A week with Berlioz

It’s been an odd privilege to explore three musical masterpieces on the subject of death in a year in which I’ve had two actual deaths in my family to confront.  The Mozart Requiem I sang a couple of years back, before all this happened, was a piece of abstract art. But to sing a dirge soon after you’ve been saying them is another experience altogether.

Last year I was delighted to sing the solos in Vaughan Williams Five Tudor Portraits, his masterful but little-known settings of five poems by Tudor poet John Skelton.  Fiercely difficult for the chorus and maybe a bit too raunchy for the audience, the piece demands a wide expressive range from its soloists.  In the opening Ballad I was the debauched Elinor Rumming, calling forth minions to the tunning (ale ask).  In the Romanza, I was little Jane Scroop, lamenting for my fallen pet sparrow Philip.  It sounds like a spoof compared to the Verdi Requiem I sang with the Oregon Bach Festival last summer, or the Berlioz Requiem I’m starting this week with the Robert Spano Professional Choral Workshop at Carnegie Hall. But the Romanza starts out as a vain little girl mired in self pity and ends – after the chorus describes a funeral procession of birds, after the soloist intones the Miserere, after we all sing a clear-eyed farewell – in mourning for more than just a bird.

And now it’s on to a week with Berlioz, Robert Spano, the Atlanta Symphony choral director Norman Mackenzie, and ever present, the ghost of Robert Shaw. I spent last night with the score and a highlighter, trying to find where the Alto IIs should be singing next. The piece is largely scored in three parts, sopranos, tenors, and basses, but Shaw divides the altos throughout, now bolstering the tenor line, now singing with the sopranos. I think the range is about 2 1/2 octaves!  I’ll learn more about Shaw’s scoring decisions in the 40-page PDF we all received. Notes about that and the rehearsals will be found here.  Now it’s time to heat up the facial steamer and see how my tenor range is doing…

About thousandfoldecho

Everyone likes classical music. Not everyone knows it yet.
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