2001-2002 Season

2001-2002 Season

Since I have been lame and didn't update my chorus page for the entire year, I decided to put the entire 2001-2002 season on a single web page. Part of the reason is that as this is my third year with the chorus, it's becoming more routine and less novel, so I don't have as much to say about the day-to-day life in the chorus. But I do want to keep some record of what I've been doing in the chorus, and since the season is ending, I figured it would be as good a time to do it as any. I'll list the concerts that I participated in this season in chronological order.

Brahms Requiem (10/01)

The Brahms Requiem is a phenomenal piece for the chorus - unlike most requiems where soloists take the spotlight, the chorus is the star of the piece. There are a couple of soloists, but they only participate in a couple of movements, where the chorus is a major part of every movement. So we in the chorus love the piece for that reason.

But this time around, it was even more special. We performed the Requiem in the second week of October, soon after September 11, which gave a deeper resonance to the words that we were singing. In fact, we had a choral retreat on the first Saturday after 9/11, where we sang the Requiem all the way through for the first time as a group, and our conductor wisely kept his comments to a minimum, and let us sing, and bond together as a group with this phenomenal music. It helped.

With translated lyrics ranging from "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort" to "Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass" to "But the righteous souls are in the hand of God, nor pain, nor grief shall nigh them come" to the final ecstastic movement "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord", the Requiem acquired a more personal meaning in the days after 9/11. I am not a religious person, but the music itself transcends mere belief and goes straight to the soul.

By the time we got to the performances, we had really made the piece into our own tribute to 9/11, imbuing it with a fervor and an emotional intensity that was apparent to the audience. The San Francisco Chronicle reviewer commented "Once or twice every season, it becomes necessary simply to sit and marvel, in awe and gratitude, at the greatness of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus." It was an amazing experience of the power of music to help start the healing process.


Dvorak Stabat Mater (11/01)

I had really been looking forward to the Dvorak Stabat Mater, because of my affection for some of Dvorak's other works, such as the New World Symphony, and his Slavonic Dances. But it turned out to be fairly routine, without much to distinguish it in my eyes - in fact, I remember very little about the piece at this point. This may have been due to the fact that we were preparing it at the same time as the Brahms Requiem so it suffered in comparison. So I don't really have anything clever to say about this piece.

Review: San Francisco Chronicle review

Villa-Lobos Choros No. 10 (12/01)

This was a fun piece. Part of the Pan-American Mavericks concert, Villa-Lobos was a Brazilian composer with many influences (MTT introduced the piece each night with a comment that it was a cross between Stravinsky and Esther Williams). From the program notes, "this Choros is a twelve-minute explosion of unbridled physicality and electrifying energy. You can think of it as a South American Carmina Burana, only not so simpleminded and much, much shorter." In this piece, he splits the chorus up into a percussion section which spits out Indian names in a fast-paced patter (e.g. "Jakata kamaraja, Ti Tu Ti To Ti Tu Kaya!"), and a soaring chorus with a beautiful melody.


Bach Christmas Oratorio (12/01)

Bach is the man. He knew how to write music for choirs, and it shows. His music is always characterized by a sense of rightness in my mind - there seems to be no doubt as to where the next note is. Even when he crosses you up and does something unexpected, after you sing it, you begin to see why it had to be that way. It's a weird experience. Or maybe I just sang too much Bach in college (in the MIT Chamber Chorus, we did a Bach cantata or motet pretty much every concert it seemed like).

So because of my worship for Bach, the Christmas Oratorio was a blast. Helmut Rilling, one of the foremost Bach interpreters in the world, was the guest conductor and he was, as usual, amazing. He knows the piece inside and out, to the point where he rehearses and conducts it from memory. And he knows what kind of sound he's trying to achieve. This concert had an open rehearsal which a couple of my friends attended, and they commented to me afterwards that it was fun to watch him work, because they could hear his suggestions, hear us incorporate them, and then hear how it made the piece better. We agreed this is why Rilling gets paid the big bucks :)

Review: San Francisco Chronicle review

Liszt Faust Symphony (1/02)

This was a quick piece for the men in the chorus - we sit for most of the symphony, stand up for five minutes at the end, sing, and leave. Not much to say about the music. It was an interesting piece, with each movement representing one of the major characters in Goethe's Faust (Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles), and the chorus at the end talks about how "Woman's divinity leads us on high".


Festival of Choirs (3/02)

The Festival of Choirs brought together the San Francisco Symphony Chorus with four local high school choirs in one huge concert. It was a fun experience for both the symphony choristers, getting a chance to see the exuberance of youth (I commented to one of the older folks in the chorus that I now understood what they felt like around me), and for the high schoolers, getting a chance to sing in Davies Symphony Hall in front of 2000+ people and to see that singing is something you can throughout your life, not just in school.

The music itself wasn't too exciting - we had to keep it pretty straightforward for the high schoolers - but we did do the Bruckner Mass in E Minor which was excellent (sung with high schoolers interspersed throughout our chorus on the main stage). We also did one of my favorite pieces, Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus, although it works better for a chamber chorus than for a chorus of 200. Fun stuff, and the kids really enjoyed it.

Ravel Daphis et Chloe (5/02)

Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe was originally written as a ballet, although it is often performed in concert format, as we did. The chorus sings wordlessly through the piece, creating an atmospheric effect appropriate to the action of each scene. I don't really have too much to say about the piece itself, except that it is widely considered to have the most amazing musical depiction of a sunrise ever written (I actually preferred the one in Haydn's Creation, but I'm definitely outvoted by the aficionados).

Review: San Jose Mercury News review

Rimsky-Korsakov Mlada (6/02)

Mlada is a massive opera-ballet written by Rimsky-Korsakov. It is not well-known, but it influenced an enormous number of modern composers, from Stravinsky to Prokofiev to Ravel (MTT commented when we were doing Daphnis et Chloe, that we were among the few who understood that Ravel completely ripped off Rimsky-Korsakov in writing that piece). Mlada has a huge orchestra, soloists, a large chorus, and a ballet dancer. And that's with the minimum staging that we did. At our first rehearsal, our conductor showed us a performance by the Bolshoi, and there was dancing, and singing, and props, and all sorts of craziness.

We lived in terror of this piece for the last couple months, as there is a lot of music to learn, with lots of random entrances by the chorus that you have to stay awake for, and a ton of Russian to learn to pronounce. The choral score is 342 pages long, and while a lot of that is the soloists, it's still an enormous piece - concert time runs to 2 hours and 45 minutes including a short intermission. But it finally came together in concert week, as it always does, with the help of 9 hours of rehearsal in the last couple days. And now it's fun - the chorus gets to do a lot of characterization, ranging from maidens weaving wreaths, to huntsmen in the forest, to peddlers in a market, to demons of hell, to worshipful pagans at the high temple. As we've gotten more comfortable with the music, we are doing a better job of making our physical personae match up with the music, and doing a little bit of acting. Fun stuff.

Entertaining MTT quotes from rehearsals of Mlada:

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Eric Nehrlich's WWW home page / nehrlich@alum.mit.edu