May 28, 2012

There seems to me no better way to begin a day at the Spoleto festival than with an 11 a.m. Chamber Music concert.  There are a total of 11 different programs, each performed three times, all at the charming Dock Street Theatre.  The house is packed, standing room only most of the time, and one gets the impression that many of the concert-goers have been doing exactly this for many years.  Today’s program once again featured the St. Lawrence Quartet and Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), and included pianists Inon Barnatan and Pedja Muzijevic. Geoff Nutall described the music as an ‘American-Haydn sandwich’:  A Night Piece by American composer Arthur Foote (a founding member of the American Guild of Organists who received the first M.A. degree in music awarded in the U.S.),  Symphony No. 101 (“The Clock”) by Franz Joseph Haydn (the joy of the music was felt by the audience through the exuberance of the players), and Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor, Op. 67 by Amy Beach (one of the most prolific child prodigies known to music, she could sing 40 songs by age one, and was composing waltzes by age five).

I sat with soprano Allison Miller, who is considering studying some of Beach’s vocal music at Westminster next year, and Beckie Kravetz, one of the hair/make-up designers on the crew for Kepler.  Beckie has done my braid for most nights of the show, and we had some lively discussions when we discovered that we were both from Arizona.  Beckie is also a sculptor, and shared with me a portfolio of her work, which included a gallery show at the Metropolitan Opera last year (Sculpted Arias).  It seems like every conversation I have here with new friends yields new artistic perspectives and inspiring talent in staggering abundance.

We had a rehearsal with Dr. Miller at the Galliard Exhibition hall in the afternoon to rehearse for our concert.  We were joined by the string quartet (made up of musicians from the Kepler orchestra) who will play Tarik O’Regan’s The Ecstasies Above.   Also on the program are Svyatyi by John Tavener and Howells Requiem.  In the Tavener, the choir ornaments a haunting, intricate solo cello part, which will be played by Christopher Costanza, the cellist from the St. Lawrence Quartet!  When he was with us in rehearsal, I felt a little like I did when as a child, I saw a live performance of The Unsinkable Molly Brown starring Debbie Reynolds.  I think I grinned for a little too long.

Rehearsal with Dr. Miller at the Galliard Exhibition Hall.

Ariel view of rehearsal with Dr. Miller at the Galliard Exhibition Hall.

After rehearsal, we had about an hour to eat lunch and get ourselves to the Sottile Theatre for the second full performance of Kepler.  The house was almost full, and once again the audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.  It was a little more somber this evening, because it was the last night that our director, Sam Helfrich, would be with us – he is traveling to Europe to begin his next show.  The ensemble and Sam spent some time together backstage before the show, enjoying the collegiality and expressing thanks to one another for the hard work, flexibility, and confidence exerted in the creation of the show.

Backstage at the Sotille, bidding adieu to our director, Sam Helfrich. (Left to right: Dr. Joe Miller, John Hudson, Sam Helfrich, Jewel Aagard, Danielle Callahan and Katy Lushman)

About Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir is composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, a center for music study in Princeton, N.J.
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