of them think they are. So the sound they’re producing sounds like over-singing, harsh screaming, as if they’re pushing their voices, which one should not do. It usually sounds awful. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the quartet in Beethoven’s Ninth where I said “what beautiful singing.” Instead, with those annoying soloists screaming (especially the soprano and tenor trying to out-do each other) it sounds more like opera even though Beethoven’s Ninth is not opera. Why does it seem to be a requirement to invite operatically-trained soloists to serve as the quartet whose voices cut through/scream through the entire Orchestra and Symphony Chorus? Then when it comes time to take bows, the quartet give the impression they think they have been the stars of the show, instead of the Orchestra and Symphony Chorus who were really the stars and performed most of the work. The screaming soloists have a small role in that piece. But every time I hear Beethoven’s Ninth which is over-performed these days, I have to bypass the sections featuring the quartet. I just can’t take it. I mean, anyone can scream to the point where it sounds like noise rather than music. And when vocalists these days say, “I’m classically-trained,” what they really mean to say is, “I’m a screamer and I scream with heavy-vibrato to cover up my pitch problems and my lack of vocal technique. You’ll hear me clear across town. I was trained with a megaphone-mouth.” That’s what it amounts to most of the time. Well Beethoven’s Ninth starts to sound like (screaming) opera when those soloists get going. But that’s acceptable because audiences have been brainwashed with this thinking that screaming, heavy-vibrato opera is equal to being well-heeled (Dahling), bougi (Dahling), upper class (Dahling) and of course white which is the dominant audience for opera (Dahling). I can’t stand hearing supposedly well-trained musicians mistaking screaming for beautiful singing with their god-awful wobbling vibrato, again, often used to cover up bad technique and vocal problems. And of course the Symphony Chorus should be singing with a lovely straight-tone (no noticeable vibrato whatsoever) otherwise I can’t listen to them either. And I don’t want to hear any cackling, shrill, harsh screaming sounds from the soprano section in their top register like I heard from the unrefined/unpolished wobbling and fluttering soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in one of their performances at the end of the Tanglewood Music Festival 2-3 years ago. It sounded awful. Clearly some of the choristers have been in that Chorus too long and their voices are no longer what they used to be. Not what I expect to hear from the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Lowered standards? I would say so. But there’s good news about that. As of this writing, James Burton, the TFC’s new Chorus Director hired from the UK is working to raise the standards of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. About time! But that’s for another article.

The Trinity Choir Is In The Wrong Church

The End Of Trinity Wall Street As We Knew It. This article is about the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, conducted by Dr Julian Wachner, in lower Manhattan. Julian is Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Wall Street (TWS), a parish church of the Anglican Communion.

Hola a todos. I am so disappointed and disgusted. After watching part of the Liturgy on el 18 de septiembre de 2016 (18 September 2016, and the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost) I turned to mi amigo/my friend and rhetorically asked: Why do so many things have to go in the wrong direction? He knew what I was talking about and said:

Well, it’s usually because we have idiots running things. They’re in positions of power and think they know best, even when they have no expertise or training in the field of study they’re making decisions on. This is especially true when it comes to the music in churches. And the often musically-illiterate clergy think they know best so they proceed to insult the highly-trained musicians by their decisions. And with many, if not most churches, in the minds of the clergy it’s all about the “spoken word” and not the music, even though I think most people are there for the music.

Yes, I think most people are there for the music too. If you look at the videos for Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia, their full Liturgy videos get 1-2,000 hits, but their Homily videos only get 100-200 hits. Quite a difference. So that would seem to confirm that most people prefer the full Liturgy which includes the music as opposed to only listening to the Homily.

I was looking forward to the return of the full Trinity Choir after Labour Day 2016. During the Summer months The Trinity Choir is reduced in size to about 8 voices (2 choristers per voice part – SATB), or what I call the Trinity Chamber Chorus. Other than watching parts of their 2015 Messiah performance at TWS, I’ve not heard The Trinity Choir in almost a year and I’ve missed watching and hearing them. They are such a splendid Chorus and with impeccable diction. In my opinion they’re in the same league with the Chorus of Les Arts Florissants (William Christie), the Collegium Vocale Gent (Philippe Herreweghe) and the now-retired University of Maryland Chorus (Dr Paul Traver), as three examples. Choral Excellence. The Trinity Choir, along with the Choir of Men and Boys at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan are the two best Anglican parish choirs (at least with webcasts) in the US, in my opinion. And I would point out that St Thomas takes their music seriously, unlike TWS, and I’m not referring to Julian who is outstanding. St Thomas doesn’t shove their superb Choir into the back of the church where you can’t see them.

About a year ago, I stopped watching the Liturgies at Trinity Wall Street for a couple of reasons: One, because of their inept production/camera crew. Instead of creating an enjoyable and peaceful/calming experience, the Liturgies became too frustrating for me to watch. I honestly think their camera crew would be much better suited for a museum where they could spend hours focused on the walls, the windows in the building and the ceiling of the museum. At least there would be artwork one could look at. As a choral person with years of Symphonic Chorus experience (I’ve listed this many times before, but for any new readers: Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus – Margaret Hillis/Vance George, Chorus Directors), I thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to the exquisite Trinity Choir and their consistently high level of choral excellence as well as the artistry from their organist, Avi Stein. Choral people like to see/watch Choruses perform. So I became very familiar with the choristers of The Trinity Choir. I didn’t know most of the chorister’s names but I knew their faces. Julian had a “core” group of choristers who were there every week, and then there were others who were there less frequently, having other musical commitments. The choristers of The Trinity Choir are among the finest one will find in NYC and beyond. Julian attracts and requires the best choristers. His standards of choral excellence remain consistent. Watching them perform was a critically important part of the experience of the Liturgy for me and mi amigo/my friend. That’s why I complained many times about inept production disrespecting their own Choir by not showing them when they sang at times throughout the Liturgy, especially for their Communion Anthem. Production felt it more important to show parishioners receiving communion. They find that interesting, do they? Their Choir was to serve as background music which we found very irritating.

