This last week has been filled with the final preparations of Richard Danielpour’s “An American Requiem”. Not only does this require the coordinated efforts of the University Symphony Orchestra but also the Grand Chorus and the artistry of featured vocal soloists Elizabeth Cowan (WMU), James Doing (Wisconsin-Madison), and Stephen Lancaster (Notre Dame). What has also made this orchestra cycle special has been the presence of the composer. Mr. Danielpour’s attendance to our rehearsals has brought a unique level of meaning of tonight’s performance.
Personally, I feel a profound sense of catharsis in the narrative of this mass. The Dies Irae is truly demonic as it keeps both performer and audience off balance with quick meter changes and dynamic extremes. Yet there are also tender moments to balance these dark and violent elements. Part II introduces smaller sections with beautiful vocal solos and choral textures (the iterations of “Hosanna” are glorious beyond belief). Two cello solos come in the Benedictus and Libera Me respectively, which if I might say, are a wonderfully lyrical and idiomatic for the instrument.
What I have learned from this experience is how collaboration can bring a final product to an even higher level of excellence that would be otherwise unattainable as an individual. For example, preparing the cello solos are about 45% musicality and 45% technique. Score study, listening to the recording, and the rehearsals serve as a guide to know “how it should sound”. Then I have to work hard, both in practice and in the actual execution, to play with good intonation, project the sound, rhythmical accuracy, etc. Yet the last crucial 10% can only be obtained by fitting it with the soloists that the part doubles. It requires me to be committed to exactly how the singer is expressive the phrase. Maybe a little time taken here, perhaps a wider vibrato there. Whatever it is, we must blend.
This rule of 10% extends further. The orchestra’s work is complimented by the chorus and the chorus by the orchestra. The instrumentalists derives meaning from the text, melody, and harmony of the chorus. Likewise, the singer’s soundscape is set by the textures of the orchestra. And on top of all of this, Mr. Danielpour has given us as a collective ensemble this 10% with his guidance. In this sense, this crucial 10% is what makes the end product magnificent.
If you aren’t busy tonight, come to Miller Auditorium at 8:00 to hear the Western Winds perform Danielpour’s Icarus and the USO and Grand Chorus perform An American Requiem.
This beautiful and shiny instrument is not mine. Prof. Uchimura was kind enough to loan his cello for tonight's performance. I love my cello, but to be honest, it's like the difference between Pabst Blue Ribbon and good champagne. Cheers!
You can't see me but the recording is stillgood. Thanks to Jeff Spenner for conducting and providing the video.
Today, the University Symphony Orchestra of WMU has its first full concert of the year. Our program includes the Espãna of Chambrier, Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the Poème for solo violin and orchestra by Ernest Chausson, and Claude Debussy’s La Mer. Each piece presents distinct challenges and rewards, however, of all the repertoire, the Chausson Poème is my personal favorite.
(Christian Ferras performing the the Poème)
The Poème is a rich piece with an interesting story. It was the product of Chausson’s later career in which he was interested in the Symbolist poets and the novels of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. Grove describes the Poème in the context of Chausson’s “latent pessimism” and “disenchantment”, though, the original title of the piece was “Le Chant de l’amour triumphant” (The Song of Love Triumphant). This title was taken from Ivan Turgenev’s book of the same name. Large sections in both major and minor and material that is at times tempestuous and sometimes tender leaves you to wonder, does love triumph?
Moreover, the piece blooms from dark corners and iridescent patches as the orchestra and solo violin answer back and forth. This is why I am so engaged by the music’s narrative. The emotional content begins with the celli and is handed off to the violas and winds (Fig. 1). After a few arching melodies, the thematic material returns to the celli, this time, in the form of a more prominent statement (Fig. 2). The music intensifies with the syncopated soprano-voice of the cello choral. This line ascends, giving way to the solo violin for the first time (Fig. 3).
In this way, I get to help bridge the orchestra’s introduction to the violin. I pass my high B-flat to our soloist Ariele Horowitz, the silver medalist of this year’s Stulberg International String Competition. This is not the first time I have met Horowitz. She was a student at Indiana University’s Summer String Academy where I was a counselor this last summer. Maybe it’s our shared “Hoosier DNA” but each time we play this section of the piece, Horowitz and I “connect”. It doesn’t last for more than an instant. In the grand scheme of things, it is insignificant. Yet any musician that is drawn to the dynamic genre of chamber music knows this feeling. It’s not just that the cellist “knows”. It’s not just that the solo violinist “knows”. It’s that the cellist knows that the violinist “knows”, and that the violinist knows that the cellist “knows” (etc. etc. etc.). Awareness, communication, synergy, whatever you want to call it. It is, at least for me, that element of music that breathes life into our art.
Congratulations to all the members of the WMU Orchestra, conductors Bruce Uchimura and Jeff Spenner, and our violin soloist Ariele Horowitz.
The concert begins at 3:00 in Chenery Auditorium in Kalamazoo. Tickets are free.