If I could sum up my experiences thus far at Westminster Choir College, it could be described in one word: Freude! Since I’ve come to graduate school, the Westminster Symphonic Choir has performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on three separate occasions. The first was with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in January of 2013. The second was last semester with Yannick-Nézet Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The third time was this past weekend with Maestro Mark Laycock and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra for a benefit concert celebrating the 100th birthday of William Scheide.
This past Thursday afternoon brought a slew of rehearsals to prepare the choir for the upcoming performance on Saturday. Westminster Choir members had just three short days of relaxation before we jumped into our next project. Our rehearsal began strongly, as we jumped head first into our repertoire. Other than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Symphonic Choir also performed “Gloria sei dir gesungen,” the final chorale from Bach’s cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, and a premiere of “Gaudeamus igitur” from Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. The Brahms’ piece is based off “collegiate drinking songs,” so we sang the text of the famous theme that appears multiple times in the overture. Both pieces were great to learn and carried with them important weight for the honoree of this concert. After a quick dinner break, the maestro and the four soloists for the Ninth Symphony joined us. A detailed rehearsal ensued, which offered us insight into the conductor’s interpretation. The choir delivered joy and fervency with every detail. I left the rehearsal amazed at how 100 singers can come back from a long break and sing together as if they’ve never left!
Friday’s schedule was similar to Thursday’s: we met at Richardson Auditorium on Princeton University’s campus to rehearse with the orchestra. We did a couple of runs of each piece, and we were on our way to a delightful performance. Squished like sardines on the stage, the Symphonic Choir acted professional in their actions and delivered intention in every note. After rehearsal finished on Friday, Performance Management and Dean Annis showed us the promotional video that was to be displayed during the concert. Students cheered and applauded each other as we watched the legacy of Westminster’s famed teaching unfold before us.
We arrived early on Saturday for a dress rehearsal that was observed by a small audience. We had a great run through of all piece, and we departed until the evening performance. William Scheide was in the audience, and he beamed with joy throughout the entire concert. A spectacular performance was given by all performers and it culminated in a rousing “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Scheide. Symphonic Choir delivered a great, joyful message that delightfully rang in the new school semester.