Some Background/History (if this is your first time here): When I first started watching their Liturgies, their camera crew was very respectful of their Choir and kept the cameras on them when they performed. I had no complaints at that time with production. But as is usual and with the attitude being “let’s mess with something that shouldn’t be messed with,” something changed for some unknown reason. It’s as if some crazy person at TWS said, “People don’t like to watch singers/choirs sing.” Nonsense. Production at TWS seem to think that their Choir should be background music. Heard and not seen, and they’ve since taken that to a new level (which I’ll get to later). With that anti-artistic attitude — heard and not seen — one might as well just play music from CDs, not to give them any ideas and don’t think that can’t happen! I would like to remind TWS that singing is merely an extension of speaking, so why do we need to see the priests speaking? To be consistent, shouldn’t the priests be heard and not seen as well? Why is important to see them, if it’s not important to see their Choir?

As I said earlier, production thought it was more important for viewers to see the parishioners coming and going to receive Communion than it was to show their own Choir singing the Communion anthem. Oh, they would occasionally show the choir during Communion way over there in the distance as the camera parked at the very back of the Nave. But there’s one thing they never do at TWS: They never disrespect their priests by wandering off and showing the ceiling of the Nave, stained-glass windows, baskets of flowers, or the High Altar when a priest is speaking. They keep that camera locked on the priest until s/he has spoken their last word at that point in the Liturgy. Why don’t their highly-trained and regarded musicians receive the same level of respect? Again (to hammer this point for the thick people who may show up), production never wandered off to show stained-glass windows, slowly scanning the High Altar, showing baskets of flowers and their unchanging ceiling which they have the deepest affection for — don’t ask me why since there’s nothing special about it and it looks like any other Nave ceiling and it never changes — when the priests were/are giving the Homily or during the Consecration or any other time. I got tired of seeing the same ceiling and stained-glass windows week after week when I wanted to see their outstanding Choir. Production seemed obsessed with the windows in the building, and they still do. I don’t understand this at all. Another reason I stopped watching their Liturgies was because they began this nearly-weekly repertoire of gospel/spiritual music for the Offertory and/or Communion Anthems. One might be asking: In an Anglican Liturgy? Yes. I never was clear who’s idea this was, whether it came from the clergy or from Julian. I came to suspect it was Julian’s idea and not that of the new rector since this was going on before he arrived. Regardless, it was really misplaced and caused a clashing of styles because you would have gospel/spiritual music one moment and a superb High Church organ improvisation from Julian with incense the next. It was like being in a southern baptist church one moment and then quickly running across the street to an Anglo-Catholic parish the next. Loco. Two very different forms of worship right back-to-back. It did not work. And I think some choristers knew it didn’t work. Consequently, their Liturgies became more a frustration for me than a pleasure to watch. It also frustrated me to see the talent of The Trinity Choir wasted on gospel and spiritual music, when they excel at High Renaissance choral works, and those works were being neglected. I’m not putting down gospel or spiritual music at all. Both have their place, but not in an Anglican Liturgy in my opinion. And there’s a very different/advanced skill level required for High Renaissance compared to gospel music. There’s no shortage of churches out there featuring gospel and spiritual music on a weekly basis, so if one wants to hear that genre one could go to those churches. But churches with High Renaissance performed as superbly as The Trinity Choir performed those works are most rare by comparison. So why join the herd and try to be like those other churches? So I stopped watching their Liturgies. I was also linking to their Liturgy videos in my articles about the Choir. Then I realised I was ending up with lots of dead links because Trinity deleted the videos of their Liturgies after roughly 3 months. I’ve yet to understand why they don’t upload their videos to YouGoogleTube — like they do at Washington National Cathedral — where their videos can remain indefinitely since they (TWS) own the copyright to them. I had also linked to their superb performances of Messiah and Israel in Egypt. Both of those oratorio performances were deleted too. By doing so, they were deleting legendary performances (if you had heard them you’d know I’m not exaggerating) of choral works — especially the High Renaissance music I mentioned earlier — and all of those performances were deleted. Unconscionable. That also told me that TWS does not have a serious respect for their music. They consider their music more filler or fluff as so many churches do. Because only someone with no ear for music and a lack of appreciation for choral excellence would delete those outstandingly superb performances by their own Choir. For those who don’t know, this is a Choir that performs at Lincoln Center every holiday season (Messiah). How many church choirs do you know of that perform at Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts?

This brings us up to the current time. Well, The full Trinity Choir is now back for the 2016 Fall Season. But most unfortunately we can no longer see them or see Julian conduct or see Avi. I am thoroughly disgusted with what has happened since I stopped watching their Liturgies.

Again, The Trinity Choir is not your typical podunk church choir which often comes with wobbling and slightly flat sopranos whose voice range is closer to altos than that of highly-skilled sopranos, weak/straining and flat tenors without any breath support, quivering altos and hollow-sounding basses. A real joy to listen to! [sarcasm intended]. So why is The Trinity Choir now stuck in the back of the Nave up in the Gallery? What is wrong with these people who make these insane, insipid, asinine, ludicrous decisions? [SCREAM!] I don’t understand them at all. People who make these ludicrous decisions in churches — and respectfully I don’t think this came from Julian — are not there for the music. To people like this, the music is just something to “fill up” the Liturgy at the appointed time per the service leaflet. They have no ear for quality music. They can’t tell the difference between The Trinity Choir and The Family Choir, and there’s a major difference between the two. I remember reading an article about TWS (pre-Julian) that said that they were considering abandoning/closing their music programme altogether. That shows what little respect this parish has historically for music. Appalling.

So now, the camera view they show of the Choir is completely useless. One just sees bodies standing in the back Choir Loft in red cassocks and white surplices. You have no idea which choristers are there. And because production doesn’t need to show a Choir now (which must please them and make them feel relieved), they now have the luxury of giving lots of time to their fixation and obsession with slow panning of the stained-glass windows, of the ceiling, and more stained-glass windows, additional stained-glass windows, and what about this stained-glass window over here?, and the slow panning of the High Altar for the umpteenth time, and of course flower baskets. I take it that production must live under the illusion that they have no regular viewers who have seen all of these scenes many, many times before. Then they’re back to the useless camera view of their Choir stuck back there in the distance in the gallery/Choir Loft behind the faux pipes. They consider this an improvement, do they? Loco.

