2014 Year in Review

What was new in 2014?

I sang a lot of Russian. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed several programs in Russian this year: Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky, Shostakovich Ten Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets, Tavener Svyati, and Rachmaninoff The Bells. The only Russian I’d sung previously was in Stravinsky’s The Nightingale, which had a small chorus part, so my familiarity with the language was minimal. Our ever-patient Russian coach, Lidiya Yankovskaya, explained to us how to pronounce a palatalized L and the elusive i-slash vowel a few hundred times, but I’m still not sure I’m doing it right. On the plus side, I’ve mastered some bizarre consonant clusters. [Vzglat] is my favorite.

I got this awesome email. “…we would like to know whether you have any interest in expanding your accompanist role with the TFC.” Umm, hell yeah! Four years ago, when I quit my corporate job to play the piano, the chorus manager suggested that I audition as a pianist for John Oliver. I totally pshaw’ed his suggestion — I think my exact words were, “Maybe someday when I’m better.” Somehow I ended up covering some rehearsals anyway, to varying success (that can be a whole other blog post), and I landed the gig of my wildest dreams.

Other pianists came to my rescue. An unforeseen death in my family required a lot of  cancellations during my busiest time of year. I am deeply indebted to David Deveau, Bonnie Donham, Ya-Chun Shih, and Joseph Turbessi for covering for me on short notice, and ever grateful to my musical collaborators for their understanding and flexibility. Although I missed many rehearsals, I made it to all of my scheduled performances, which I think was the right decision. “It’s times like these when we need music the most,” one of my mentors told me. Indeed.

Reflections on Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Last summer, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and PALS children’s chorus performed Mahler’s third symphony with Maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. After one of the rehearsals, John Oliver addressed the children. They listened attentively, perhaps expecting one of his usual quips, but John had something serious to say:

Kids, I want you to watch this conductor carefully. He’s very old — older than they say he is, which is 80.

The kids’ eyes widened while the adults chuckled. John continued.

His health isn’t as good as it once was, but when he’s conducting, he comes alive. Music is what keeps him going. Some of you will find, as you get older, that music is what keeps you going too.

This story came to mind when I learned of Rafael’s death, a week after he announced his retirement. He lived to make music until his body would no longer allow it, and what glorious music it was.

My favorite performance with Rafael was Beethoven’s ninth symphony, a piece I’ve heard and performed so many times, I almost take it for granted. Usually during the third movement, the slow one, my mind starts to wander. My bottom has started to go numb, the temperature on stage is too hot, and the bugs are creeping me out. But that year, I was awestruck when the third movement began. The strings produced a sound so exquisite, even in their consistent greatness, I’ve yet to hear it again. It was one of those tingle-inducing moments when I knew, too, that music is what keeps me going.

Last week, the BSO and TFC dedicated the Verdi concert to Rafael, who was originally to have conducted the performance. But in our hearts, many of us sang for him the night before during Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, a much beloved piece for a much beloved conductor. Was entstanden ist, das muss vergehen! Was vergangen, auferstehen! What has come into being must perish! What has perished must rise again!

My favorite Tanglewood Festival Chorus performances

Two weeks ago, the TFC gathered for its first rehearsal of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Maestro Christoph von Dohnányi. Most of the chorus had performed the piece before, and we were confident that we’d be in and out of rehearsal quickly. On the contrary, Dohnányi rehearsed the chorus’s eight-minute segment for an hour and 10 minutes, not resting until every syllable met his exacting standards. We later learned that he requested a three-hour rehearsal, so in retrospect we made out well!

The orchestra rehearsals proceeded in the same fashion. Dohnányi was demanding and critical, and he rarely smiled. During one rehearsal, he bluntly asked a principal player, “Are you playing that flat on purpose?” The result of Dohnányi’s exactitude was a truly transcendent set of performances, surpassing my two prior experiences with Mahler’s 2nd. Although the chorus sits onstage for more than an hour before singing, I enjoyed every minute of music from the dress rehearsal through the fourth performance. This concert run earned a spot on my list of favorite TFC performances I’ve participated in:

  1. Berlioz Damnation of Faust with James Levine, 2006
  2. Holiday Pops blizzard edition with Keith Lockhart, 2007
  3. Berlioz Les Troyens with James Levine, 2008
  4. Brahms Requiem with James Levine, 2008
  5. Bach St. John Passion with Maasaki Suzuki, 2011
  6. Britten Ceremony of Carols with John Oliver, 2012
  7. Beethoven Symphony No. 9 with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, 2012
  8. Mahler Symphony No. 2 with Christoph von Dohnányi, 2013

I’ve left a little room, so I can round out my top 10 by my 10th year in the chorus. TFCers, I’d love to see your lists too. Please share!