Memorizing music is never easy. It's even more difficult when the piece in question is Ravel's "Daphins et Chloe", a stunning ballet that clocks in at just under an hour and contains no words. Those unfamiliar with the piece might think the lack of words would make it easier to memorize. Oh, how those people are wrong. I never noticed how much I associate text with musical phrases until I was faced with this piece, where we "ooh" during the soft parts, "ohh" during the medium parts, and "ahh" during the loud parts. Throw in fluctuating meters (the piece at various times is in 4/4, 3/2, 7/4, 5/4, and 2/4) and a vocal score that has helpful passages like, "Chorus tacet from rehearsal 56 to rehearsal 82"* and you've got a chorister's nightmare. Fortunately, it's also a gorgeous piece of French Romanticism, filled with moments of sparkling beuaty, blatant sensuality, and fierce exultation.
On the flipside, you have Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms". This piece was written for the BSO and is considered to be one of their signature pieces. The choral part has a ton of words in it all in Latin, but having the extra phonetic cues makes it much easier to remember which pattern comes when in the song. The piece itself exists in a very cold place sonically, with a lot of brittle, clashing harmonies mingling with passages of forlorn loneliness and frantic agitation. On some levels, it's a very foreboding, frightening piece, yet it also has a strong allure. It's classical music for the goth set, and pretty freakin' brilliant.
We performed both of these pieces tonight under the direction of Principal Guest Conductor Bernard Haitink. Haitink is a very economical conductor, by which I mean his style doesn't include much extraneous movement. Every gesture is a controlled cue to part of the orchestra, highlighting where the horns should come out, where the violins should soar, where the chorus should sing the softest, gentlest sound you've ever heard. It's amazing to behold. Both pieces went extremely well, with the Stravinsky coming across as more convincing from the choristers' perspective. I'll be missing the next two concerts, but I'm very glad I was able to pariticpate in this one. We'll be performing these pieces out a Tanglewood theis summer, as well as taking them on the BSO's European tour, so I will get to sing them again. (For anyone living in or near London, Edinburgh, Lucerne or Luebbeck, I'll post information on dates and venues as they become available.)
* For those unfamiliar with musical scores, rehearsal numbers do not correspond to measure numbers. They are labels for places in the piece, usually where a major thematic change occurs. If a vocal score just cuts out all of the measures between two reherasal numbers, you have no idea how many measures are missing. Generally, this is not helpful if you are trying to memorize the piece.