And they didn’t move any mics for this pathetic arrangement. Or if they did, they didn’t know what they were doing. So the choral sound is now different. It’s as if the acoustics are eating up all the crispness in the highs and lows of the sound in the choral works. It’s a much more muffled sound with the Choir in the back, as if the echoing is eating up or consuming the sound. The sound quality is not nearly as good as it was when the Choir sat near the High Altar. When the Choir sat in front of or on the sides of the High Altar the sound was superb. Very crisp, clear and the highest of quality. They used to have small microphones hanging about a foot above the heads of the choristers when they sat in front of the High Altar. Then those microphones seem to have disappeared; I no longer saw them. With the Choir stuck in the back Gallery, they should never attempt a professional recording from that location. Although upon reflection, I think the back Gallery would be an ideal location for a Homily, then we can all get on our phones and do something else while that’s going on, no?

It seems that someone there said (probably in some perfunctory committee meeting – you don’t leave this stuff to some committee with no ear for music!): What can we do to solve this problem? Because some person online keeps going on about not being able to see our Choir and wanting to keep the camera on them when they perform. Oh I know, here’s what we can do: Put The Trinity Choir in the back gallery/Choir Loft so we can’t show them at all. That’s it! Problem solved. And we can buy a new organ console (I’m assuming that’s what they did) for the back gallery to control the main console for the Digital organ in the Chancel/Sanctuary area. Problem solved.

No, the problem is not solved at all and anyone with an ear for music knows that. In fact, it’s the worst thing they could have done. All of these fine musicians (Choir, Julian and Avi) have become invisible with the lowest of profile. Heard but not seen. I’m just curious how long they’ve been stuck back there in the Gallery/Choir Loft. (Sigh.)

Trinity Wall Street is an odd church in that it was not built with a Quire area. When I began watching their Liturgies, the Choir was sitting in front of the High Altar. Technically, nothing is to be in front of the High Altar but as far as I’m concerned we can make an exception to Anglican protocol in this instance so that we can see this outstandingly superb Choir perform. A Choir of this caliber does not belong stuck in the back of a church. Period. They deserve to be seen as they were when I was watching their Liturgies. The Trinity Youth Chorus Schola sat in front of the High Altar last Domingo/Sunday (18 September 2016). Since it was acceptable for them to sit there, why can’t The Trinity Choir sit there every week? After their new (icy) rector arrived, the Choir began sitting in the traditional Anglican choir style facing each other split on both sides of the High Altar. That worked, although because of inept production/camera techniques — and because they didn’t adjust the production lighting — it was difficult for viewers to see the back row of each side of the Choir. It was sort of dark back there. On occasion, we were looking at the backs of the choristers from over near the organ console. So it appears that rather than refine their camera work — I had suggested they go over to B & H Photo in Manhattan for production assistance and training — they’ve chosen to abandon showing their musicians altogether. And apparently to them that solves the problem. Ludicrous.

Then there’s Julian: I really don’t think TWS knows what they have in him. He gets results that Margaret Hillis and Dr Paul Traver got with a Chorus. When The Trinity Choir sat in front of or split on either side of the High Altar, I also very much enjoyed watching Julian conduct. He has a very unique conducting style. You can see and feel the music in his conducting as you hear it. I remember one occasion for Ash Wednesday when they performed “O Saviour of the World” by the Anglican composer John Goss. Julian lifted up on his toes and signaled to the best tenor section in NYC up there on his right — which included my favourites Steven Caldicott Wilson and Eric Dudley — and prepared them/signaled to them to bring out that approaching tenor line. They did. Viewers heard the tenor section soar that line above the rest of the choral texture. It was beautiful. But you would not necessarily get those same results and that detail from any other choral director. Julian is a pleasure to watch and it saddens and disgusts me that I/we can no longer see him. It is really outrageous.

Off topic but still making my point about Julian: I read the review from The Washington Post from when Julian’s The Washington Chorus, performed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the NSO (I think it was the NSO). His Chorus received a stellar review for their performance. I think it’s accurate to say that when I lived in the District, the University of Maryland Chorus “owned” that monumental work when they performed it with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam conducted by Claudio Abbado at the Kennedy Center. I was there for their performance. “Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus was glorious throughout!” was part of the review of their concert. And you might find this interesting: After I moved to San Francisco, in a phone call with wonderful Dr Traver — who was most generous with his time — I asked him how The Maryland Chorus got that Missa Solemnis engagement and he told me that Claudio Abbado contacted Margaret Hillis in Chicago and asked her to recommend a Symphonic Chorus in the Washington Metropolitan Area for the Beethoven. She recommended the UMD Chorus because she had previously worked with them and Dr Traver on the University of Maryland at College Park campus. But back to TWS: How can TWS shove a choral conductor/expert who recently received the prestigious Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence for his Symphonic Chorus in the District (The Washington Chorus) behind a wall of faux pipes where you can’t even see him in a back Gallery of a church? Outrageous.

I also thought it was odd way-back-when, when they removed the camera from the organ console. Why would they do that? That was also a sign of a lack of respect for the music. So viewers were no longer allowed to see Avi play his organ voluntaries, the hymns or anything else, compared to before when Eric William Suter (who filled in there for awhile; I enjoyed him) and Janet were there (the organ student from The Juilliard School). We used to have the pleasure of seeing the musical interactions between Avi, and right across from him in camera view was Julian in front of the Choir. That’s the type of scene a choral musician likes to see. The interaction between all the musicians.

But now, there’s none of that. Dead. And they consider this a positive change?

Also with this terrible arrangement, The Trinity Choir no longer processes which in my opinion makes their Liturgy seem lower church. I miss the traditional procession complete with the Choir. This is no improvement. Did all of this come from this new rector? And this current arrangement gives no “profile” to the choristers whatsoever. They become beyond anonymous because viewers can’t even see who’s there. It’s terrible and in my opinion not even worth watching.

It’s all about the clergy now. Well, I can’t imagine Julian is too pleased with this.

Since they apparently consider this an improvement, I have some other ideas they might consider as an “improvement:” I suggest they stick the priests in the back. See how they like sitting back there, heard but not seen. Also, when a priest is speaking during the Homily (for example), in mid-sentence have the cameras wander off the priest and begin showing stained-glass windows, slowly scan the High Altar showing every crevasse possible, zoom in on a basket of flowers for awhile, then back to more stained-glass windows, and then slowly scan the ceiling for the entire length of the Nave. By then, the Homily might be over. If they were to ever do this (which of course they won’t), I wonder if the priests would feel at all disrespected? If so, maybe they would be able to understand more fully how the superb musicians feel.

