Tag Archives: TFC

More Lob Than Ever Gesang Before

I wrote the following article for the Winter/Spring 2012 TFC Newsletter; now that it’s published I can share it here.  I love writing these!  My last one, for last year’s TFC Newsletter, was on Oedipus Rex.

A good story has exposition, complication, a climax, dénouement, and subsequent resolution. Lobgesang is not a good story. We praised, we re-praised, we reprised the praise, and maybe even re-praised the reprise. Who knew thanking the Lord could border on monotony? Fortunately, through the guidance of John Oliver and the stewardship of choir-favorite Bramwell Tovey, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus added the color and character to bring this magnificent work to life.

Mendelssohn composed this symphony-cantata in 1840 for a festival commemorating the 400th anniversary of the printing press blah blah blah blah. You’ve skipped this paragraph already, haven’t you. You can learn this piece’s background from any of the published reviews or even Wikipedia. So never mind all that historical context—what’s it like to actually learn and sing a piece that the BSO has only performed twice before in its 131 years?

Learning anything for the winter season’s January choral performance is often fraught with peril. It’s difficult to truly devote time to studying music when you’re competing with the assembly line production of Holiday Pops concerts. This year was no exception. What was particularly dastardly, however, is how deceptively simple the piece looked from a casual glance through the score. Hmmm, let’s see… straightforward German, all tonal, predictable harmonic progressions, no crazy rhythms or key changes, reasonable dynamics, some pianissimo singing under the soloists… no problem! Just a few fugues to hash through. The score thus dismissed, we enjoyed our holidays, and set good ol’ Felix aside.

And then the panic started to settle in.

This is actually hard, went the whispers. With no subtlety or obvious dramatic tension in the piece, there were few landmarks (earmarks?) to help us memorize. Familiar passages quoted from Elijah only added to the confusion. And the fugues… oh the fugues. Straightforward enough, yet devilishly irregular—lose your place and you risked a solo entrance. Worse, once you fell off the fugue train, it was pretty tough to get a ticket back on. We began to appreciate the complexity of the simplicity. No, this was not as difficult as the Missa Solemnis, as nervous February roster members would agree. Nevertheless, it was all too easy to underestimate the effort required not only to memorize but also to internalize this Hymn of Praise.

Then there was the matter of singing technique. Where was the line between fortissimo and shouting? How could we overcome the plodding stomp, stomp, stomp of the rather blocky rhythms? How often would we make Livia Racz cringe by forgetting to schwa our unaccented German syllables? We tackled each of these challenges from the very first rehearsals. John urged us to preserve the melodic line of each phrase. Our goal, he told us, was less about volume and power and more about color and tone (and diction!) That said, at times we’d still need to summon a sonorous joy and send it to the back of the Hall, such as when chasing away die Nacht in the triumphant 7th movement.

Choristers who sang for Maestro Tovey in the Berkshires for last summer’s Porgy & Bess often gushed about how great he was to work with: personable, musically knowledgeable, and able to clearly communicate what sound he wanted from us. Those of us experiencing Tovey for the first time were not disappointed. He immediately set to work identifying the moments of drama that were hidden in plain sight, and gave us concrete tempo and dynamics adjustments to highlight them. He added personality to the pedestrian, directing us with words like “warmth” and “beautiful” and “prayerful.” He challenged us to embody the reverence and joy and relief from pain that lay beneath the surface of the text. And he did it all with a wink and a laugh that quickly earned the fierce loyalty of the whole chorus. One couldn’t help but want to sing for him and to deliver what he asked from us. We became committed to his vision of the piece, long before he endeared himself to the group at Saturday’s winter chorus party by joining the jazz band and hitting the dance floor.

Come performance time, Maestro Tovey continued his outstanding leadership at the podium. He was animated, demonstrative, and inviting in his conducting. At no time did the chorus really feel we were competing with the orchestra’s sound, with Tovey holding the reins. Through it all, we successfully captured and conveyed the piece’s character and intensity. While opening night may have felt a little tight, our subsequent efforts really did bring out a balanced mixture of radiant praise and emotional subtlety, on the shoulders of well-articulated text and strong singing technique.

Boston area critics were complimentary in their reviews, and our audiences were resoundingly enthusiastic in their acceptance. However, the all-too-numerous empty seats in the hall may have doomed this rather unknown piece to the archives for several more decades. Perhaps its unusual format or single-minded purpose have condemned Lobgesang to unpopularity. Regardless of its acceptance at large, we as a chorus were grateful to have an opportunity to add our voices to its song of praise, praise, and yet more praise.

