For this year’s Tanglewood season, I am fortunate to be on the roster for the second residency, which includes our chorus’s annual Prelude concert in Ozawa Hall. The set of a capella pieces we are singing are a fabulous assortment of sumptuous harmonies, consonant and dissonant, all dancing around each other exquisitely. The exquisite pieces will require diligent study, careful breathing, keen awareness of the other parts to tune to, and a close eye on our conductor James Burton as he leads us through it all.
Perhaps one of the most straightforward examples of this is one piece in the middle of the program: Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus. Composed just as Baroque music was evolving into a Classical period style, it is one of the best known works of sacred music that the Italian composer created. I’m told that many a high school choir has learned and performed it, since the notes themselves aren’t hard to sing. It’s how you bring them together and infuse them with passion and sorrow all while staying technically accurate and attuned to the other parts that makes the piece so transcendental.
Spend three minutes listening to a recording right now, if you haven’t already:
This video is even more enjoyable because, by displaying the sheet music, you can see what’s going on. I love how the voices build upon each other for the first minute, then maneuver around each other, passing themes back and forth, until the mournful finish.
Trust me, it is even more exhilarating to sing it, especially with a group of musically intelligent adults fully committing themselves to producing a beautiful sound. Our first deep rehearsals of the piece with James Burton focused on bringing out those passages of tension, finding anchor chords that we can use to tune to other parts, and carefully working out some of the trickier intervals. And, like with the Ravel, when he emphasizes the theory, and our mentality changes from “I’m singing an A” to “I’m singing the third of F major,” something clicks in the way the ensemble sings such that we stop clinging to our separate notes and lock the tuned chord in place. (Though I have lots of “up arrows” pencil marks in my score written above notes that are easy to overshoot in several phrases.)
The final effect is magical… and we’re not even done working it. If you can be out at Tanglewood this summer, try to catch our performance on July 20th at Ozawa Hall.