If only the musicians of TWS were in a parish that respects them in the same way that St Thomas Fifth Avenue have the highest regard for their superb Choir of Men and Boys, their organists, and they focus their Liturgy on their Choir and organists with a Festal Choral Eucharist every Domingo/Sunday. If only The Trinity Choir, Julian and Avi received that same level of respect that they certainly deserve. Sadly, it’s as if they’re all in the wrong church. Fin. The End. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Here’s an example of how camera work should be done when one wants to be respectful of the musicians (from hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra, one of my favourites):

or here (in a choral context, Les Arts Florrisants):

Thought you might enjoy this short piece (also Les Arts Florrisants):

UPDATE: After comments closed for this article, I received an e-mail regarding TWS’s production work. The person did not defend production but wanted to say that organist Diane Bish in her programme The Joy of Music used some of the same camera techniques that TWS uses (stained-glass windows especially) and maybe that’s where they’re getting this from. Perhaps. But I would like to point out that with The Joy of Music it was in a very different context. Unlike with TWS, Diane was in a different parish or cathedral church every week so the camera techniques that Haney Productions used for her programme worked well for her because each week the building was new to the viewer. With TJOM, viewers were not stuck looking at the same windows, ceiling, and columns as they had seen for months as is the case with TWS. Haney Productions did an excellent job producing Diane’s programme and the scenes they did show in her videos were never at the expense of the music or musical artist guests, as is the case at TWS or at Washington National Cathedral (both now have terrible camera crews when it comes to respecting the music; I don’t know what happened because at one time they didn’t). I actively watched all of Diane’s programme that were shown over the years and I don’t remember a time where I asked, “why are we looking at this instead of Diane?” Any scenes they showed while the music was being performed they showed quickly in order to get the camera back on Diane or her guest musicians. Unlike Trinity and WNC where production seems to think it’s all about them and their cameras rather than the music, which they seem to think is secondary/background. I appreciated the e-mail and I have talked about this specifically in a past article about The Trinity Choir, I just didn’t write about it in this article. It was already long enough. Gracias. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Lully – Te Deum, for Double Chorus & Orchestra – Les Arts Florissants

Arte en lienzo Lámina - Las Dalias Rosas

Hola. ¿Qué tal? In the Conservatory, we’ve been enjoying this performance excelente by Les Arts Florissants (desde Francia/from France) of the Te Deum for Double Chorus and Orchestra by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) conducted by William Christie. It’s very fortunate they recorded this performance and it’s superbly recorded.

William Christie is the founder and director of Les Arts Florissants. There’s an interesting story about him. He was born in the Imperialistic Empire (los Estados Unidos/the US) but moved to Francia to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War because he vehemently opposed it. And he’s been in Francia ever since. He was asked in an interview:
“What was your big breakthrough? His answer: Breaking out of the US in 1970. It was more for personal than professional reasons – I was very much against the Vietnam war. I went off to Europe, and nine years later, I founded the ensemble Les Arts Florissants, which has been my baby, my life’s work, ever since.”

Don Jean-Baptiste Lully is considered the master of the French Baroque style. And for those who may not know, Te Deum settings are used in the Roman Catholic, the Anglican Communion and in some Lutheran liturgies, although this is a secular Concert Hall performance.

A Double Chorus is one Chorus divided into two Choruses. The choral score of a work for Double Chorus will indicate “CHOEUR I,” and below that “CHOEUR II.” The choral writing often has each Chorus answering one another. With a Double Chorus, there’s at least 8 choral lines for SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) in the score and often more than that if each part is divided into first and second (such as first and second soprano, for example). I’ve always enjoyed works for Double Chorus because there is so much more going on. There are so many more parts and more harmonic lines to listen to with one Chorus answering the other. It’s also a pleasure to perform, just as in this performance of the Lully Te Deum.

Usually, from my choral experience, each Chorus is divided into two equal-sized groups but in this performance that’s not the case. I think that’s done for effect where William Christie wanted the Chorus on the top level up near the audience to sound at a distance, which they do (they are not mic’ed) whereas the Chorus on the stage is mic’ed (but that may be only for recording purposes), but without hearing individual voices. Sometimes a work will be for Double Chorus and in the performance the Chorus is visibly split into two (such as in Händel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt or his oratorio Solomon, for example). Or in symphonic choral works such as Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (one of my favourite choral works), the Chorus is usually not visibly split.

This is one of the best performances I’ve ever heard. I’ve watched it many times and I now know the piece well. The Chorus of Les Arts Florissants consists of 28 voices. The Chorus on the upper level consisted of 8 voices, with the larger Chorus being on the stage behind their Orchestra.

Nearly all of the soloists were perfectly chosen for this performance, and I rarely say that since I’m usually turned off by most vocal soloists. I would have chosen a different bass soloist — I would have chosen Birger Radde who performs with the Octopus Symphony Chorus in Brussels — but that’s my personal preference:

• Amel Brahim-Djelloul: soprano
• Emmanuelle de Negri: soprano
• Toby Spence: tenor
• Cyril Auvity: tenor
• Marc Mauillon: tenor
• Alain Buet: bass
Les Arts Florissants Orchestra and Chorus

The Lully is one of my favourite pieces, at least the way Les Arts Florissants perform it. Why isn’t this piece performed more often? It could replace Händel’s over-performed Messiah, and this is much shorter than “warhorse” Messiah.

Les Arts Florissants have a stellar reputation within the classical music field. I believe they are considered authorities on music of the (French) Baroque period and Baroque performance practise.

A little bit more about the soloists: I especially like the three guys who sing individually and together. Check out the second section of the piece from 27.00 on in the video to see what I mean, especially the Miserere section. Unlike other soloists such as in opera and oratorio, these soloists don’t bark, scream or screech but rather sing with a lovely, beautiful musical tone.

Mi amigo/My friend who has watched this piece many times with me asked: So where did this loud screaming come from that one hears in opera or choral performances where they hire well-known opera singers to bark through the solo passages? I’ve touched on that in previous articles. Related: Is Opera music? and “Heavy vibrato” operatic soloists compete to out scream each other. Regardless of where it came from I don’t like it and never have. In most cases, I think that the soloists should come from the Chorus — assuming it’s a well-trained Chorus singing with a straight-tone — so that the soloists “match” the sound of the Chorus instead of having a completely different sound than the Chorus where the soloists have this glass-shattering, wobbling heavy vibrato and where the listener can’t even tell what pitch the soloist-screamer is “singing.” And the Chorus of Les Arts Florissants is absolutely superb and a pleasure to listen to.

