Since last Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall had finally come and gone, I’ve decided to blog about the world premiere as well as the other performances from that evening. I’ll begin chronologically with highlights of the previous sets of that night since the entire evening was Shakespeare themed.
The evening was opened by the combined forces of three of my choral organization’s choirs with a performance of Beam’s Spirits, set to text from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My fellow Chamber Singers and I sang as mischievous spirits, vexing the minds of the little dreamers, two of our training choirs comprised of many adorable children. The piano accompaniment complimented the mystery and magic surrounding the spirits and let the text come alive with its repetitious, flowing patterns.
The next set of numbers, in which my fellow Concert Choir choristers and I performed, consisted of the Glories of Shakespeare, a series of pieces for chorus and orchestra written by Wilcocks (By the way, this guy is awesome. I’ve never been able to work with him, but from my colleagues who have, he not only writes fine music, but has a really unique conducting style. He likes to frolic! It definitely reflects the whimsical nature of his work, all of which is extremely fun to sing.) set to texts from Cymbeline, The Tempest, As You Like It, The Two Gentlemen from Verona, and The Tempest. Yes. Aside from the commissioned work, we sang a piece entitled “Full Fathom Five”, which uses the song Ariel sings as a sea nymph to Ferdinand to convince him that his father had died in the shipwreck. Additionally, to transition from song to song in this series, actors gave dramatic readings of familiar lines of Shakespeare related to the next song on stage. We were accompanied by the American Youth Symphony, a really outstanding youth orchestra consisted of high school and college students.
The next set especially highlighted their extreme EXTREME levels of artistry and finesse when they played a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The suite was already scrumptious to begin with, but the way they played. They sounded almost as seasoned as the LA Phil. Despite the fact that our choir director had instructed us not to clap for any of the performances onstage to maintain our decorum, I couldn’t help but applaud them.
Now on to the world premiere. First of all, I’ll say that I didn’t expect the performance to go as well as it did that night. I was extremely disappointed with the dress rehearsal since so many of us, myself included, still couldn’t get the rhythms perfect. Seriously, people. The second movement, based off of Caliban’s speech stating his love of the island, uses three meters total and frequently changes meter every measure (Appropriate for Caliban, wouldn’t you think?). Not to mention, some of the notation on the choral score was a bit unusual. I was also discontent with all of the rehearsals with orchestra prior to the dress rehearsal. We either tripped on rhythm, or just sounded plain flat. Not very pretty. Nonetheless, the final product surprised me completely. Of course there were mistakes, but they were minuscule and difficult to hear out in the audience. The orchestra, just like in previous sets, had played skillfully. I found it hard to believe that this orchestra had only begun working on this work a few weeks before the premiere since we had begun working on it three months ago. It really is a complex and difficult piece, so it definitely shows more their mastery and skill. James Conlon, who led us with his baton, did a phenomenal job. I felt connected to him throughout the premiere despite being only one of the 100+ individuals on stage. This was especially true for the end of the third movement, based off of “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” speech. The chorus needed to hold “sleep.” for a total of thirteen 4/4 measures (Don’t worry. We staggered breathing. We didn’t die.) and at the final measure, the chorus was unaccompanied by orchestra. While singing that last bar, my vision put Maesto Conlon into complete focus as the surroundings, the audience, orchestra, and remainder of the concert hall, faded and blurred into the background. It really is amazing what music can do. No. More like what such a powerful text can do. No wonder we did a close reading on that speech. Overall, I felt as if the combined forces of orchestra, chorus, and James Conlon had done the piece justice. And I’ve been hearing rumors that we might do the same work at Disney Concert Hall next year, so I’ll keep all of you posted if that does through.