2002-2003 Season

2002-2003 Season

Since it worked reasonably well last year, I'm going to continue with putting the entire season on one web page. Part of the reason is that as this is my fourth 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. Also, having a web page for each concert would quickly grow untenable. But I do want to keep some record of what I've been doing in the chorus, so I'll list the concerts of this season in chronological order, and update it after each concert.

Britten War Requiem (10/02)

One of the great pieces of twentieth-century music, the Britten War Requiem was written for the 1962 re-opening of Coventry Cathedral, which had been demolished in the Blitz of WWII. It is an interesting piece structurally, with a large orchestra and chorus and solo soprano performing a modern musical setting of the standard Requiem text. Interspersed within each movement, though, are solos for tenor and baritone, accompanied by a chamber orchestra, singing devastating poems written by
Wilfred Owen, a soldier who fought in WWI and died in the last days of that war. The poems range from describing deaths without any "mourning save the choirs, the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells", to the story of two souls meeting in death after having killed each other in war, or a re-telling of the Biblical story of Abraham where, instead of sacrificing the miraculously provided ram, "the old man would not so, and slew his son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one." Harsh stuff.

The performance was made personal by Kurt Masur, the conductor emeritus of the New York Philharmonic, who had fought in WWII as a 17-year-old German recruit. He made the music mean something by alluding to his own experiences in the war. Masur is also famous for having helped prevent violence when the Berlin Wall came down, as the conductor in Leipzig at the time. This music meant a lot to him, and I think some of that urgency transferred to the chorus, which led to a better performance by all.

On a more humorous note, Masur uttered some great quotes in rehearsal.

He later paid us quite a compliment by telling our conductor that "This chorus doesn't sing, it prays." A nice image, and one supported by the very complimentary reviews that the chorus got after this performance.


Wynton Marsalis All Rise (11/02)

Wynton Marsalis picture from the Seattle
Wynton Marsalis is one of the best-known jazz musicians of our time. He has even won a Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio, Blood on the Fields. Several years ago, Kurt Masur, conductor of the New York Philharmonic at the time (and who conducted us earlier this year in the Britten), asked Wynton to consider writing a piece for symphony as well as jazz orchestra. All Rise is the result, encompassing chorus as well. For this performance, Wynton brought the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) along, to combine with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus.

All Rise is an interesting piece. I'll quote Wynton from the program notes: "All Rise is structured in the form of the Blues, twelve movements to the twelve bars. It is separated into three sections of four movements; each section presents different attitudes about the uncontrollable rush of experiences in the quest for happiness. The first four movements are joyous, the second four are more somber and poignant, and movements 9, 10, and 11 are dance movements. Movement 12 is the gospel 6/8 shuffle; a dance, but not in a secular sense."

There's lots of wonderful little musical moments in the piece. In Cried, Shouted, then Sung, Wynton depicts a New Orleans funeral, complete with a tuba solo playing the role of the preacher. I also particularly enjoyed El "Gran" Baile de la Reina, with its tango underpinnings, Expressbrown Local with the creative imitations of a rolling train, and Saturday Night Slow Drag, which gave each member of the LCJO a quick solo chance to express a slow night.

The performances got better each night, as the members of the symphony and the chorus loosened up and got to know the piece better, and felt more comfortable working with the LCJO. And the encores were incredible.

Wynton was so nice, too. Each night, there's a little solo that he wrote for the symphony trumpet players, and each night, he'd nod and smile and give a thumbs-up to them. One evening, a mom asked him if he'd take a picture with her son, and he agreed to the cheers of the audience. And, on the last night, he patiently stood and signed the programs and music of a bunch of us choristers, personalizing each one. Super nice.


Handel Messiah (12/02)

Doing the Messiah is a lot of fun. It's a great piece, and since most of the folks in the chorus have done the piece so many times, we can do what Vance calls an "add hot water and serve" performance, where we have a couple rehearsals and get to it. This year's performance was conducted by Christopher Seaman. Not much to say beyond that, except for
one amusing incident.

Bruckner Helgoland/Trosterin Musik (1/03)

The second half of this program was
Bruckner's Symphony No. 7, so MTT chose to use two short Bruckner pieces for men's chorus, Helgoland and Trosterin Musik. Helgoland is a pretty silly piece, telling a legendary story of how the denizens of this tiny North Sea island fought off the Roman invaders. As the program notes state, "Through this conflict-ridden history, Helgoland grew into a near-mythic symbol of Germanic nationalism and a lightning rod for artistic expressions extolling nationalist defiance." It basically ends up being a pep rally piece, with the men of the chorus shouting praise to Helgoland and the Allfather.

Trosterin Musik was a piece for men's chorus and organ with some nice harmonies. Not much more to say than that.

Since we were on and off the stage in 20 minutes, there really wasn't a lot to say about this concert. The Chronicle review was mostly noteworthy for being the only negative review I remember us receiving in my time in the chorus, with Joshua Kosman commenting that we had presented "uncharacteristically slovenly renditions".

Bach Cantata No. 12/Schubert Mass No. 5 (3/03)

Bruno Weil Bruno Weil, the conductor of the Carmel Bach Festival, made his San Francisco Symphony debut with this set of concerts. He was very expressive - he was able to convey his interpretation and his joy in the music to us.

The Bach was gorgeous, as always. Every time I do Bach, I'm reminded of just how amazing his ability to weave melodies together is. It always just feels so right. Great stuff.

The Schubert was interesting as well. It's a fairly large piece (45 minutes, 140 singers or so, full orchestra, 4 soloists) but it's got moments of pure intimacy as well. And the chorus really gets to shine in the piece - we're in every movement and we get to demonstrate our dynamic range in a variety of emotions and affects. It's a nice showpiece for our abilities, and the reviews reflected that.


Wagner The Flying Dutchman (6/03)

Wagner stage picture It's big, it's long (2 hours 40 minutes), it's loud, it's Wagner. This was a semistaged performance, meaning that the soloists run around the stage singing of their intrigues and romance, but the chorus mostly stays in one place. We don't have much to do in this one - about 15 minutes of singing for the men, maybe 30 for the women. But the soloists were excellent. Mark Delevan in the title role was phenomenal, and Jane Eaglen as Senta demonstrated why she is acclaimed as one of the premiere Wagnerian sopranos in the world.


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