My only complaint with this performance by Les Arts Florissants was the sexism at the end of the performance where las flores/the flowers were only given to las mujeres/the women. Why no flowers for the guys? Las flores are only for women? That does seem to be the thinking of many male conductors, as I touched on in this article recently: Kissing the hand of the Female Concertmaster. Los muchachos/guys like flowers too — well, I thought they did; I do — and the guys sang beautifully so they should have been given las flores as well. But they weren’t given anything and it looked rather odd with them just standing there receiving nothing while las mujeres held their bouquet of flowers.

I can’t imagine this work being performed any better than Les Arts Florissants perform it. Enjoy. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus perform The Bells (Op. 35) by Sergei Rachmaninov

The Boston Symphony Orchestra should invite the Boston University Symphonic Chorus to perform with them and give the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) some time off. TFC might sound better after they reworks/refine their rough-sounding, non-smooth-sounding, fluttering (and shrill) soprano section, no? Why have an “Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra,” when they are inferior to the Symphonic Chorus at Boston University?

Hola. ¿Qué tal? This article is about two Orchestra Choruses in Boston: The Boston University Symphonic Chorus and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, as well as some general choral information, and my experiences that some people might find interesting (all 2 or 3 of you). It’s a lengthy article, in part, because I’m critical of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and I give examples of why. Well you can’t fairly criticise someone without giving legitimate reasons why.

I and mi amigo have been watching two video performances from Boston’s Symphony Hall with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra (David Hooser, conductor) and Symphonic Chorus (Dra Ann Howard Jones and Scott Jarrett, Chorus Directors.) One video (below) is a performance of the choral symphony,The Bells, by Sergei Rachmaninov (in Русский/Russian: Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов/Колокола), and the other work is the oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn (in Deutsch: Elias). We enjoyed both performances. I think the Symphonic Chorus was better for the Rachmaninov. It was also a larger Chorus, and some of the same choristers were in both performances.

Dra Ann Howard Jones, Director of Choral Activities at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts School of Music, was recommended to BU by Robert Shaw. She worked closely with Shaw in Atlanta and was assistant conductor of the superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (one of my favourites) for fifteen years. Dra Jones is unfortunately having health problems so Interim Director of Choral Activities at BU, Scott Jarrett, has been preparing the Symphonic Chorus and conducting some performances in her absence. Update: Since I wrote this article, my views about Dra Ann Howard Jones have changed and I address that in this article: University of Maryland Concert Choir performs at Carnegie Hall with NSO. I wrote about her where she misrepresents the late Robert Shaw wherein she claims Shaw liked hearing individual voices. That is Rubbish! She knows that is not true. His Atlanta Symphony Symphony Orchestra Chorus sang with perfect intonation in all sections (SATB). One did not hear individual voices in his Chorus, nor should one. Perfect intonation — the perfect blending of voices — is one of the basic foundations of choral excellence. Has this woman forgotten that when it comes to the soprano and alto sections of her Chorus? Apparently so. The only time Shaw enjoyed hearing individual voices was in a Chorus audition or if one were a soloist as part of a performance. In his Chorus, absolutely not.

We very much enjoyed the excellent BU Symphonic Chorus, although the fluttering, wobbling and quivering heavy-vibrato soprano and alto sections less so. The tenors and basses were excellent singing with the preferred straight tone giving them perfect intonation. Because of their overall young age they remind me of the superb University of Maryland Chorus (from my past) which performed regularly in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra. The Maryland Chorus had quite the legacy under conductor Antal Doráti. They also had engagements with many other national and international orchestras. Like the University of Maryland Chorus—which was considered a “town and gown” Chorus (meaning membership was open to the town of College Park Maryland/the public and UMD students upon audition)—the Boston University Symphonic Chorus is an auditioned ensemble open to BU students, faculty, staff and friends, according to BU’s website.

Boston University has an outstanding Symphony Orchestra. I’ve never heard such an excellent student Symphony Orchestra and they are very interesting to watch. They have a beautifully smooth string section and with the skilled camera work in these videos one gets to see the perfectly synchronised bowing of the violins, for example, and we noticed that some of the page turns were perfectly synchronsised such as at 5.13 in the video. One of the orchestral members, Ceylon Mitchell (piccolo) uploaded the Rachmaninov video on YouGoogleTube and you’ll see Ceylon playing at approximately 18.49 into the Rachmaninov video. Muchísimas gracias/thank you very much to Ceylon for the video of the performance. From what I can tell from looking at the two performances, it looks like the violin section has a rotating rather than a fixed seating system. The concertmaster was the same for both performances. I also noticed that Rachmaninov wrote a very busy part for the First Chair flautist. He rarely had a break. And don’t miss the French Horn section at 25.32 in the video. Our favourite movement was the Presto. And with Rachmaninov’s writing he had the string section sounding like a “machine” beginning at 22.56 in the video (and watch the heads and facial expressions of the violinists in that part).

As with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the one problem I had with the Boston University Symphonic Chorus was their soprano section. (Related: Tangling with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus). From what I’ve read about BU, they consider themselves to be a “solo school.” (Translation: Producing soloists. Does that mean opera soloists?). But even with soloists there are times where a soloist needs to or is supposed to blend with other voices and turn off that godawful, heavy, wobbling vibrato. It sounds awful. One can’t even tell what pitch they’re aiming for. Ugh. With the soprano section, what happened to the concept of sounding like one voice, or perfect intonation in good choral singing? A section (such as the soprano section) cannot sound like one voice when various choristers use or cannot turn off heavy, fluttery vibrato. With the human voice instrument too much vibrato is a major turnoff, at least to me and others I’ve talked with. I expect to hear heavy vibrato in opera and with an Opera Chorus, but neither of the works being performed by the Boston University Symphonic Chorus in these video below are opera (one’s a choral symphony and the other is an oratorio). I was wondering if the soprano section of the Boston University Symphonic Chorus (BUSC) were trying to emulate the rough-sounding, non-smooth-sounding, non-refined-sounding fluttery soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus? Who would want to emulate them?

