Tag Archives: “The Maryland Chorus”

What happened to the renowned University of Maryland Chorus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musicians need to stand for something!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Anti-War University of Maryland Chorus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

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

When Musicians Boycott to Protest Politics

122 musicians sign letter to president Obama about Standing Rock protests

Protest Music for the Trump Era

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

UMCTRIBUTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

We very much enjoyed the excellent BU Symphonic Chorus. 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. 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. Ugh. Can’t they do that? 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.]