Critical reviews of the Lobgesang

The two usual commenters on our performance these days are the Boston Globe’s and the Boston Classical Review website.  Both did not disappoint with what I felt were accurate and insightful reviews.  Both caught on to the fact that, while this piece is magnificent in scale, its compositional form limits it.  They both also noted that, while our Chorus performed quite well, we were still missing a certain something.

I will say that our Friday performance exceeded our Thursday one — no doubt because we became yet more comfortable with the technicalities of the music (entrances, dynamics, fugues) so we could throw more weight toward the emotional connection as well as the melodic lines, and not sound quite so harsh.  I bet Saturday’s and Tuesday’s performances are even better!  Assuming anyone comes to them — the hall was half empty again on Friday.

Some of Jeremy Eichler’s comments from the Boston Globe:

Last night Symphony Hall had many empty seats, whether due to the unusual repertoire or the prospect of another substitute conductor. It was a pity because Tovey led a swift and sure-footed performance of the work, largely true to its Romantic heft, but never at risk of collapsing beneath the weight of its own grandiloquence.

There were times one wished he managed transitions with a bit more dramatic flair or harnessed the work’s rhetorical force to greater cumulative effect, but there were pleasures to be found in the constitutive parts.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus unleashed a robust and joyful noise at its first entrance, and by and large sustained its potent energy.  […]  The work ends without any grand Beethovian apotheosis, but last night the chorus still found plenty to celebrate in the arrival of dawn.

David Wright echoed some of these comments in his Boston Classical Review:

Even a beautifully polished and committed performance by the orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and three capable vocal soloists under the direction of Bramwell Tovey (substituting for the indisposed Riccardo Chailly) couldn’t quite make the case for this musical miscellany as a coherent symphonic work.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus sang with its usual precision, but its sound sometimes went uncharacteristically hard and blatant, as if it were trying to kick some life into Mendelssohn’s chronically short, square phrases.

Privately, there seems to be a consensus from choristers and their attending guests that the piece just doesn’t quite hang together, and that our exuberance sometimes toed the line between fortissimo and “shouty.”  With no subtlety or dramatic tension short of the Watchman-to-Dawn transition, there’s not much to hang your hat on besides making sure your sound reaches the back row.   I do feel we’re finding some of those subtleties and will continue to bring them out in the remaining performances.  Assuming we survive — Tovey may kill us all on these fugues, as they’ve gotten a little faster with each performance.

Thoughts on Lobgesang performance

Yesterday was our first of four performances of Mendelssohn’s symphony-cantata Lobgesang.  (It’s a symphony… no it’s a cantata… no it’s both!)

So how did we do?  Quite well.  We did a remarkable job of capturing the piece’s character and intensity, though I suspect there’s still more we can find in ourselves to give it over the remaining performances.

Maestro Tovey continued his outstanding stewardship at the podium.  He was kinetic, demonstrative, and inviting — but most importantly, consistent.  Consistent with the tempi and the cues and in the feeling he was trying to evoke from us as an orchestra and chorus.  I did think that one of the fugal passages started off a touch fast, almost as if he was daring us to keep up with him, but all in all there were no surprises.

The soloists were impressive — especially the way the two sopranos, Carolyn Sampson and Camilla Tilling.  I can only assume, when soloists like them are selected, that they are chosen not only for their availability and their skill, but also for how well they match each other for a duet like the cantata’s fifth movement.  John Tessier was pretty much what I expected from a tenor in this role – technically accurate, strong delivery, and capturing some of the pleading that’s built into his movements (which, given their nature, provide the work’s only counter to the “praise” theme.)

Our sound as a chorus was full and luscious, reaching to the back of a (disappointingly half empty) hall.  At no time did I feel we were competing with the orchestra for volume.  My throat’s a little sore this morning, so I have to wonder if I still may have been oversinging despite my best efforts to produce an efficient sound.  My singing felt good while I was up there.   Technically, I know we basses had a few shaky parts on some of the fugues where uncertainty pulled back our volume or made a weak entrance, but it was nothing serious and likely not noticeable in the heavy counterpoints we were wading through.  The highlight of the piece remains the Die Nacht ist vergangen! 7th movement as we transition from night into daylight, and we really did nail the a capella chorale that immediately follows it — nuanced, heartfelt singing that carried a prayerful, reflective tone.

We still have more to give, however.  Some of the color and character of the piece that we brought out in rehearsals was still not captured in our performance as well as I’d hoped.  The fugues are still a little pedestrian sometimes, losing some of the pleasantry of the counterpoint and melodic line in favor of the plodding thump, thump, thump needed to get through them correctly.  I think we can get more pathos in the fourth movement and, yes, even in the chorale, where details like a subtle swell on the word Gott didn’t come through to my ears.  I think there’s still a minuscule barrier in our heads that we need to overcome, because of the late memorization — that if we all can truly internalize the music and stop worrying about what’s next, what’s next, that we can break through to an even higher echelon of performance.  Mind you, there’s only so much you can do with this piece given its monologue of praise, praise, praise.  Hopefully, though, it won’t be another 24 years before it’s performed again!