Regarding vocal/choral vibrato from Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor:
“There are situations in which vibrato is an undesirable effect. In choral work, vibrancy rates among individual choir members may differ either slightly or enormously, and vibratos that aren’t synchronized can destroy the quality of a soft, unison passage. Wide-swinging vibratos that aren’t squarely on pitch in one singer can throw off the pitch of other singers standing next to them in the group. Most choir directors make the decision to have everyone sing in a ‘straight tone’ to avoid such inconsistencies in the overall sound of the choir. A straight tone can help singers in a large group blend more easily with each other. Therefore, tempering how much vibrato a singer uses or has, if any at all, is a valuable skill in an ensemble situation.” [Source: Singwise: An Information Based Resource For Singers By Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor].

When they were founded back in 1970 by John Oliver to be the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I liked the Tanglewood Festival Chorus very much. But since then, either they have changed or I’ve changed, or both. I do have a very different “ear” now for listening to choral music and Orchestra Choruses than I did back then because of my own Orchestra Chorus experience (see bottom of the page) and from listening very closely to performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Founder/Director Margaret Hillis, as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Founder/Director Robert Shaw and other national and international Orchestra Choruses and choral ensembles. Have they (Tanglewood Festival Chorus) been doing too much opera repertoire over the years or something? I don’t know, but I don’t enjoy them now. And they don’t sound like the same Chorus to me as they did in their early recordings (such as in the Berlioz Damnation of Faust, for example). I hadn’t heard them in years until a small group of them sang for senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral. I vaguely remember briefly watching/hearing them in that video on YouGoogleTube and I thought: That’s Tanglewood? What’s happened to them? I listened for a bit but had to turn it off. I couldn’t listen to it. I thought: I don’t remember Tanglewood sounding like that when they were founded back in 1970. I heard wobbling, fluttering vibrato in the sopranos, and in that church space where the funeral was held it did not sound good at all. They sounded more like an amateur church choir of untrained women’s voices – wobbling. They may have sounded better if they had used the entire TFC. Then a small group of the TFC sang for another funeral, Thomas Menino’s Funeral this year – 2014 and you can hear the sopranos wobbling/fluttering in that video. Does that sound like an Orchestra Chorus to you, or members of? Does that sound like members of the “Official Chorus of the BSO?” It doesn’t to me. I take it that the standards have been lowered, not that anyone would admit that. I saw another video of the TFC, which you can see here. In that video, members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus are singing a holiday piece complete with some bobbing up and down movements and other silly facial expressions/acting gestures from members of the Chorus. I found it to be childish and amateurish to tell you the truth. I was waiting for the June Taylor Dancers to come out at one point to do some “chorus line,” dancing for us (if anyone remembers them; I vaguely remember them so I looked them up and they were on The Jackie Gleason Show). I played that video for mi amigo and he said, “I wouldn’t expect what I saw and heard in that video from any ‘professional’ Orchestra Chorus.” Well I wouldn’t either. Neither of us could watch all of that video because we were so turned off by it. Making little childish facial expressions and gestures and “ump-pah-pah” bodily gestures while singing turns me off. Leave that to musical theatre/musicals.

The way I remember it when the TFC was founded, they were a very young Chorus. They looked like the New England Conservatory Chorus they replaced (I bet there’s a story there! Some chisme/gossip). Today, the TFC is an older Chorus and older voices can sound differently than younger voices. In the past couple months I heard TFC perform several choral works with the BSO and, again, they’re clearly not as good as they used to be, in my opinion. I heard things from the TFC that I would not expect to hear from the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra or any Orchestra Chorus for that matter. For those who don’t know, Orchestra Choruses are supposed to be the very best around to match the orchestra they serve as the resident/permanent Chorus for. So recently when listening to TFC, once again, I thought: What’s happened to them? I don’t think I will be asking that again. I can list a few examples of what I heard: I heard the tenor voices cracking/breaking in one part of Beethoven’s Ninth (I’ve never heard that from any other Orchestra Chorus), I heard shrill/screaming/fluttering-wobbling sounds coming from their soprano section in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection”) as well as Beethoven’s Ninth on the highest notes of both works. The sopranos sounded like they were cackling/screaming on some of the highest notes in the Beethoven. The entire TFC sounded like they were struggling some at the very loud choral ending of the Mahler. Someone may say, “you’re nitpicking.” I’m telling you what I heard from listening objectively and without any partiality, and I see no need for anyone to make apologies for an Orchestra Chorus or rush to their defence. Tell it like it is. These things are not what one expects from a well-prepared, highly-trained Orchestra Chorus. In some of their performances I heard consonants that were not together, as if John Oliver said: “oh that’s close enough.” In Beethoven’s Ninth, I heard final “t’s” that were splat; that were not together in one place on the word “zelt”. That should have been drilled/set in rehearsal (“Chorus, the ‘t’ of zelt goes on the _____ beat. Mark that in your scores in red.”) Upon reflection, maybe that’s the problem. They didn’t use their scores and sang “from memory” and some couldn’t remember where the “t” of zelt was supposed to be? Also, apparently it’s tradition that every Summer on the last day of the Tanglewood Music Festival—which is a little over 2 hours west of Boston on the Tanglewood estate in Stockbridge and Lenox MA—Beethoven’s Ninth is dragged out every season and performed by the BSO/TFC. (A brief aside: Has anyone noticed that Beethoven’s Ninth is becoming as over-performed as Handel’s Messiah and yet they call the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto “a war horse!”). With TFC’s 20014 Beethoven’s Ninth performance, on the last page or so of the choral score—the very fast section at the end; I don’t have the score in front of me—is where I heard what I would call “choral screaming” especially from that soprano section again on the notes in the top of their register. I played it for mi amigo and he said, “the sopranos sound like they’re screaming; they’re not musical.” I thought the same. At the end of the performance the audience predictably applauded wildly, as expected for Beethoven’s Ninth. Apparently they like screaming there at Tanglewood, or they can’t tell the difference between singing and screaming, no?

