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Concert! November 25, Magnificat

CONCERT DAY! Call time: 11:45am, concert 2:00-3:00pm.

As I waited for them to set up and all - we got choir risers this time! and chairs! - I swapped out my choir duotang for a concert folder. This sounds a bit weird, but really, these concert folders are the best thing. The music that we sing from is long (the motet is thirty pages [though of course there's only two lines on a page, owing to the scoring]) and kind of old, so many of the pages are falling apart and have been taped together. And just being able to have a nice, solid-black folder that isn't falling apart and that's got a cloth strip at the bottom is the great, because then it keeps your music from falling out without needing to keep one hand on the paper. Also they hold a lot of stuff.

We warmed up and went through some of the pieces - we didn't do some of them that we knew better ("Sicut Cervus" was one) and actually went through the motet, through first our conductor polled the choir about whether it'd be more beneficial to run through than to leave well enough alone. In this repertoire, the Bach motet is like an endurance run, and in the middle, you flip pages and keep flipping pages and the thing doesn't seem to end! The finish (the Allelujah) is like a mirage that will never happen...except then it does. And then you're really tired. But we made it through, ran through a few soloist->full choir segues, and then disbanded for a break. Our conductor always gives us a pretty solid break to just get ready; we had an hour, and were queued up outside the hall by 1:55pm.

The first piece we sang was "Zadok the Priest", by Handel (here's one version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKAZK6kbmEM). It's a coronation piece, originally scored for orchestra. We didn't have an orchestra (alas!) but we did have an amazing pianist, so she played the long introduction. The introduction is soft and full of repeating arpeggios - pretty lulling and rhythmically very uniform. The choral entrance, however, is a full forte with an SSAATBB division: that is to say, more notes than the usual SATB, so it's very loud. In a hall like ours, it fairly exploded. This was really fun. All very solid chords, nothing unusually dissonant, so the effect was very solid. The choral entrance is also very simple rhythmically, with mostly quarter and half-notes where the choir moves together, so it definitely lets all the voices ring out. The voices-moving-together especially contributes to this; there are several pieces where we sing at that volume too, but when there are different voices changing notes, the effect isn't as pronounced. This is the choir in "trumpet" mode.

The rest of "Zadok the Priest" is equally epic. Really, that's the only word to use for it; after the ringing proclamation of the first part, there's some "rejoice" parts which are extremely reminiscent of the famous Messiah "Rejoice" aria, and then "God Save the King" interspersed with amen, allelujah. "Zadok the Priest" is really stately, even with the occasional running sixteenths; it's always really fun to sing.

Next we had a Renaissance trio of pieces. The first was "Ave Maria" (by Tomas Luis de Vittoria - sorry spiralsheep, I got it wrong!) Here's a version I sort of liked - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFU5WXXZ-2Y - though it feels a bit like they're taking time too strictly and miss out on the tenor/bass interlocking solos set to "in mulieribus". Possibly because we had just sung "Zadok the Priest", I thought we came in a little too strongly on the "Ave Maria" in general, since it's more of a prayer - it is a prayer. Still, I especially like the introductory solo measure; it's exactly the haunting feeling I associate with pre-Baroque spiritual music.

Then we had Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mdmco61Htk). Ah, I don't know what happened in the beginning, because somehow the tenors were singing and the basses were singing and the altos were singing and the sopranos were singing and all the sections had subtle differences in tempo. Around the first "desiderat" I was wondering what the heck was going on, because even from my spot in the alto section I could clearly hear the tenors on another beat entirely (the tenors are in the opposite quadrant, and since we were not on curved risers, it's hard to hear them: the fact I could tell we were not in sync was bad, bad, bad.) It fixed itself magically. I looked up for the conductor's tempo in panic, and I guess that's what others did, too, since it fixed itself! Haha, don't mind us, "ad fontes aquarum..." Really, other than that initial flub, it went well. I think we possibly should have practiced that one before going on stage; the choir knows this piece really well, but warming-up is always needed.

Third was another Palestrina piece: "Exultate Deo" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YslcrPDm4QI). Oh, this one. It adds in voices one by one; I sing alto 1, so we were extremely, um, exposed during the first few measures; since we are only four (despite the claims of the choir roster) - one of whom was conscripted from the alto 2 section - it was very uncomfortable. I'm not overly fond of this one. Lots of "jubilate" and "buccinate" [blow trumpet, sing], both of which require a lot of jubilant noise and sound and it really felt like we were being buried under other voices instead.

Here's a translation of what the Latin text means (taken from the ChoralWiki site):
Rejoice in God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob.
Take the psalm and bring hither the timbrel: the merry harp with the lute.
Blow the trumpet in the new moon, even on our solemn feast day.
Very jubilant, but I did not feel jubilant. Thus, bleh.

But Palestrina has no horrors to compete with Bach. The motet was next.

Bach's sixth motet (Lobet den Herrn, BWV 230) - it sets "Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden/und preiset ihn, alle Völker!" (well a little more) to music that vastly exceeds the time it would take to actually say the psalm. It is also extreeeemely melismatic, and you think I'm exaggerating with the e's but really, I would forget half-way through an extended sixteenth-note run exactly what syllable I was singing. The text being German was not helpful either. Here's a version I liked (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5pVrVXG9CY) though I have no idea how it sounded from the outside.