Rehearsals and Pre-rehearsals

Rehearsal on Wednesday morning was short and sweet — we didn’t even need the afternoon session, so I enjoyed the rest of the day off from work.  Maestro Tovey was, as expected, very efficient and entertaining.  A few jokes here, some clear direction to the orchestra and to the choir, and repeating short or tricky passages a few times to make sure he was getting the sound or the effect he wanted.  Again, there’s nothing particularly tricky about this piece except the memorizing.

Unfortunately, I think we’re all as a choir still a little behind on the memorization.  Some people are still flipping through their books to check things (guilty!) and in a couple instances, we’d drop out of the fugue in confusion.  Once you fall off the fugue train, it’s hard to get a ticket to get back on!  And if someone next to you is suddenly unsure, that may make you unsure, which makes the guy next to you unsure…  yet another reason why singing is really about confidence.  Confidence and breathing, and the rest will follow.

That aphorism about confidence and breathing is what I plan to tell 300 high school kids this morning.  Thursday morning is an open rehearsal where we’ll run the piece for a small crowd, before opening night tonight.  The chorus manager asked a good friend from the chorus (Laura Sanscartier) and I to participate in a pre-rehearsal talk for those high school kids, a task which we happily agreed to.  What?  You want us stage-loving, no-shame, happy-go-lucky people to talk to a bunch of students about how much we love singing?  SOLD!  It was only after we agreed that we found out that Maestro Tovey will be on the panel with us as well.  We’re both pretty excited about the opportunity!  Though I suspect I won’t be able to keep up with Tovey’s jokes.


Picking up some of the color

Ahhh… that’s better.

Maestro Tovey was every bit as wonderful as I had heard he would be at tonight’s rehearsal.  He immediately put us all at ease with a few jokes. “Well, it’s an unexpected pressure to conduct this piece with you,” he opened, given that he was only announced as the replacement conductor a few months ago.  Then, with a look around our cramped rehearsal room, he commented, “Only the best for you, I see.”  As our laughter subsided, he mentioned that it felt like this was one  of those tunnels the Americans dug to hide from the English.  “Well, it didn’t work — I’m here.”

I was pleased to hear his initial comments on the piece, which echoed my earlier thoughts on the singular theme of this Symphony-Cantata.  This was a piece about praise, praising the Lord… and not really room for much else, he commented.  But rather than lament its focus, he pointed out that there was still some drama and some color to be found in its pages, such as in the mystery and dark of the 4th movement.  “So let’s go through and see if we can’t pick up some of this color here and there and bring it to life.”

His conducting style is very animated yet very clear.  He urges us on in the fugal passages; he beckons us to stay with him through tempo changes; he winces and shushes us if we’re too loud.  He gives us some further adjustments to match his plans for ritards and other places where he takes some time.  Some conductors are more concerned about the orchestra, but I have little doubt he’ll be breathing with us and offering us our cues throughout the performance.

Most of all, he added personality to what was in danger of becoming a stomp-it-out sort of piece.  He directs us with words like “warmth” and “beautiful” and “prayerful.”  He tells us that our pianissimo should be “quiet enough that people could talk over it,” which I just love as a concrete direction to follow.  He apologized about “not wanting to get all religious on us,” and then went there anyways, asking us to internalize a reverence and a joy and a relief at being delivered from the hell alluded to by the soloist in movement 6.  He spends extra moments on some passages, urging us to swell dynamically just a bit on words like Trübsal (affliction), almost as if it hurt us to talk about it.  After all, he pointed out, if you’re going to tell someone about your being saved from an affliction, you’re not beaming as you relate the story.

Throughout all this great direction, he kept up the one-liners.  An aggressive /tzt/ at the end of setzt saw him pretend to wipe the spit from his eye, then commend us on our diligence in getting all the consonants out, but could we swallow that instinct?  “Your individual contribution will be appreciated so much more.”  When the basses didn’t agree on a high note, he characterized our singing as “blend-free.”  Just a laugh a minute… with the effect of loosening us up, getting us to pay attention — no, more than that — getting us to want to help him out by following his directions and giving him what he asked for.  We were clearly on the same team, and suddenly I found myself as fiercely loyal and committed to the character he wants to invoke and the performance he wants us to collaborate on together.  It’s no wonder everyone raved about him for Porgy and Bess.  Who wouldn’t want to sing for this man?

Book Report Extension

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!

Es ist vollbracht!

Es ist vollbracht — “It is accomplished,” or “It is finished,” or perhaps “All is fulfilled,” depending on which Biblical version of Jesus’s final words on the cross you prefer.  Seems appropriate as we closed out our St. John Passion performances.

