Last summer, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sang an absolutely gorgeous, sumptuous a capella Requiem from Ildebrando Pizzetti. It may be one of my all-time favorite concerts that I’ve ever performed in.
This January, we get to do it again.
The unusual encore presentation is during one of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s four “Casual Friday” concerts this season at Symphony Hall: lower priced tickets, casual dress, a free pre-concert reception, and a post-concert affair with live music, snacks, and a cash bar. In this case, there’s a shorter program (28 minutes of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, 35 minutes of Vaughan Williams Symphony No 5), and then, according to the BSO’s site:
In a special one-night-only performance, following Friday’s concert, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, led by conductor James Burton, will perform Pizzetti’s Requiem, for a cappella mixed chorus, on the Symphony Hall stage following a short break.
From a programming perspective, this is a first. While I’ve seen the TFC prepare and sing complete programs before, it’s always been as a prelude concert out at Tanglewood, or an occasional program in Jordan Hall — never unaccompanied as part of a BSO concert. It’s a testament not only to the closer collaboration between our conductor James Burton and the BSO team but also to how mesmerizing the performance was last summer out in the Berkshires.
I wrote previously about preparing for the performance last July, though I didn’t complete the story. One day before the concert, we were still not ready. James Burton was visibly upset as we continued to miss cues, to botch entrances, to look down at our scores instead of up for his direction, and to lose the rhythmic intensity needed to propel the piece forward. It was a harrowing moment, that last full rehearsal. But we came back after the break and pulled together a showing that demonstrated that we were committed to getting it right. In the 24 hours between that last rehearsal and the performance, it felt like every single singer went back to the hotel rooms and hunkered down with the score anew, re-running it in our minds, re-studying each pencil mark he had given us, re-imprinting it in our minds so that we’d really be ready. By the time we hit our pre-concert warmup, it was clear that as a group we knew the piece cold and were ready for him. He spot-tested a few transitions and we were responsive and deeply attuned to his intentions. The performance that followed was breathtaking. (We have private recordings that we can’t distribute; those of you who know me, find me some time and ask to hear it, and I’ll try not to point out all the flaws. Even a breathtaking performance is not perfect.)
Now we get to do it again, though with some new additions who weren’t on the previous roster who are playing catch up. Some ad hoc groups have already formed to go over the piece together before the two official rehearsals, because there’s only so much study you can do on your own. The lines of each part, on their own, aren’t particularly complex. It’s the way they interact with each other that’s tricky: different parts taking over the melody, dovetailing rhythms, harmonic progressions that require vertical tuning, and subtle dynamic changes that play off of other parts. Mastering this required not only learning your part but also how you fit into the whole, with listening more important than singing. The result is a many-layered polyphony that has shape and meaning and drive. Many choristers are already looking forward to a chance to repeat what we feared might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If this outing is a successful one, then we may see summer prelude programs make more regular winter appearances at Symphony Hall.