Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Next Year with the SLSO Chorus

If you live in the greater St. Louis area, and you enjoy singing classical music, please consider trying out for the next season of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. I'm wrapping up my second year in the group and I've been having a ball. The people are interesting, the music is phenomenal, and to me, nothing on earth beats being part of a great artistic experience. I'm sure there will be room for more voices!

To give you an idea of the type of music the Symphony Chorus performs, I hear a lot (from the veteran members of the group) about performances of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Mahler's 2nd. There have been mentions of Belshazzar's Feast (Walton), Judas Maccabaeus (Handel), and Bach's Mass in B Minor. Since I've been with the group we've done Mozart's Requiem and a completed version of Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor, Brahms' German Requiem, an almost complete performance of Handel's Messiah, and additional pieces by Mozart, Stravinsky, John Adams, and Josquin des Prez. We even performed the Adams and Brahms pieces at Carnegie Hall, which gave me my first opportunity to visit New York City. That's something!

This season we've done Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, selections from Rachmaninov's Vespers, Berlioz's Eight Scenes from Faust, and some opera choruses by Verdi and Tchaikovsky. The women of the chorus also took part in Holst's Planets. We have yet to sing Bartok's Cantata Profana and Britten's War Requiem. It has been an unusual season for the chorus, focusing mainly on 20th century masterpieces. Next season, the chorus is going back to the classics, including some Faure, some Rossini, some Haydn, some Beethoven, and one of the last century's most popular pieces, Orff's Carmina Burana.

I have been asked, a few times, why I go out for the big showy classical stuff rather than, say, the Bach Society or something similarly churchly ("oratorio" repertoire as opposed to "cantata"). One simple answer is that I've always enjoyed being involved in works like the ones the Symphony Chorus is doing. Some of my greatest memories from college include being in performances of Carmina Burana, Beethoven's Mass in C, a concert version of HMS Pinafore, etc. Another simple answer is that, when I was looking for something to do, I heard an ad on the radio inviting listeners to audition for the Symphony Chorus. I had done my audition and been accepted before I heard any such ad from the Bach Society, etc. A more complex answer is that I would rather not risk mixing the joy of musicmaking with the agony of church conflict and the embarrassment of helping to model worship practices I don't necessarily endorse. Even though the Symphony Chorus sings a lot of sacred music, it is secular enough that Lutherans, Catholics, Unitarians, Baptists, Jews, Buddhists, and atheists can sing together without being implicated in syncretism, unionism, contemptible worship, etc. No one but the composer is preaching, and if he's not preaching very well, at least he's doing it in a foreign language much of the time.

I don't know how to describe how much fun I have had in this group. I think of several of the singers as good friends. Some of us shared dinner at the Carnegie Deli, or a cab to Ground Zero. Some of us share laughter and singing at the after-concert parties, or common interests such as Harry Potter. Some of us have also shared their courage, continuing to sing even when suffering from terrifying illnesses and family crises. There are so many people in the group that a good number of them are complete strangers, but quite a few of them are a sight for sore eyes every Tuesday night from Labor Day until Memorial Day.

We have been together through guest conductors we really liked and ones we really disliked (naming no names); and we have enjoyed the exciting and entertaining musical leadership of chorus leader Amy Kaiser and music director David Robertson. Robertson has the makings of the next high-culture-music "rock star," and besides his tremendous breadth of knowledge and focused musicianship he is also a crack comedian (e.g. when explaining a quick crescendo to the string players he said, "Do it like you're going to barf"). We have looked over the shoulders of some of the sexiest musicians on today's orchestral scene, and watched them work their magic. And most exquisite of all, we have together been a part of moments of breathtaking musical beauty and power, when you forget that there are musicians playing and singers singing, when you forget about this or that note, and fall into a world made of sound.

So if you'd like that, think about trying out. No big deal. If you can memorize an art song and sing it in front of 2 people, not counting the accompanist (provided for you), you'll probably do OK. I'm sure there will be an ad in the Post-Dispatch and/or on KFUO-FM when the audition dates are set. Or, keep an eye on this blog; I'll try to keep you posted.

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