That said, though: it went off really, really well! I was surprised. In practice this motet always dragged; I suppose (partly because it was so long) we never really managed to familiarize ourselves with it. (The person sitting next to me, when we took it up again a few weeks back: "I don't remember any of this at all..." Many of the notes are totally unpredictable and contain random accidentals, which doesn't help.) Possibly because of this, the middle of the motet just seemed absolutely endless. When performing, though, we progressed through at a really fast clip, and I think that really worked. Things clicked. Bach's music tends to be like that, I find; nothing makes sense until suddenly, it does! (A few years ago, I was working through the Prelude and Fugue in D+ from the Well-Tempered Clavier, which is a piano piece; the Prelude was desperately simple rhythmically, but the fugue not at all; it wasn't until I'd figured out that all of the pieces are supposed to fit that it all clicked, and the fugue was really very satisfying afterward.)

I still don't think the "Hallelujah" attached to the motet worked as well as it could have, though. For me especially, it seems to fluctuate wildly between my upper and lower range (the altos started off singing with the G above middle C, and then kept bouncing up and down) and so it was hard after singing the motet to muster up the lightness and energy that a hallelujah required.

After that it was the "Magnificat". This was our headline for the concert and so finished off the concert. (Full "Magnificat": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlBeShifhbE. This one is a playlist that's sort-of organized with movements split into separate videos, which might be easier: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB2AF3CCDFD0C82F4) The "Magnificat" is another Bach piece, and my (and several others'!) favourite. It's hard not to love it. Like "Zadok the Priest", there was also a long introduction transcribed for piano. I am not sure if our pianist cheated by playing the octave eighth notes in the left hand as just single notes (and frankly I'd be tempted to do it in her place, because that's insane) but it sounded good, for a transcription. No mishaps anywhere, except in the very beginning, when it sounded a bit like the sopranos were caught off guard, though that could just be acoustics. Also like "Zadok the Priest", the text is celebratory and retains the epic-choir feeling; the first movement, 'Magnificat', is just one line of text:
Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
I had to hand in my music right after, but the English 'translation' to be sung instead of the Latin is (if I remember correctly) simply "magnify". "My soul doth magnify the Lord," says Wikipedia, but the musical setting is primarily all the voices singing "magnificat" again and again - "magnify"! On "magnificat" text, we were almost always singing with another section the same rhythm; it was very unified there.

I especially enjoyed the slide from the "Quia respexit humilitatem", an aria, into "Omnes generationes", which is a choral arrangement. The soloist who sang "Quia respexit" had a very powerful, piercing voice in the upper register (which contrasted with the soloist who sang the first aria, who had a light and clear voice). The contrast between "Quia respexit" and its quiet, ending-chromatic-descending line, and the full choir's explosion into a forte "Omnes generationes", was so much FUN. "Omnes generationes" has a recurring motif, which is basically "omnes omnes generationes" but while pounding one or two notes on "omnes" sforzando. This was sung by all the sections at varying times and is built up to the end where each section piles on "omnes" one after the other like clockwork, before resolving into a perfect cadence.

(There is quite a lot of solo and duo/trio movements, but it's hard to talk about them when I've heard them only a few times and don't sing them myself.)

"Fecit potentiam" was kind of meh. This one takes a lot of agility, and it's partly because of word painting: "dispersit" [he has dispersed] is always set to quick sixteenth-note runs (multiple ones, too, with barely a breath in between). "Sicut locutus est" was where our required-to-know piece for auditions were excerpted from, so absolutely everyone knew it well and sang it accordingly. That was solid, but not very interesting. What is interesting, as far as I'm concerned, is the next movement: the final "Gloria".

It starts with a big, unison "GLORIA" and then splits up into runs - not quite scales, but close, skipping notes here and there and doubling back - sung in sequence by one part after another. The rest of the phrase apart from the gloria coalesces all the voices into a more harmonic pattern. The first half of the "Gloria" movement is singing about the trinity, so first the father, then the son, then the ghost are sung, i.e. "Gloria patri, gloria filio, gloria spiritui sancto". All of the gloria bits are actually very dissonant. After the last, the piano (well, actually, technically the orchestra!) played an intervening portion that was a call-back to the first part of the "Magnificat" - and the rest was quickfire syllables, very little melisma after that. At the end, all the voices held a chord for several long measures while the piano played underneath, then split up into different melodies independent of others, before finally culminating in a triumphant (instead of contemplative) amen.

Amen indeed! The audience started clapping, the soloists fell out of the choir to receive their applause, they and the conductor and the pianist left, came back in when it was evident that the audience was still clapping, and we all departed amidst applause. I estimated the chairs before we started (the concert manager, who was sitting next to me, wondered if we actually had three hundred chairs so I did an estimate) and there were about 270 seats - plus at least a dozen in the back who were standing. So a sizable crowd.

So that was the concert! All around, it went way better than I'd hoped, especially with the motet, and I wasn't alone there; the other people I talked to were also pretty pleased. Success!

The part that makes me smile every time is that we maintain poker faces until we get out of the room, and then immediately the "ohgod my arm hurts from holding my folder" and "well that didn't go so badly!" and sighs of relief start. (I love those folders, but holding anything for an hour hurts.) It's always quiet going in, but never coming out.

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/117919.html.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Wow! That sounds like a huge event. Congrats on making it through successfully! :D
Nov. 26th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It was pretty fun :D I love nearly all the pieces, so it was great to sing.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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