Okay, this is how it all went down…
We were in the middle of the rehearsal and Maestro Suzuki suddenly commented that we, as a chorus, seemed tentative and were frequently late with our entrances. If you ask me, this was because he frequently asked us to start at certain measure numbers and we had to switch to the score for those moments. (More cynically, sometimes it seemed he accused us of being late or early when I thought we sounded fine.) He asked us if it would be better for us to have the score in front of us. We all laughed a bit and gave some sort of noncommittal reply about “if you tell us to, we will, but we are used to going without.”
Five minutes later, he stopped us again and told us he preferred that we use our scores.
This was a profound change. The way you sing with a score, I quickly learned, is quite different from the way you sing from memory. For one, you use the score as a crutch, looking at it more often than you ever needed to. Also, it’s HARD to find your place. Too many German and English words on the page to parse, plus four staffs. Reading it AND seeing the conductor is tough. third, there’s the weight of it in your hands as you hold it… Almost a physical barrier between you and the conductor.
So while there was a certain sigh of relief from some corners of the chorus, I think the decision was bittersweet. Many of us are considering NOT bringing the score on stage, replacing it with just the little prayerbook we originally were given with the words to the chorales. Then we’d hide the prayerbook in the black folders like a student reading a comic between the pages of his math textbook. I’m gonna try that at today’s orchestra rehearsal, as a matter of fact, to see if I really can get by without the few spots where looking back at the score is helpful. It’s not just a badge of courage… I prefer no score for all the reasons mentioned above. I think I sing better without it.
Side note: at yesterday’s orchestra rehearsal we wondered where Maestro was going to stand — the conductor’s podium wasn’t there, and a harpsichord was in the way. Lo and behold, he perched himself at the harpsichord and played all of the recitative interludes himself! I wonder if that makes it more authentic for a performance. (As my wife pointed out, however, you can only get so authentic with a Japanese conductor and an American chorus.) One thing’s for sure, it’s even more clear that Suzuki lives and breathes this piece, if he’s capable of conducting AND playing the interludes without missing a beat or a cue.
Jeff, I like these pieces you are writing about the Bach rehearsals. Concerning the issue of using the score, I would offer this bit of context: I have it on good authority that Maestro Suzuki wanted to come in a month ahead of time to rehearse for a full month. Yes, a month. So, I find it not surprising that what he heard and undoubtedly saw from many in the chorus once he was able to start rehearsals only 6 days ahead of the first performance, was something not near to what he is used to having from his choir of 16 (which as far as I know is a dedicated Bach choir). To translate that: He saw that he knows “the score” in a way that we did not.
I believe that having us use scores is enabling us to give back to him much more of what he is asking of us than we would be able to do without them. If we’d had a month with him (perhaps very rewarding, but yikes!), no question we’d be scoreless. With just a few precious days and given the depth of Suzuki’s commitment to his interpretation, I’d say that that our performance stands to be far better with scores than without.
I’m beginning to wonder if Maestro Suzuki had unrealistic expectations of his ability to transform a modern orchestra and chorus into a baroque one. Of course, if he wanted a month to prepare, he should realize that he can’t get the same results in six days. Considering the chorus and orchestra, the performance will certainly be good, even if it isn’t exactly what he had in his mind’s ear.
One thought about scores: if you can pencil in where he wants you to attack the consonants early and where he wants you the hit them late, and that sort of thing, it might help.
BTW, are you getting a sense of whether he will restrain the orchestra enough for the chorus to be heard?
@Jon: That’s pretty amazing about the full month of rehearsals. Today I finally realized that, between all the additional subtle markings he was giving us and the ones I had from the last few days, that keeping the score was probably the right thing to do. I’m used to it now, but I still try not to look at it whenever possible… which is where we’re supposed to be in the first place.
@naturgesetz: I don’t think he went in thinking he’d have his Collegium performing for him. At least one in the chorus saw his B-minor Mass at Carnegie — 16 singers and period instruments, rather austere. He’s been drilling us enough that I think he’s gotten us to a place that he trusts us. His corrections today were less picayune and more about the broader arc of the piece.
And yes, I’ve got pencil marks everywhere about consonants to attack and fermatas to ignore and cutoffs to watch and crescendos and subito piano and… well, a lot that editors won’t put in but are apparently obvious to a student of the piece. The orchestra is small by BSO standards; we will have no trouble penetrating. The worst of it seems to be the continuo sometimes drowning out the tenor and bass voices, but he started bringing that under control today too.