Having just participated in Oregon Symphony Orchestra
's annual New Years Eve Concert on 2014 Dec 30 and 31, rather than write a review of the concert (which I didn't really hear, being in the tenor section), I thought I'd post the performance notes given to the singers in rehearsal by OSO Music Director Carlos Kalmar
and our rehearsal director, Ethan Sperry
Meeting with and working under Ethan is the reason I decided to do this concert. I've had plenty of Beethoven 9, and even with Maestro Kalmar before. Dr. Sperry, though, is new to me, despite my having connections to Oregon Repertory Singers and Portland State University that he's now led for years. He did not disappoint, bringing new ideas to the piece, its significance, and singing and music in general, all while preparing 130 singers (many of whom were new to B9) in only two long, but well paced rehearsals.
"It is especially fitting that members of so many choirs, Portland Symphonic Choir
, Oregon Repertory Singers
, Portland Gay Men's Chorus
, Pacific Youth Choir
, and Portland State University's Chamber Choir
and Man Choir, (am I forgetting anyone?) are joining forces to present this music all about brotherhood and the community of all humanity." ES
"Portland should, once a year, get everyone together for something like this. Thank you for being here." Carlos Kalmar
"Recent scientific research tells us that our ears recognize instruments not by the ongoing sound, but by the initial attack. When they edited out the first instant of a trumpet blast, a violin bow-stroke, or sung consonants, few could tell one on-going sound from another. Singers can take advantage of that by putting their consonants ahead of the beat, so that entire sound of the doubling instruments supports the choir." Ethan Sperry.
"Never sing louder than lovely" Ethan Sperry, quoting his teachers.
"You don't have to sing every single note. You will need extra breaths in the fast and loud passages, and there are a lot of them in Beethoven 9. It's okay to drop out two or even four notes so you have a well supported and beautiful sound."
"Carlos is a fantastic choral conductor. He will show you everything you need. And he changes things. Do the study you need to get out of your score so you can keep your head up and watch him." ES
~ This proved to be great advice. Carlos' wife Raffaela went into labor on Dec 30, and resident conductor Paul Ghun Kim took the podium with no rehearsal or prior experience conducting Beethoven 9. The choir and the orchestra followed him flawlessly in new tempos. Paul's comment on the choir: "Wonderful". The baby was announced as a healthy girl, and Carlos got a standing ovation on entering the stage on Dec 31.
Specific Notes for Beethoven's Ninth, "An die Freude"
m 238-240 EVERYONE, men and women both, sing "FffRrrrEU-de" on the A below middle C please. KC
Do not sing angrily loud; it's a bright explosion of joy. ES
m 257- 264 Sopranos, double the alto. Tenors, double the bass. The tenor, as Ludvig wrote it, is UN-singable. ES
"This is your music that tells the audience why you have been waiting for 45 minutes in full view; make them joyful that you did." CK
m 264 make the half note a quarter note with quarter rest. CK
m 286 Basses JA! is full agreement. CK
m 287 everyone else agrees, too. CK
m 289 "nie" the "sf" is not an explosion. Beethoven uses "sf" to say "this is the important word in the phrase"; lead up to it then come back from it. ES
m 292 make the half note a quarter note with quarter rest. CK
m 313 in "Küsse" the K is strong before the beat and the "ss" is even longer before the beat with a break. CK
m 313 - 319 Elegantly please. No forcing, especially tenors and sopranos. UN-accent beats 2 and 4 almost always. ES
m 320 -234 all half notes are quarter notes with quarter note rests. CK
m 330 "Carlos makes this a loooooong fermata" ES
m 330 "this is a loooooong fermata." CK.
"What is English for 'Bierhalle'? Oh, Bierhalle works here? Ah, of course, this is Portland!" CK
"Get out your beer steins! " Both gents
"Maybe it's that we Portlanders take our beer in cups, so we don't slosh them around. Maybe it's that they don't mind spilling beer in Germany because beer is cheap." ES
m 411 the L of Laufet must be well before the beat.
m 417 etc. "Held" needs his "t". Omitting it makes "ein Hel", something completely different. (thank you, Doro)
m 431 Some scores have a tenor D. It should be a Bb.
