Last night’s rehearsal was like showing up at school, looking hangdog, because you didn’t finish the book report that was due today — only to find that you have a substitute teacher who will let you spend the day finishing up that report. That’s because John Oliver was sick, meaning one of the rehearsal pianists (the very capable Martin Amlin) ran the rehearsal. It’s almost as if John knew that we might as a whole be having a little trouble. Banging out the notes with Martin was just what the doctor ordered for helping us collectively catch up on our memorization. There were many scores open, leading to many furtive and not-so-furtive glances at them, as we meticulously pounded through each movement at least twice. Even though individually many of us were shaky, as a unit the chorus sounded quite strong.
Martin doesn’t have as much built-in authority as John when he’s up at the podium, which in the past has sometimes led to some unfortunate substitute teacher type rehearsals–people talking, people contradicting him, that sort of thing. Plus, he can’t contribute the subtleties that a John can to bring out the sound we’re looking for as a chorus. None of that mattered yesterday as our goal was not connecting the lines or making a beautiful sound, it was which entrance goes where? When is the subito piano marking? Is that cut-off on beat three or four?
This Lobgesang has turned out to be surprisingly challenging to learn. It’s not hard to sing while looking at the score — there are no difficult intervals, no challenging runs, no confusing entrances. In fact, that’s the problem. The text, the fugues, the entrances all sort of swirl together in your head. Everything is mostly regular, except when it’s not, so you need to commit to memory that this rhythm is straight but that rhythm has the sixteenth syncopation, but it’s on an unstressed syllable so you can’t punch it, but this other one needs an accent or it won’t be heard at all… and we haven’t even made it to competing with the orchestra yet (that comes Wednesday!) So I think many of us have gained an unfortunate new appreciation for the complexity that is the simplicity of Mendelssohn’s writing.
Tonight (Tuesday night) we’ll have a piano rehearsal with Maestro Tovey. I did not have the opportunity to work with him for Porgy and Bess. My wife did, and has been gushing to me about how great he is to work with — personable and musically knowledgeable and knows how to get the sound he wants from us. I’m looking forward to it. Holiday Pops is basically a factory assembly line with Keith Lockhart, given the number of concerts we do and the relative ease of the pieces. Other conductors we’ve worked with recently have all been good, but I wouldn’t describe any of them in the glowing terms that I’ve heard for Maestro Tovey. I hope he lives up to my now heightened expectations!