Tag Archives: Eric Whitacre

Tonight, tonight…

How soon the Crypt concert comes around; it hardly seems a year since we were preparing for last year’s performance, and yet the wheel has turned once more, and here we are looking ahead to tonight’s concert.

I’m particularly excited about tonight, as a British composer Paul Patterson will be present in the audience, to hear the Chamber Choir sing his wonderfully serene Salvum Fac Populum Tuum Domine. It’s always nerve-wracking when the composer arrives to hear you perform his piece, but it’s a great privilege for us to have such a colossal figure on the British musical landscape coming to hear the Choir. I hope he approves of what we are doing with his music…

scoresThis morning’s critical pre-performance tasks have already been achieved: see offspring off to school, iron concert-shirt, polish shoes, leap around on Twitter to promote tonight’s concert; now I can sit with the music and work through the scores, until heading towards the crypt for this afternoon’s rehearsal. The first moment we sing in the Crypt on the Friday afternoon is always a memorable moment, particularly for those members of the Choir who haven’t sung there before; the rich, sonorous acoustics take your sound and echo it around for several seconds. We’re very excited at the prospect of launching the opening of Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque into that historic space.

Of course, the most challenging part of the rehearsal will be organising formation and processing in and out with sufficient dignity, bowing all at the same time, deciding in which hand we hold the folders (and sometimes, which way up; no detail left unobserved…). The music has been learnt; the logistics of operating in the venue, however, we’ll be picking up this afternoon.

Right, enough procrastination; the scores are waiting in a highly accusatory manner. See you after the concert.

Kick-starting the choral year

And finally, after all the preparations, amassing the repertoire and two days’ worth of auditions, both the University Chamber Choir and Cecilian Choir each had their first rehearsal this week.

On song: Chamber Choir meets for the first time

On song: Chamber Choir meets for the first time

There’s no gentle easing in for the Chamber Choir; the first commitment, ‘Music for Advent’ looms in about eight weeks’ time, and the Crypt concert in March, and we have to go from zero to full performance assuredness in no time. Ergo, the first few rehearsals represent a whirlwind tour of the full range of repertoire, in order that the singers can get a feel for the geography of the programmes and see what kind of pieces they will be expected to perform. (The other reason for whirling rapidly through pieces is that, if there’s a piece someone doesn’t like, at least they know we won’t be dwelling on it for hours at a time in these early rehearsals).

I’m pleased to say that everyone seems to be taken with Whitacre’s colourful Lux Aurumque with which we ended the rehearsal – the student conductor, Matt, opened with Byrd’s serene masterpiece, Ave Verum Corpus, and I followed with two movements from  Brahms’ Sieben Lieder op.62. After the break, Matt led the first steps into Rutter’s Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron, which is deceptively simple and offers some real challenges as it builds.

And yesterday, the Cecilian Choir reconvened, this time in mixed-voice formation; sister-choir to the Chamber Choir, it looks as though it might number close to thirty singers, which is particularly exciting! A whistle-stop tour of some of the repertoire for this particular Choir took in the ‘Kyrie’ from Hassler’s Missa super Dixit Maria, the middle section of Maskat’s evocative Prayer to the Night, the first few pages of Rheinberger’s purple-hued Abendlied, and the second section of Sir John Tavener’s Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God, which had the sopranos and altos gliding in medieval-esque parallel fourths whilst the basses were slightly confounded by their line which, on paper, reads simply but actually works against the upper voices to provide those typically Tavener dissonances.After all the preparation and learning over the summer months, it’s a relief finally to be getting to grips with the music, meeting the singers, and getting the Choirs off the ground. Ice-breakers and warm-up exercises served to get people introduced to each other and to singing together in a rudimentary fashion – these first few rehearsals, I always find, are somewhat hesitant as people grow accustomed to singing with strangers and finding their feet with new repertoire in a brand-new choir.

But it promises to be a very exciting year for both choirs – and on Monday, the upper-voice incarnation will meet for the first time to explore some medieval pieces. Watch this space…

Crossing borders: a cosmopolitan rehearsal

Last night’s rehearsal had a distinctly cosmopolitan flavour, as the Choir looked at English, Scottish, American, German and Italian repertoire: we’re nothing if not international in our programme outlook!

Brahms’ In Stiller Nacht has really found its feet, and we’ve been developing the really pernickety aspects of the texture; the detached crotchets in phrases had us, as one, tip-toeing through the chords with a terrific sense of fragility.

We’ve been looking for landmarks in Monteverdi’s Ecco mormorar l’onde, for specific moments of coming together, cadence points, beginnings of phrases, to give the piece a geographical sense; with long, meandering lines, the danger is that the piece simply becomes a collection of voices singing through lines without any sense of direction. (Anyone who has sung one of Byrd’s four- or five-part Mass settings will have found this before). The trick is making sense of the lines, using the starts of phrases and the commencement of new ideas (both harmonically as well as in terms of the text) to give the piece some three-dimensionality – guiding the listener through the piece by highlighting particular moments.

Bennett’s O Sleep, fond fancy occupies a similar landscape to the same composer’s Weep, O Mine Eyes, and needs similar moulding to the Monteverdi. In contrast, Sir John Stephenson’s arrangement of the Scottish air, Oft in the stilly night, is a simpler, homophonic piece that came together very quickly.

Most of the rehearsal was taken up with defining the chordal progressions in Whitacre’s Sleep, particular the opulent third section where the harmonic language opens out, the texture broadens as the sopranos soar upwards; key to this is actually the bass-part, making sure the root of each chord has a solid foundation. We’re still experimenting with mixed-formation singing, and this piece will really test the integrity of the individual voices; in order for the colours to blossom, each singer needs to have confidence in their line, to enjoy the dissonances and added-note sonorities and commit to the colours of each chord.

We concluded with one of the carols for next week’s Cathedral Carol Service, the evocative opening verses of Once in Royal, which this year features soprano Marina Ivanova conjuring up the magic of Christmas in the solo opening verse, before the rich harmonies unfold in the a cappella second verse as the Choir enters. It promises to be a magical moment in the Cathedral…

And, as if there isn’t enough to be excited about, this morning I’ve raided our sheet-music archive for copies of Lauridsen’s deftly lyrical En une seule fleur for the Cecilian Choir’s rehearsal tomorrow. Can’t wait…

(Preview track via LastFM).