When soprano Jane Eaglen and baritone Dean Elzinga walked out onto the stage of Eastman Theatre last October, I expected to be dazzled by Eaglen’s powerhouse, Wagnerian voice. But Elzinga was a surprise, equally forceful in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, based on Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Elzinga delivered a warm, rich tone similar to that of Bryn Terfel, but with a mournful aspect. He was, in a word, spooky.
O Fortuna! Kodak’s ten million dollar gift earmarked for renovations to Eastman Theatre have sparked two debates. The first has to do with the future renaming of the space “Kodak Hall.” The second centers on whether renovations, scheduled for this summer and next, will actually improve the sound of music.
The morning after the Rochester Philharmonic and Oratorio Society performed Carmina Burana, two rather technical e-mails on the subject landed in my box. They are reprinted below the line.
Update: The New York Times has eliminated five full-time jobs in the culture department. One name stands out -- that of long-serving and much-beleaguered classical critic Bernard Holland. He's taken a buyout and is on his way out. His last day will be May 23rd. Read more.
The Rochester Oratorio Society is rehearsing Carmina Burana, the secular cantata by Carl Off, composed in the 1930’s. It's based on a thirteenth century manuscript discovered in a Bavarian monastery. Beloved by singers and derided by critics for its lack of polyphony, Carmina celebrates spring, sex, love, and drinking, all while bemoaning the vagaries of fate. It’s fun stuff. In the upcoming May performance, the conductor has decided to use the “Coro Piccolo,” that is, to have a small chorus sing some of the sections instead of the full choir singing everything. This doesn’t please those left out, and during last night’s rehearsal, a few confessed to feeling resentful. “I KNOW that part,” said one soprano chosen to sit out during the small chorus sections.
In less than four months, I’m flying off to China to sing in the Pre-Olympic International Choral Festival with the Rochester Oratorio Society. My group will be first U.S. choir in history to perform in Beijing’s Great Hall of People, a venue usually reserved for political events.
To get ready for the trip, I’m learning new music and reading Fodor’s latest travel guide. But nothing captures the spirit of a place like a novel or movie.
In the middle of the concert, I suddenly realized I had no idea what I was singing. “Tu devicto mortis aculeo.” Activate dimly-remembered high school Latin. “Mortis.” That’s death. OK. That’s sad. But what if it’s victory over death or something? I study the conductor for clues. Normally leaning forward with a look of hawkish concentration, he’s tilted back on his heels, torso curved, mouth open, eyes half-closed. He looks enraptured, like the sound is a glittery syrup filling his spinal column. Arms swirl. No clues there. I slice a look to the tenors for help. Andy and Dennis are leaning forward, singing intently, expressions neutral. I reset my features and turn the page of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. I’m blanking out.
Rochester’s first crazy busy concert week in March begins on a lamb-like day. Tomorrow, look for a cultural announcement from WXXI. On Wednesday, Eastman prof John Graham will pick up his electric viola to reprise Andrew's Colella's powerful Viola Sketches. More later. Tonight, the Rochester Oratorio Society sings at Roberts Wesleyan College in a concert unfortunately named “Choral Triptychs.” I’m singing in it. The music falls a little on the heavy Germanic side with music by Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Rheinberger as well as the flowing, inscrutable Lux Aeterna by contemporary American composer Morten Lauridsen.
While Mike Huckabee’s emergence as a Republican front runner in the 2008 Presidential race is obviously good news for his supporters, it also pleases some music and arts advocates. Writer Alex Ross has already noted the former Arkansas governor’s professed love for music and his legislation to bolster it in public schools. (Remember Bill Clinton and his saxophone?) While in office, Huckabee signed a law requiring every child in grades one through six to receive at least forty minutes a week of instruction in music and other arts. "In the true spirit of No Child Left Behind," Huckabee explained, "leaving the arts out is beyond neglect and is virtual abuse of a child."