It’s all over but the actual singing. Over 6 hours of, well, fairly brutal rehearsals later, with our brains stuffed full of notes and tiny adjustments, we’re ready for another great Tanglewood performance tomorrow night on stage in the Shed. If you can’t be there in person, you can hear it in Boston on 99.5 FM, or streaming online. Our concert starts at 8:30pm on Friday, July 16.
Why were the rehearsals brutal? It wasn’t just the heat. It was that Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas (“MTT”) is a nerd of a conductor (and I say that as a compliment.) In other words, he is a technician as much as an artist. As such, he is questioning and doubling back over almost every entrance, every nuance, every layer of sound. He’s completely hands-on with the orchestra: “Add a diminuendo in measure 6. Make measure 15 poco meno forte so that we can hear the alto’s low notes. Let’s go back and try the beginning again… no wait, stop, it doesn’t have the right character, make it warmer. Let’s try it again.” These are the things he will say in the course of a few minutes. Repeat over two 2-3 hour rehearsals today, after 2+ hours with just him and the chorus yesterday . We’d do a movement from start to finish, and then he’d tell us it was really great. REALLY great. Except… well, there’s just a few minor things to touch up…. and then we painstakingly go back through (forward or backward) and pick it apart.
So it can be a bit maddening, and sometimes you’re not really sure whatever adjustment he’s making is really going to have any effect in the long run. But you have to admire his persistence. He knows what he wants and he will interrupt and make us sing it again until we nail the particular character he’s looking for. It’s nice to have such attention to detail and if we remember half of the things he’s told us we’ll have an excellent performance. Nevertheless, it can be frustrating to keep starting and stopping and never really get a sense for the larger arc of the piece.
The Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms makes a lot more sense to us now than it did when we were learning it by the book and the recording. Relationships between notes, rhythms, values, and tempos are a lot clearer. The character of the piece shines through and we’re communicating it more efficiently. Many choristers already sang this a few years ago but it didn’t have MTT’s touch. (And did I mention he’s “hands on”?) The pleading of the first movement, followed by the reflective second movement, and then the joyous dancing of prayers answered in the third — all should be captured well in our performance.
The Mozart Requiem has been a bit of an adventure as well. Most of us think we know it pretty well, having sung it a few times either with the TFC or other choruses. But MTT is looking for some specifics that I certainly hadn’t heard before, and they definitely make it better. Subtle interplays between alto-bass and soprano-tenor dynamic and rhythmic counterpoints, where one group swells while another fades. A prayerful, solemn character added to some of the quieter parts that have often just been belted out in other choruses. Some phrasing choices I hadn’t heard before. The end result is a Mozart Requiem that is decidedly his own.
I hope the soloists are up to the task — the men are described as “up and coming” in their bios, and although they all have the pedigrees and the operatic voices, they didn’t seem to carry as well in the Shed during rehearsal. But of course I was just spoiled by Stephanie Blythe singing Mahler’s 2nd last weekend, and her voice could fill up the entire western half of the state if she wanted it to.
Hope you hear it!