Season over

Tonight was the last concert of the regular Symphony Hall season for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, with our final production of Berlioz’s Te Deum. (For those keeping track at home, that’s two seasons in a row that we’ve closed out with Berlioz, though the Te Deum is a different order of magnitude–literally–from Les Troyens.)

It was a good concert. Before the performance, our Fearless Leader shared a few quick thoughts about our Friday afternoon show, saying, “And second tenors! Your entrance at the beginning had real beauty! For the very first time!” Aside from being a great example of John Oliver’s wit, the comment was also 100% correct. I am slowly realizing that with this chorus I can bring every ounce of my musicianship to every entrance, bring my voice to its limits every time, and it will almost be enough.

One thing I like about how things are going with the TFC is that I still have my voice intact after this concert run. In the past, I would have bellowed my way through a concert and blown out my pipes. There’s something nice about (a) knowing one’s limits and (b) recognizing when you are surrounded by 139 other highly gifted voices that can also help carry intensity and passion in the climactic moments.

The wonderful thing about a TFC season “ending,” of course, is that we never really are done. I’ll be at Tanglewood in July for Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and a reprise of the Brahms Requiem, and we get to start all over again just a few months later. Right now that sounds pretty good. I’m looking forward to the next run already. I haven’t sung Wagner yet.

On the charts and on stage

Billboard Top Classical Charts, 2009-05-02
Billboard Top Classical Charts, 2009-05-02. See #3 and #8.

Last Friday’s Billboard classical chart featured the debut of the two BSO CDs on which I performed, the Brahms Requiem and Ravel Daphnis et Chloé. (A third BSO recording in which I participated, Bolcom’s Symphony No. 8, is only available as a download.) The Ravel was at number 8 on the top 10, and the Brahms was at number 3, behind The Priests and Amore Infinito: Songs inspired by the Poetry of John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) by Placido Domingo.

The recordings are available digitally or physically from the BSO. I am still trying to see where the discs are distributed–they don’t appear to be on Amazon right now, but they are on CD Baby (Brahms, Ravel) and ArkivMusic (Brahms, Ravel) at the moment. That they are getting this kind of sales traction without Amazon’s presence is kind of impressive to me.

The charts are timely, because the Tanglewood Festival Chorus will be on stage again this week with the BSO, performing the Berlioz “Te Deum” along with the PALS children’s chorus. The work is massive, with two choirs (140 voices in our performance) plus the children, and full orchestra and organ. The BSO’s podcast last week gave a good introduction to the work.

For my preparation, I have been sweating the words. One doesn’t get to sing a Te Deum too often, and I haven’t done one with the TFC and didn’t memorize the traditional text when I last performed one (Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum with the Cascadian Chorale in Bellevue, Washington five years ago). But we have a few more rehearsals this week so I have time to get the text into my head, I think. Should be fun.

A farewell to Troyens

I leave Berlioz’s massive magnum opus, which we gave our final Tanglewood performance this weekend, with reluctance. It’s such a tremendous work, full of enormous dimensions of art, drama, mythology, and humanity.

As I bid my farewell (aside from the reviews, which are rolling in and will show up in my daily links), a few thoughts about the work and our performances:

I previously called the opera a beast, but this description is, strictly speaking, only applicable to the first half (the capture of Troy). The first act plays the ill-fated celebration of the Trojans against Cassandra’s foreknowledge of the city’s doom, and the music continuously underscores the comparison–slashing punctuation from the orchestra under sunny arias, rising chromatic chords under the chorus’s premature victory march–until the terrible truth of the horse is revealed. The second half is a love tragedy, and has a broader palette on which to play out its psychodrama.

The whole first half hinges on the characterization of Cassandra. The soloist must strike a balance between portraying her fear and anguish and her love for Chorebus. In our Symphony Hall performances, Yvonne Naef gave a magnificently dramatic reading of the prophecy but was less convincing in convincing the audience that the love of Dwayne Croft’s Chorebus was more than a distraction. Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Cassandra was more equally passionate in both sides of the role, and her performance lent a warmer color to the love duet that deepened the calamity of the fall.

Berlioz may have intended the work to be performed in a single monumental evening, but there are so many parallels between the first and second halves of the work that the opera’s division works well in concert. There are repeated themes and motifs–the Trojan March is the most obvious example, but a more subtle and chilling parallel can be found in the descending chromatic scale sung by the Ghost of Hector in Part I and by Dido as she contemplates her suicide in Act II, as well as the muted French horns and piccolos denote the appearances of ghosts throughout the entire work.

The thing, then, with Les Troyens is that it more than adequately repays the listener for working through all its complexities (and in fact its sheer bulk). I hope I have an occasion to see it again in my lifetime. I would sing it again in an instant.

    Heading for Tanglewood

    It’s always hard to get on the road for a bunch of days away from the family; this time I have the compensation of what’s on the other end of the road. It’s time for the Tanglewood season opener, where the BSO and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus will reprise this spring’s performance of Berlioz’s magnificent Les Troyens in its sprawling entirety. Should be a fun time, and there are already signs that the BSO front office is having fun with the production. Witness: the 10-foot-tall Trojan Horse (no doubt stuffed with a pair of ninjas) that will grace the opening night gala. Now all we need is someone to play the role of Cassandra and predict great doom should the caterers wheel it into the tent.