The final performance tonight, broadcast on WGBH, was by far the best of the three (or four, if you include the open rehearsal.)  Our tenor evangelist had mostly recovered his voice and started to show the strength and pathos that I heard first on Tuesday.  (Plus, they brought in another tenor soloist to handle the tenor arias… it definitely made a difference.)  More importantly, though, as a chorus we were all more comfortable with Suzuki’s conducting style and knew what he was asking for (and could anticipate what he would be asking for).  Furthermore, many choristers said “screw it” and ditched the score for the later performances.  Collectively it felt as if we were more unified and responsive.

I reluctantly ditched my score as well after some encouragement from another bass, and it was the right decision.  It was soooo much easier to follow Suzuki and stay on top of tempi and to give what he was requesting.  Personally, I felt much more emotionally invested and focused on this last performance, whereas on Thursday and Friday I found my mind wandering during recitatives and arias.  I don’t know how much of that I can attribute to ditching the score, but something changed.

We also all agreed to close our folders and sing the final, most powerful movement (Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein) completely by memory.  This movement, already a powerful ending, was magnified tenfold as the entire character of our sound changed when we all dropped music to our sides and sang to the rafters.  Our chorus manager communicated this decision to us; I don’t know if it was his idea, Maestro’s request (he had asked us to memorize chorales whenever possible), or if the impetus came from somewhere externally, but it was a great move.

This was the kind of concert you walk out of with that buzz in your head, a natural high from the quality of the performance, the contribution you know you made, the studying and other investment of time paying off.  The audience responded appropriately, with an even bigger roar and an extra ovation, some of them clearly moved by the whole performance.  After Thursday’s, I was worried that our hard work was going to be irreparably marred.  The Globe’s take on the concert seemed to confirm that (I’ll do a review round up later).  Fortunately, Friday afternoon and especially Saturday night dispelled that notion entirely.

The Roar of the Crowd

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.

St. John Passion Final Musings

Random musings after today’s orchestra rehearsal, in no particular order, as we’re headed into the quasi-performance open rehearsal tomorrow and three days of performances:

Someone said Suzuki was “very sensitive to accelerations.”  This wins the  Politest Understatement of the Year Award, given how often he stopped us to say we were rushing or we were behind, even though we could barely hear that we were.

The male soloists kick ass.  I love an evangelist who holds the score in his hand only so he can refer to where Maestro wants to start up again, and Cristoph certainly has it down cold.  The bass Jesus (Hanno Müller-Brachmann) is solid.  Can’t speak to the women; our portion of the rehearsal ended before I got to hear them.

I was originally toying with the idea of not bringing the score on stage, but I’ve given that thought up — there are too many late surprises and minor adjustments by Suzuki that I can’t keep track of all of them.  I’ll need those glances down to see what’s next.

Suzuki is so freakin’ clear with his choral conducting, it’s unbelievable.  He breathes with us — my wife, who has conducted more than a few small choruses in her time, has always insisted that’s the key to choral conducting.  The tricky thing is still catching his hand movements for cutoffs, because he does a little extra flourish to show where the consonant goes… and you have to get used to waiting for it.  It’s like playing rock-paper-scissors with someone, only you go on “One, two, three!” and the other person goes on “One, two, three, shoot!”  If you cut-off too early and then see the extra flourish (he sort of points up with his finger after the traditional cutoff sign), it’s too late.

After the constant starting and stopping during these rehearsals, one chorister wondered how many times he would stop, and started making tick marks in his score to keep track.  The verdict?  Suzuki stopped 69 times during the first 75 minutes or so of rehearsal before the break.

I can’t quite read the orchestra players — I think they’re annoyed at the constant stops and lectures about what they should be doing, but they’re also fascinated by his attention to detail and realize that they’re learning from him.  No, maybe they’re just annoyed!  In any case, they now match the chorus in many places with the same articulations, unwritten dynamics, and cutoffs.

At least a few choristers are grumbling about the direction this has gone — overheard amongst the complaints about the starts and stops was that, with the scores in our hands now and so many details to remember, the piece has become less personal and more mechanical.  I myself am finding it necessary to really internalize the detailed direction in order to come closer to realizing the vision laid out for us… but I admit it’s taken a lot of work.  The difference in what we’re producing now compared to last Saturday is quite remarkable.  Basically, we can’t take anything for granted if we want to own this ourselves, too.

I marvel at all the little things that Suzuki has brought out during these intense rehearsals that I couldn’t hear at all on the other recordings I’ve listened to and certainly never anticipated as I learned the piece.  Here are just a few examples:

Looking forward to a great series of performances.

What’s the Score?

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.