In TFC’s performance of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, the tenor section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was the best section (and at times they were the loudest section which was an interesting effect), followed by the basses. But unfortunately it went downhill from there on with the altos and soprano sections coming in as the worst. I do not like the sound of the soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. They don’t have a refined sound. I can’t recall ever hearing the sound that they have before. It’s a very unique sound, and not in a positive way. They don’t have a smooth, polished sound. They have this rough sound, this fluttery sound, which was especially noticeable in Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” They were fluttering all through that. Ugh. It was hard to listen to because of the soprano section. jesus! Who likes that sound? Overall, the soprano section is the worst section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which is odd, because from my choral experience the soprano section was usually the best with a very smooth, polished sound. I guess one way to describe them is that they sound like they’re trying to be the soprano section of an Opera Chorus (perhaps) than that of a Symphony/Orchestra Chorus, and they’re supposed to be the latter. It’s as if someone is not clear on the concept that they are an Orchestra Chorus.

The problem with the soprano section of the Boston University Symphonic Chorus is that they also have too much fluttering vibrato especially in their upper register. I’m beginning to wonder if this a Boston thing, or what? I don’t understand it. I noticed no vibrato from BUSC’s soprano section when they were singing quietly and lower in their register. Their fluttery vibrato was especially noticeable in Elijah in the chorus, “Holy, Holy, Holy is god the lord,” which begins (at 1.49.59 in the video) with the semi-Chorus and the full Chorus answers and that pattern continues for the rest of that particular chorus. But when the men came in with, “Go, Return Upon thy Way,” the men sounded good and without vibrato. So what’s with the heavy fluttery vibrato in the sopranos (it was especially noticeable in the first two rows or so of the semi-Chorus)? Fortunately, there was less vibrato in the Rachmaninov, but I still heard some in the sopranos. Does Dra Jones like that fluttery vibrato sound of the sopranos? If so, that’s very curious because the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus doesn’t sound like that at all. No section of the ASOC sounded like that under Robert Shaw and I’ve never cringed listening to the ASOC, so I find it curious that Dra Jones allows excessive vibrato/fluttering or likes it. How could anyone like it unless one is heavily into opera, which I’m not? And again, they weren’t singing opera. They were singing an oratorio and that vibrato sounded awful. As is the case with TFC’s soprano section, they sounded like your average, untrained women in an amateurish church choir with their wobbling voices, and I suspect that’s not how the BUSC soprano section wants to sound.

An oratorio is not opera so the Chorus for an oratorio should not sound like an Opera Chorus. It should sound like a Symphony/Orchestra Chorus. That’s one reason why there are two different types of choruses. One of the indicators of a superb Chorus is to be able to sing beautifully softly/quietly and Boston University Symphonic Chorus does that.

With BU’s performance of Elijah, at times I could have used more diction and more spitting of the consonants so that the consonants reach the last row in the hall as we were trained to do (especially in the University of Maryland Chorus, known for their diction). On occasion I thought I heard some US r’s (r’s as pronounced in US-English, as opposed to The Queen’s English). I know I did from the bass soloist which I thought was questionable. For those who don’t know what that refers to: in well-trained choral singing if you have the word “Lord,” for example, it’s sung as “Lawd.” No US “r’s.” That US “r” twang sounds hideous and untrained. Mi amigo says it sounds hick. Yeah, you could say that too. I could have used more pipe organ. He was playing but I couldn’t hear it—except on one chord that’s usually heard in Elijah—and they have a recently renovated pipe organ in Symphony Hall. I was wondering how the semi-Chorus was chosen. Are they considered the best voices in the BUSC or are they part of another Chorus in the School of Music (such as the Chamber Chorus, the Concert Chorus, the Women’s Chorale, or the Boston University Singers)? The semi-Chorus consisted of the first two rows of the Symphonic Chorus closest to the orchestra.

In Elijah, my favourite soloists were the tenor and the alto. The soprano soloist for the Rachmaninov had heavy vibrato. I could hear the pitch in my ear that she was supposed to be singing but due to her vibrato she was fluttering back and forth on at least two pitches. That’s the negative thing about vocal vibrato: The pitch/note that is indicated in the score is contaminated or clouded by other notes because of vibrato (I hope you know what I mean by that), whereas when one is singing with no vibrato (or with a straight tone) the pitch/note is purer and there is no doubt as to the note being sung, as one would hear the note played on a piano.

In the classical tradition, I’ve never understood why it seems to be a requirement that opera soloists/singers be dragged in as soloists for performances that are not opera. Why have heavy vibrato opera soloists for an oratorio when fortunately the Chorus for the performance does not sing with vibrato? Why can’t the soloists come from the Chorus? Some people would answer that by saying: “Because no one will come to hear the performance. You have to drag in big-named opera stars as bait to get the sheeple to come.” Really? And this seems to be an international standard. For example, I recently watched a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s’ A Sea Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and BBC Proms Youth Chorus. The Symphony Chorus and the Youth Chorus were superb. Excellent diction. (I even heard the “f” of “following” in the text). No vibrato at all in the Chorus, including the refined, smooth-sounding soprano section. The rough-sounding, fluttery soprano section of Tanglewood Festival Chorus might want to watch that video as they could certainly learn from them. But the two soloists sang with vibrato, especially the soprano. For me, she was a bit much to listen too and also watch because of her theatrics. It was almost as if she thought she were in a play.

Shouldn’t the soloists come from the Chorus?

Chorus = no vibrato.
Soloists = no vibrato.

How difficult is that to arrange or to understand?

I’m also glad that the Boston University Symphonic Chorus uses their choral scores. They don’t look like a bank of robots regurgitating the score on cue like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus look. I read what John Oliver (TFC’s Founder and Director) had to say about their “from memory” routine:

“Memorization is not a trick. It internalizes the music for you; it makes the music, somehow, a part of your own physical being. And you can express so much more like that. If you don’t see a singer’s face and you don’t see the posture of a singer, the address of a singer to the audience, you’re really not getting what a singer can deliver in music and what composers expected the singers to deliver.”

Ludicrous! I wonder how long it took him to come up with that? I read that paragraph to mi amigo and he said: That sounds like gobbledygook. Why do some people come up this “philosophical” nonsense and try to pass it off to unthinking people who unfortunately don’t posses critical thinking skills? Such people would respond to hearing that quote by saying, “Oh good, that sounds real good. Yeah that makes sense.” But fortunately, some people possess critical thinking skills and they would respond to that BS by saying: Well, I had no trouble seeing the faces or the posture of the BUSC choristers or the soloists using their scores. Is Oliver saying that composers in general expected singers to perform “from memory?” Really? I’ve never heard that before. Where did he get that? So when soloists represented by international artist agents are contracted for performances and use their scores, no matter how beautiful their performance they are not “delivering what the composer expected?” I think that will be noticias/news to them.