The Famous Chorale
"Joyful, loud, exuberant, mit bier" CK
"Where you have them, bring out the eighth notes by backing off the prior quarter just a little" CK
"All the syllables are not equal. Beethoven put the unimportant syllables on the off beats. Let them be unimportant." ES
m 535 "There is no English word for Feuertrunken, and most modern Germans don't know the word either. When you use it they just look at you, but feuertrunken, happy drunk with fire, is what you have to convey" CK
m 595 "Don't come in early. Circle the rest! Make less of the unaccented closing syllables." ES
"Gentlemen: sing tall, commanding, and rather separated" CK
m 601 (and 608) "make Kuss half "u" and half "ss" with a break" both gents
m 604 (and 610) "Welt is a whole note with "t" on beat three half rest." both
m 605 "Ladies are very lyrical here. Men make four rather detached notes, then accented singing" CK
m 620 "Very warm and loving here for "Brüder!" CK
m 622 "-zelt" is a half note for everyone, then stress your next 'muss'. ES
m 631 "Ihr" is very warm and beautiful, then spit out at "stürst" CK
m 632 "nie-" is stressed and "-der" is less. CK
m 633 the crescendo is good. CK
m 635 is subito pianissimo, building evenly to "Welt?". CK
m 639 subito pianissimo again, then building again. CK
m 643 "I rely on the altos. The sopranos are impossibly high, the tenors are screaming, the basses are too high to sing well, but the alto is just right in the range and a beautiful leap I love to hear. Please delight me." CK
m 645 (and other places) "muss" has a short vowel, and "er" needs a space before it. Practice this "Mu-" (eighth) pause (eighth) "-ss" (eighth) pause (eighth) "er" (full value). Here we go." ES
m 650 "Robert Shaw, to get louder or softer sounds from a section, would add or subtract people, not as a comment on their singing, but to get the sound he needed. Sopranos, especially seconds, if you cannot float a relaxed, pianissimo, high g on "ü", simply don't sing it. Second sopranos and altos, same for the the e: if you cannot float it, just open your mouth and pretend to sing, and it will be beautiful" ES
"That was simply beautiful" ES (It was. GS)
The Fugue. m 655-729
"Altos, I really want to hear the main theme, and where ever else it occurs, please." CK
"Actually, Carlos doesn't really need the main theme really loud: it carries and I hear it completely cover the bouncy second theme, so please do this: Bring out the bouncy, joyful "Freude" theme most. When you have the main "Seid umschlungen" theme, pulse and sustain each note, especially the first few, but it's just a little softer. Everything else is unimportant, marked down a dynamic or two. The only exception is the bursting "Freude!" and you sing those out. Can that be how we do it?" ES
"Pity the altos.. the parts are harder than yours, and it takes them too low AND too high." ES
m 720 to 724 first note, a few (5 of 30) tenors on the alto, then back to tenor. EK
m 730 "At Rudolph (rehearsal letter R), NO crescendo, tenors, til 738" CK
"The short notes are pick-ups to the half-notes. Put them right on the beat. Anyone may double the four bars before or after they sing softly and accurately"
m 745 the tempo broadens a little and this is full and warm and inviting. CK
m 749 is a little folk song that ends at 762 lilting and lovely. CK
m 753 breath after "-zelt" and ES
m 757 breath after "wohnen". ES
m 758 Alto, the first note should be C-natural, not C sharp. CK
m 795 "don't worry, I will bring you in there." CK
m 806 (and 827) "Alle" is very bright and right in rhythm. CK
m 806 "Give Alle a double accent, once when you enter and again on the tied quarter, almost "ahaaalle" ES
m 811 "Brüder is the top of the phrase, swell to it and away from it with a breath. CK
m 812 Sopranos, make the little turn lovely and relaxed, but please do it together. CK
"Sopranos, when you sing that turn, wink at Carlos. I mean, the turn is the wink." ES
m 814 "I will give you the cut off like this: CK demonstrates a downbeat and a second downward grabbing gesture.
m 831 "is right in tempo, please come in see the new tempo at 832 for the "Menschen" CK
m 851 "is very, very fast. Memorize." ES. (It was. I did. GS)
m 865 "everyone separate the eighth notes so we can hear them. Basses, stick to your quarter notes and make us notice them." ES
m 880 "All fortissimo, with accents on the down beats. ES
m 883 "Welt" gets a full quarter before the "t" and breath every time. ES
m 916 "the fortissimo is full and the piano is subito" CK
m 920 "Just watch, You'll see right where "fun-ken" goes in two and please do not rush it. But the orchestra is hammering loud there, no one will hear it." CK
"Let's do this again sometime"
But we heard it, and we got it right both times. Personally, I came of both performances fresh-voiced: those 130 voices meant the singers didn't need to struggle to balance, nor had we sung a long dress and warm-up on opening day: the dress was the night before. It was a happy experience for me, and I'd do it again.