You know, there are great reoccurring moments in life that are worth experiencing every time. For me, it’s the roar of the Symphony Hall audience when the Chorus takes our bow after an impressive performance. And we got that again Thursday night after our first of three performances of the Bach “St. John” Passion. (No, I don’t understand the scare quotes, but that’s how the program billed it over and over again.)
I don’t know what the reviews will say in the morning. Actually, I’ve got a pretty good idea. I think our poor tenor will get his butt handed to him — he made a partial atonement for his going easy during the open rehearsal, but his voice still cracked a few times, his notes were not precise, and he really didn’t sound up to those arias. I got the impression he’s been the evangelist for this piece several times but not necessarily the tenor aria soloist. I don’t know what happened to the confident guy I saw and heard at the Tuesday rehearsal, where he barely referred to the score as he blew through all his lines by memory. I’m guessing he’s sick. Something caused him to lose his mojo.
The soprano soloist will get lavish praise for her exquisite, piercingly pure voice. She had a particular style to her voice — no vibrato, but not sounding like a British chorister. Her bio mentions performing lots of baroque and earlier music (e.g., madrigals) so that may be it. It’s a shame she only has two movements.
The alto soloist was fine, nothing amazing, but that’s Bach’s fault not hers. The alto doesn’t get much to do. Meanwhile, our basses were both great, and our choral soloists for the two bit parts nailed ’em all.
Collectively, the chorus sounded awesome, and it was a performance to be proud of. I’m sure we can do better — I kinda felt like we had passed some sort of peak and were all having a bit of trouble concentrating, because (even after making fun of Mo. Suzuki for being too sensitive) I felt a few times that we were coming in late behind his beat and that, for all his exhortations about getting the consonants early, we were falling behind. Certainly *I* was falling behind a bit.
Personally, I was uncomfortable on stage physically… I kept struggling to get into a groove and stay in focus all evening. While sitting down, my back was sore and I caught myself slouching a bit. While standing, I wasn’t feeling the breath support I had during earlier rehearsals, and I wasn’t making it to the end of all my phrases. Weird. Mechanically, I kept trying to readjust my position, get my rib cage back in the right place, tried to imagine my head suspended by a string, with my legs bent just a little like I was about to ski or skate away. I tried to keep the back of my throat open, to drop my diaphragm and get bigger breaths. And it was elusive — I’d get it, and then I wouldn’t. Clearly I’m physically too tired — and yes, I can blame the 6+ straight days of singing. Overall, my sound was fine, it just didn’t come as easily as I’m used to. We’ll try again tomorrow!
It’ll be hard for the reviewers to ignore the chorus in their write up — as they often do! But I expect a few lines about our warm, lush sound in the chorales, our impressive agility during the short fugue entrances, and our contrasting dynamics and pathos in the opening and closing choruses. This tacked on to three paragraphs detailing the history of Bach’s Passions as originally performed in Leipzig. You know, to show everyone that the reviewer is smart. Oops, too catty… and as I’ve said before, our validation is not from what someone writes on a page the next day, it’s that roar of the crowd, and the satisfaction of knowing we came together to make some great music.