It’s Ludicrous! Although I suspect some gullible people fall for it.

As for performing “from memory,” Tanglewood Festival Chorus stands there with arms down all staring straight ahead at the conductor and showing little emotional involvement in what they’re singing (no body movements at all). They look like a wall/bank of statues.

Whereas Boston University’s Symphonic Chorus look like they’re involved in their music they’re performing, some move around a bit, some move their scores slightly in keeping with the tempo which I like to see as they’re getting into their music, and they are more musical, in my opinion.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra always use their scores/orchestral parts so why shouldn’t the Tanglewood Festival Chorus use their choral scores? Is the TFC trying to appear to better than the BSO musicians or better than another Chorus by singing “from memory?” There’s no sense to be made from that “performing from memory” nonsense—with its double-standards—of the classical music tradition where it’s perfectly acceptable (and expected) for some musicians to use their scores when performing but not others, and also depending upon what it is they’re playing and the setting. The double-standard is ridiculous and hypocritical. Does one know the score better when performing “from memory?” No, not necessarily. With some artists performing “from memory” can make them less comfortable and more nervous which can cause mistakes and memory lapses. With TFC, it looks like one is trying to impress somebody. It looks pretentious. I’ve seen some other choruses perform “from memory” on the odd occasion and to me they all pretty much look the same. It doesn’t matter which Chorus it is: A motionless bank of robots/statues. Fortunately, none of the Orchestra Choruses I had the privilege of performing with sang “from memory.” We used our scores.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed The Bells last month in Symphony Hall. I listened to their performance On Demand, and I still heard their screechy (especially on the highest notes in the soprano section), non-refined, rough, fluttery soprano sound. For The Bells, the TFC had a rather bright sound. A bright sound is not Russian. The Russian choral sound is a very dark sound, especially in the basses. I did hear some “Russian bass” sound in the Presto movement, but I noticed that the entire Chorus had a bright sound especially in the first movement. It didn’t sound “Russian” at all. I thought that the Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus (with a darker choral sound) performed the The Bells better than the TFC and the BSO. The playing from both orchestras was excellent but I preferred BU’s superb performance.

Overall, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus seems to be “hit and miss.” Some performances are better than others. I’ve already spent too much time on them so I didn’t bother to check their schedule to see how many choral works they perform each season in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood. I was wondering: Do they perform too many choral works a season and don’t have the time to be thoroughly prepared for each performance? Or is John Oliver accepting anybody he can get these days—their soprano section certainly sounds like that’s the case—as long as they’re a fairly good sight-reader? They (TFC) need to take off some time and work on refining that godawful soprano section, I can tell you that! They rely on screeching, shrill and a bright sound (when singing loudly). The Boston University Symphonic Chorus relies on power, precision and a darker tone. They sound like a more powerful Chorus even though they are not quite as large as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

I was talking with mi amigo while writing this article and he said: “Perhaps that’s the problem with an orchestra having their own Chorus. The Chorus and the Chorus Director know they will be used/performing with that orchestra regardless of how they sound (mistakes, blemishes, screaming/shrill/fluttering/cackling/unrefined-sounding sopranos and all!). They have no competition when they are “the official Chorus,” so the level of choral excellence doesn’t necessarily have to remain high.” Yes, perhaps. But then there’s the possibility of an orchestra disbanding their own Chorus. That happened with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. They no longer have a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and one reason given for disbanding was that their Symphony Chorus wasn’t that good. I never heard them. So after the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra disband their own Chorus, they invited the stellar University of Maryland Chorus to perform with them when they performed a choral work, until The Maryland Chorus was “retired”/liquidated by the University of Maryland at College Park about five years ago. These days, Baltimore SO invite the Baltimore Choral Arts Society on occasion as well as the University of Maryland Concert Choir, which is an all-student/music majors Chorus and which seems to have replaced the “retired” University of Maryland Chorus. But I doubt that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has any intention of disbanding their Tanglewood Festival Chorus, no matter how they sound, which reflects on the orchestra. Doesn’t the BSO notice how the TFC sounds, and especially that soprano section? Ugh. Or have they gotten used to it? I don’t know how one could get used to that. They make me cringe whenever I hear them.

We’ve very much enjoyed both The Bells and Elijah from BU, and felicitaciones to the Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus. They should be very pleased with their performances.

Regarding their other performances: We’ve wanted to watch BU’s other performances but on our systems we can’t get the Vimeo videos to play smoothly, no matter what we do. Even though I don’t like GoogleTube—because parasitic and predatory Google has absolutely ruined the former YouTube particularly with all the (obnoxious) ads embedded in videos—the BUSO and BUSC should have kept all their videos on GoogleTube. I don’t watch any of the ads on GoogleTube. I can’t stand ads. I minimise the video and bring it back up when I think the ad has played. And if I accidentally see what’s being advertised, I make a mental note: Don’t buy that.

If I had a choice to go hear the Tanglewood Festival Chorus or BUSC, I would choose Boston University’s Symphonic Chorus. Even with fluttery vibrato, to me vibrato sounds better with the younger voices of the BUSC.

Enjoy these two performances by them in the videos below. Chau.—el barrio rosa

I made reference to this superb performance in the article (Ralph Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC Proms Youth Choir and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo).

I didn’t mention this piece in the article, but thought you might enjoy it. I’ve watched this many times and have thoroughly enjoyed both the Orchestra and Chorus. It’s a splendid performance of Toward the Unknown Region also by Ralph Vaughan William with the National Youth Orchestra and Chorus of Britain, Codetta and the Irish Youth Chamber Choir. This performance reminds me of the first performance I heard of this work years ago by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the UK.

[My choral background: I had the opportunity and privilege of performing in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as a member of the Choral Arts Society of Washington (Norman Scribner, Founder and Chorus Director), the Oratorio Society of Washington, now called The Washington Chorus (Robert Shafer, Chorus Director), the University of Maryland Chorus (Dr Paul Traver, Founder and Chorus Director) with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest national and international orchestras, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George, Chorus Directors) in Davies Symphony Hall.]