November 19, 2012

Six notes!  Nailed it!

We just finished performing Wozzeck with the London Philharmonia, conducted by Esa-Pekka Solonen.  While not extensive, the choral parts in the opera function as dramatic exclamations.  (As an alto, I sang six notes. Literally. At the piano dress rehearsal, Aiden Oliver told the choir that the proportion of dramatic effectiveness was not equivalent to the amount we actually sang.)  The men’s part was a little more extensive, but the majority of the opera we were sitting on stage with a first-class view of one of the world’s great conductors.  Alban Berg’s setting of an unfinished play (he adapted the libretto himself) is intense and brutal and deeply moving.  Berg incorporated sensations and sounds from his own experience in World War I (in one scene, the Symphonic Choir men were snoring soldiers, asleep in the barracks), and 20th-century sounds including a bar piano (purposefully out of tune) and a marching band (offstage).   The opera is one of the most famous examples of the employment of atonality, and Berg’s use is especially poignant when expressing madness and despair.   I am haunted and amazed by the music we experienced tonight, and I am fairly certain I will never participate in this work in quite this way again.

The performance of Wozzeck capped off a weekend of outstanding concerts.  On Friday evening, Westminster Kantorei performed an all-Renaissance program under the direction of Dr. Amanda Quist.  The all-English program centered around William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, and also included works by Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, John Dunstable, John Sheppard and Thomas Weelkes, among others.  My favorite moment as an ensemble member was ending the program with the Byrd Agnus Dei.  The dissonant suspensions sang mournfully of a secret, earnest faith with which every listener could connect, whatever his or her personal tradition.

The following day, Saturday, marked the first performance of the 2012-2013 school year for Westminster Schola Cantorum and Westminster Williamson Voices, both conducted by Dr. James Jordan.    Schola Cantorum is a curricular choir made up of every member of the class of 2015.  They have been working on repertoire since the beginning of school, which will make up their tour program (touring Ohio and Pennsylvania in the spring), and they presented a portion of it at this concert.   Schola opened with Funeral Ikos by John Tavener, and the ensemble’s contextual understanding of the text shown through the moving, chant-like lines punctuated by choruses of ‘Alleluia.’  The second half of the same concert was given by Williamson Voices, an extra-curricula, auditioned ensemble.   In normal, non-hurricane circumstances, these choirs would not perform at the same time because Bristol Chapel could not accommodate audiences for both.  But Dr. Jordan gave the original date of the Williamson concert to Chapel Choir (whose concert was originally scheduled for the week of the hurricane!), and thus the two became one.

Williamson Voices presented a lovely program, punctuated with a work by Thomas LaVoy, a Westminster senior and already a composer of note.  My favorite portion of their presentation was Benjamin Britten’s festival cantata, Rejoice in the Lamb.  This work is a staple for conducting study because, in addition to being expertly crafted with syllabically ideal text setting, each different section requires a different character from the conductor and the ensemble.  There were a number of student conductors in the ensemble and in the audience, and when the ‘Nimrod’ section began, you could practically hear the mental conducting. I also enjoyed the Paul Mealor O Vos Omnes, with some of the fastest and loudest chime playing that I have ever heard – very exciting!

When we return from the Thanksgiving holiday, we will be focused exclusively on winter holiday concerts, including Westminster’s An Evening of Readings and Carols.  This beautiful production is held at the historic Princeton University Chapel, and is absolutely a Westminster way to celebrate the season.  I am sure I will have plenty of stories to share!




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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