Summer’s placid surface is about to explode into the frenzy of Autumn.
Chorale has not presented its own concert since May—but the summer has not been quiet! An ensemble called Chicago Chorale (comprising Chorale members, past, present, and future, as well as other singers from the community) sang two concert preparations at Ravinia this summer: An Evening of Lerner and Loewe, and The Return of the King, which were a lot of work, a lot of fun, and made some money to help support our 2014-15 budget. And nothing else sat still, either. We are currently in the midst of moving to a new rehearsal venue (First Unitarian Church, 57th and Woodlawn), which is more complicated than one might think, since it involves moving our piano and choral library, as well as working with a new church administration, a new contract, and a new set of regulations and behaviors. We are also preparing for another European Tour (our last was in 2011)—this time we will visit the Baltic countries, during July of 2015; and while not all Chorale members are involved, more than half will participate, and the entire venture must be “administered” from within the ensemble. Tour company, repertoire, itinerary, schedule of payments—none of these take summer vacations. I chose most repertoire for the 2014-15 season long ago. Planning for our performance of Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor with Civic Orchestra, under the direction of Nicholas Kraemer, at Symphony Center, November 24, has been underway for more than a year. Similarly, our performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which we will present at Rockefeller Chapel on March 29, has been in the works for a long time; the soloists, and most of the instrumentalists, had already been contracted by March. We even had a detailed rehearsal schedule before the end of July. Decisions about our spring concert, Da Pacem Domine, scheduled for June 13 at St. Vincent DePaul Parish, present a different sort of challenge: a cappella repertoire choices must reflect, more closely than large, orchestrated works, the specific voices we retain from the past season, as well as the new voices we choose through auditions; and this repertoire must be adaptable to the smaller ensemble that sings it on tour, as well. I have spent a good deal of time ordering and studying scores, and listening to recordings, and have compiled a short list; but I won’t be able to make final choices until I hear and have worked with this season’s choir. A professional ensemble has the luxury of choosing repertoire, then hiring a choir that can sing it; my job is somewhat more complicated and challenging—and never less than interesting.
Summers offer an opportunity to pull back, remember my training and performance experiences, think about what I love about music, recall the repertoire and performers that have particularly moved me, and really spend time with my choices. I entered this profession with ideals and excitement, which have been sharpened by wonderful teachers and training; too often, though, in the midst of actually preparing, and paying for, concerts, ideals are back-burnered, and one is compelled to think in terms of what sells, what works, what can one get away with, what will the ensemble tolerate, what can we afford. September through May can easily become a exercise in keeping ones head above water; June through August can be an antidote to that. I listen to recordings of earlier repertoire played by today’s top period ensembles, and remember the revelatory summers I spent at Oberlin’s Baroque Performance Institute; I listen to Kiri Te Kanawa sing with her still-flawless technique and legato line, and reflect on my teachers, on how hard they worked to help me to understand, and execute, the same things; I explore the ever-growing body of new choral music, and try to decide for myself what is merely attractive, what is clever and intriguing, what will continue to excite and inspire me in the future. I listen to recordings of the incredible number of good choirs out there, compare them with the choirs I have sung in and the conductors I have worked with, and try to get past the flawless surface enabled by current recording techniques, and determine for myself if such and such a group, such and such a conductor, is doing really honest, exciting work. Some sleepless nights I spend three or four hours with YouTube, listening, watching, comparing, ordering CDs and single copies, writing emails to conducting colleagues and asking for suggestions and opinions.
Summer’s placid surface is about to explode into the frenzy of Autumn. I look forward to it!