Sunday, April 20, 2008
The New York City trip and Lincoln Center performance certainly lived up to my expectations.
We arrived in New York City shortly after 1:00 PM on Tuesday, April 15. After quickly stopping at the Julliard Book Store with some friends, I proceeded to our 2:00 PM rehearsal in Avery Fisher Hall. Immediately, I was impressed with the grandness of the space – it was even larger than I remembered from the last Ithaca trip to Lincoln Center in 2005. Also, it was nice to have more playing room on stage (as compared to Ithaca’s Ford Hall) and I know the chorus was thankful to have chairs.
Rather than running large sections of the work, we mainly touched spots in rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem. However, from the small amount of playing we did, it was evident that the acoustics were incredible! Although it was hard to completely fill the hall with our sound, there was amazing reverb and resonance. After one especially loud cadence, Mr. Doebler paused to let us hear the wonderful ring. Also, it was much easier to hear myself clearly on this stage, a phenomenon I had only experienced once before – at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Meyer’s rehearsal plan involved us playing more to help us become better acclimated to the acoustics of the hall. As a result of this, I felt we developed a comfort with the performance space when rehearsing the Brahms Tragic Overture.
After a quick dinner, it was show time! Walking onstage at Avery Fisher Hall to a full audience is a moment I will cherish forever. Dr. Meyer was at his best in the Brahms Tragic Overture, conducing from memory. This is the second time I have played for a conductor who did not have the score in front of him and I can honestly say that nothing does more to inspire an orchestra. Consequently, I thought our performance of the Brahms was cohesive, spirited, and moving. It was a joy to perform.
The Verdi Requiem was equally inspired. From my seat next to the soloists, it was astounding to hear their power as they projected over the orchestra and choir. They were able to fill the hall with incredible ease. Mr. Doebler was as emotionally connected to the work as ever and led the orchestra with such poise and reverence. I think many performers and audience members were in tears by the end.
By far the best aspect of the trip for me was meeting my family and friends in the lobby after the concert. Being from a suburb of Philadelphia, this was one of the few times my family has been able to attend an Ithaca orchestra concert. There were three generations represented in my “fan club.” In addition to extended family and neighbors, I was touched to see two of our close family friends waiting to greet me after the concert. As I looked around the lobby, I noticed that my situation was not unique. The entire area was bustling with performers, their families, friends, supporters, and alumni. Truly, this demonstrates the value of performing a combined choral and orchestral work at this type of venue.
As a senior, I realize that this was my last time performing at Lincoln Center with Ithaca College, but I look forward to attending more of these performances as an audience member in the future.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Yesterday’s 3-hour rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem marked the final step in preparation for our two upcoming concerts, today in Ford Hall at Ithaca College and Tuesday at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. Both performances are sure to be inspirational and memorable, given the quality of the music and the performers.
The concert begins with Brahms’ Tragic Overture, played by the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jeffery Meyer. Under Dr. Meyer’s direction, we have been studying this work in great detail for the past month. As is the case with all of Brahms’ music, the Tragic Overture is truly an undertaking for any orchestra. The work was written by Brahms in 1880 during one of the composer’s summer vacation trips. I find it ironic that Brahms produced a work of “utmost solidarity and seriousness” during such a relaxing time in his life.
One of the greatest challenges of performing this piece is striking a balance between excited, emotional energy within the restrained context of soft dynamics and a conservative tempo. However, if this is achieved, the sections where the music does open up are simply glorious!
While rehearsing this piece, Dr. Meyer has expertly challenged us to approach the music with great respect, maturity, and seriousness. Although the work is not as long as many of the movements of the Verdi Requiem, we have literally spent hours refining intonation, articulations, and blend (within and between sections). Just this past week, Dr. Meyer scheduled times to hear each of the string players individually, in an attempt to further unify the orchestra. Thus, our performance today and Tuesday of the Brahms Tragic Overture is surely the culmination of an intense and rewarding learning process.
What can be said about the Verdi Requiem? Yesterday’s rehearsal was our first opportunity to rehearse with the soprano soloist, Sharon Sweet. Considered to be one of the greatest “Verdi Sopranos” in the world, Ms. Sweet sounded simply amazing and informed and elevated our performance to another level. I was surprised at how smoothly the work seemed to fit together. For this, credit no doubt belongs to Dr. Jeffery Meyer for his thorough rehearsing of the orchestra initially on this piece. Also, Professor Doebler was helpful in previewing the spots where the soloists would possibly take rubato.
