My review of our Stravinsky and Mozart performance

If you compare last night’s performance to other performances of the Mozart Requiem I’ve been in or listened to, it was top-notch–well, except for that one blemish.  But if you compare it to what our chorus is capable of, I feel that we didn’t reach our potential for artistic excellence in that performance.   It really felt that both the Mozart and the Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms were pieces that we just sort of sleepwalked our way through, relying on our collective musical instincts.

And you know what?  I lay a big part of the blame for this on conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.   Honestly, I think he was sick… or maybe one of his dogs died… or maybe he read the Eagle review from last week criticizing him for being too wild on the podium.  Whatever the reason, the animated, smile-and-a-wink, conductor from our rehearsals–the one who knew exactly what he wanted to get–wasn’t present last night.  The wildly gesticulating, flamboyant crowd pleaser of the Mahler performance last week was subdued and even a little careless.  The result is we weren’t nearly as engaged as a chorus as we could have been.  Oh, there were a few moments where you could see the playful spark come back into his eyes and he started cuing instruments and getting us into it.  We were even starting to get into a rhythm with the Mozart until… it happened.

The Sanctus movement is one of three movements where the singing starts immediately.  No introduction.  No tempo indication to speak of.  Just a big downbeat and boom! we’re in.  We did the Dies Irae fine because we were locked in on him waiting for it.  We started with our Domine Jesu without issue, because he gave us a look and mouthed the word Domine reminding us to come in quietly.  But the Sanctus? He looked at us, smiled a bit, got prepared, and then looked down and gave sort of a quiet half-cue.  The entire chorus (except for two superstar sopanos) collectively went, “Uh, what?”  The timpani came in, and the orchestra strings sort of quickly made it in a bit late.  The rest of us… well… we started singing on the second measure.  Oops.  A slip-up like that really rattles both the conductor and the chorus and I never felt as locked in for the rest of the piece.

Coupled with that, everyone seemed to agree that the soloists were nothing special.  They all did their jobs, and wonderfully so, but there was nothing about their presentation, their singing style, or their interpretation that will leave a lasting impression, and there was nothing noteworthy about their voices.

Lest I sound too negative, I’d like to report that I felt we conveyed a lot of the detailed direction that MTT gave us for both pieces in our extensive rehearsals.  While I don’t have anything with which to compare our Symphony of Psalms performance except our practice recording, I feel we delivered a solid effort and that anyone familiar with the piece would have been pleased with what they heard.  And the Mozart, according to knowledgeable and trustworthy listeners, was a top-tier performance, missed entrance notwithstanding.  Again, I just wish I could have walked off the stage saying “YEAH!  We nailed that!”  Again, sort of like the Mahler last week, which by almost all accounts was a concert both the performers and the audience will remember years from now.

We’ll see what the “real” critics say… after all,  I’m just a bass.

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