October 23, 2012
I haven’t ever been sky diving, bungee-jumping, or base-jumping, but I have sung the Verdi Requiem at Carnegie Hall. Tonight was the final performance of this series with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and just happened to be Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s debut at the august institution that is Carnegie Hall. Right now, as we drive in three full-sized charter buses through Times Square traffic, we are collectively tired after four wonderful performances – and thoroughly satisfied with the manner in which we helped bring Verdi to life for appreciative audiences.
Our third performance was this past Sunday – the only matinee – and we met at school at 10:30 a.m. to travel to the Kimmel Center. As soon as the bus stopped, half of the choir headed to our rehearsal space and the other half maked a beeline to the closest coffee shop. (It is not unusual to walk into Starbucks or Elixir in downtown Philadelphia and see 20 of your friends in line and a slightly worried looking barista.) Once properly caffeinated, we convened to warm up and get notes.
Dr. Miller spends a good amount of time warming up the choir for matinees, so that our sound is as rich and vibrant as in evening performances. Then, he will give us notes for any challenging parts of the work where we need to focus our attention, or where the Maestro has made a change. The first time I experienced this process with Symphonic Choir, I was nervous that some of the notes were just verbal instructions – we did not actually practice everything that we were instructed to do. It was a delightful and fascinating surprise to hear 160 students make changes equal to the most facile professional choirs because it was simply the standard of expectation. Nobody was hounding us to be dedicated, sophisticated, and hard-working because nobody needed to – each student held himself or herself to the highest standard of their personal artistry.
The matinee was beautifully received, and once again the crowd roared its appreciation for the choir, the orchestra, and the Maestro. We got home Sunday evening with just enough time to tackle frighteningly large piles of homework. Classes do not stop when we have a concert series! Professors are supportive, however, and many will travel to the venues to see the shows at their own personal expense.
Tonight at Carnegie, the energy was fervent and wild with an undercurrent of deep peace. When we arrived at the hall (after getting coffee and taking some pictures with the posters for the concert), we walked up the seven flights of stairs to our rehearsal space. Dr. Miller spent only a short amount of time warming us up, and most of the notes we received were in reference to the unique acoustic of the hall. We headed down the SEVEN flights of stairs for a sound check with the Maestro and the orchestra, and had a chance to take in the magnitude of the hall and the significance of this performance.
After the sound check, it was time to eat! I walked with some good friends to Columbus Circle. It was nice to walk around the city, if only for a few blocks, and feel the pulse characteristic of NYC. After some sushi/Indian/Waffles and Dingles, we trekked back to dress and primp. Our call time arrived, and Dr. Miller spoke to us about our performance. He opened the floor up to us, that we may have a chance to address one another and express our appreciation. In the midst of an active love-fest, the Maestro entered. He told us that he had so many thoughts that he wanted to share with us that in order to fully express himself he would need to write it all out. I should mention that many of the choir members have written personal notes to Yannick on Facebook (he accepts all of our friend requests), and he has responded to each in a personal, caring way in the manner of a human being who is deeply conscious of connections with other artists.
It was a tight fit on the Carnegie stage – there was not a personal bubble in the choir that wasn’t popped as soon as we sat in our chairs. But we were also much closer to the orchestra, and much closer to the Maestro. The performance was the kind that is over in a flash because everyone is flowing – Yannick asked us to remember to enjoy ourselves and honor our humanity through Verdi. When we were close enough to read every subtle (and not subtle) facial expression, we became conduits for sound in the most profound fashion so far achieved. I could wax for pages about the astonishing experience, but I will leave the rest to your imagination and to our collective memory.
Jordan Saul and John Hudson by the concert poster at the Carnegie Hall entrance.