Sitting Concertmaster for this performance, I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to lead the instrumentalists and sit so close to the four soloists, as they are such fine vocalists and musicians. Also, it is exhilarating to share the stage with such a large choral ensemble. Even though yesterday’s run-through was only a dress rehearsal, I was deeply moved by the artistic experience that had transpired.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
A lot has happened in production of the Verdi Requiem since my last post. This past Wednesday night, we held a massive rehearsal with every performer that will be going to Lincoln Center. The only person we were missing was the soprano soloists, Sharon Sweet, who wil be joining us for our saturday rehearsal.
The stage set-up was breathtaking. Ford Hall Stage was extended to fit all of the singers on risers and the entire orchestra in front. I was sitting in the back row of brass players directly in front of the tenor section. This was such an experience, especially when we began with the powerful "Dies Irae." I was really impressed with the Choral Union and their accuracy and expressiveness with such a difficult piece.
During the orchestra's break, I got a chance to listen to the Chorus rehearse an a cappella section in the Dies Irae. I took a short video so you could get a preview of what's to come!
Through all the excitement, there is still much to be done before our performance here in Ithaca on Sunday at 3 p.m. in Ford Hall. Hope to see you there!!
Thursday, April 3, 2008
To date, the Symphony Orchestra has had just over two weeks of rehearsals on the Verdi Requiem (without soloists and choir). Rehearsing a work such as this is difficult without the vocalists because many of the orchestra parts are purely accompanimental. Without hearing the melody on top of the texture, it can be difficult to understand the music’s true sound and phrasing.
An additional challenge when performing a choral and orchestral work is interpreting and conveying the spiritual and emotional intentions of the composer. Unlike a choir, which communicates a specific text, an orchestra must express feelings, emotions, or events through sound alone. However, in a choral work with a specific libretto—words/lyrics—the orchestra must be aware of what the choir or soloist is singing, as the orchestra’s job is to support and enhance this message. Furthermore, given Verdi’s operatic style of writing, the music has an especially intimate and dramatic relationship with the libretto. Fortunately, Mr. Doebler recently gave the orchestra an analysis of the work and a full translation of the text, which deepened our understanding of the music.
Much of our early rehearsal of this work have been spent working on ensemble skills, solidifying tempi, and identifying places where the soloists might take rubato—a musical term which refers to the giving and taking of time. This is tedious at times, but must be done to ensure a smooth transition when we begin combined rehearsals.
Even without the vocal dimension, I am touched by the eerie beauty and expressiveness of Verdi’s writing.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
My name is Christopher Jones and I’ve been asked to share my experiences leading up to the Symphony Orchestra and Choral Union’s performance of the Verdi Requiem at Lincoln Center. I am a senior violin performance and music education major at Ithaca College. Currently, I sit concertmaster of the Symphony Orchestra and I am very excited to have the opportunity to lead the ensemble in our upcoming performance.
As a senior, I have the unique perspective of having played in the Symphony Orchestra the last time Ithaca College performed at Lincoln Center. This past performance took place during my freshman year (Spring of 2005) and featured Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Thinking back on that experience, I can honestly say that it was one of the highlights of my four years at Ithaca College. Not only did I play on a stage that has been graced by some of the world’s most famous and accomplished musicians, but being positioned closest to the piano, I was called upon to play the tuning A from the piano. Thank goodness for “Keyboard Musicianship” class! To this day, I still boast of my “piano solo” in Alice Tully Hall. :)
I am also fortunate to have played the Verdi Requiem during my high school years with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. From this experience, I know the Requiem to be an incredible piece of music that seemingly “has something for everyone.” The work features soloists, a choir, and a full symphony orchestra. Given Verdi’s affinity for opera, it is no surprise that the entire piece is extremely dramatic. Verdi’s orchestration is superb, and the difficultly and intricacy of the music presents unique challenges to the instrumentalists.
I look forward to sharing my experiences as we continue rehearsing this masterpiece of the orchestral and choral literature.