Monday, November 2, 2009

Day Two in South Korea: The concert

(cool sculpture outside auditorium)

After the dress rehearsal Dr. Yoon, most of the choir management, my interpreter for the evening, and I grabbed a very light dinner at a sweet restaurant located within the Seoul Arts Center complex. The fare was mostly Italian, and that cuisine seems to be a favorite non-Korean fare, and is prepared quite well.

(dinner with very gifted composer Hyo- Won Woo and Dr. Yoon)

As concert time neared the lobby filled with more and more people and a great deal of excitement. These Incheon City Chorale concerts are seen as great events, and the audience would number over 2,000. I was glad to see a fair amount of families with grade school age children attending, even on a school night. The hall has excellent acoustics and in a few ways reminds me of the great hall design inside Disney Hall in Los Angeles- most noticeably the use of acoustically favorable woods on virtually every wall and ceiling surface.

The concert began with the Missa Brevis Incheon and the singers launched into it sounding fully warmed up and ready to make great music right away from measure one. Perhaps some other choirs would have started off a concert with a shorter, simpler piece to warm up the audience and their voices, but not this group. They sang the Kyrie with great sensitivity and at times the basses led the way in the sound. I had especially noticed the power and richness of the basses in Oklahoma City and knew that I could write passages which would be purposely be bass-led. The Gloria started with the whirlwind bravura passage I was worried about- but this really was of no great difficulty for them and they ripped through the movement with great power in the fast and loud outer sections, and with great sensitivity in regard to some intimate tonal inflections in the middle soft part-wow. The Sanctus was sung with even more exciting bravura- the movement never lets up its forward drive, and the final three cadences build in intensity and in more and more divisi until all of the singers wind up on a very complex chord in their high tessituras at fff. Their singing of the last two pages or so made my hair stand on end, and I knew they were enjoying themselves. The final movement, the Agnus Dei, is obviously more intimate due to its text, and my setting employs some very lush harmonies. Once again, the choirs richness colored the sound in a beautiful way. When the piece was over, the audience reacted quite favorably and Dr. Yoon asked me to speak to the audience briefly. Through my very nice young interpreter, I was able to thank Dr. Yoon and the choir and everyone there for their wonderful graciousness, support for the arts, and so on. I was very pleased with the audience response to my music both during the concert and afterward in speaking with many of them in the lobby. Incheon City Chorale has a pretty sophisticated audience attending their concerts, yet none of them are music snobs.

A few word about this choirs soundmodel- Dr. Yoon has assembled 48 professional singers in their vocal prime who project “formant sound” (sound filled with many rich overtones) in the way an opera singer is trained to project. This creates an amazing richness to the sound at all times, yet is still not at all impossible to “blend”, due to the commitment to fine musicianship from all involved. Dr. Yoon’s concept of choral tone should challenge English and American choirs who try to “blend” their sound by singing blandly toward some imagined warm and fuzzy goal; a mediocre goal which creates mediocre results. This type of non-resonant choral singing is actually becoming more and more a thing of the past- thankfully, because most of the time it just makes for a dull sound with no vibrancy or color, and also lacks any hope for wide dynamic range.

The balance of the serious part of the program were some of my spiritual arrangements- Go Down Moses, Peter go Ring-a dem Bells, and the quasi-spiritual (on an interesting text by Natalie Goldberg) My Friend Elijah, plus an amazingly gorgeous and sensitive performance of Book Six of Monterverdi’s Madrigals. The singing of the Monteverdi was worth the admission price all on its own, in my opinion. In the spirituals the chorale especially brought out the story and drama of Go Down Moses--it was very rewarding to hear Dr. Yoon’s use of very specific dynamics to do so. There were some hoots and hollers in the audience for the big fff ending to Peter Go Ring-a dem Bells, an ending I enjoyed constructing!

The final portion of the concert was what many in the audience were waiting for- folk songs and popular music which highlighted chorale’s love of showmanship and the joy they take in entertaining an audience (gee, could we start doing this more in the US?!). There were a number of pieces where the choir acted and danced, often with sly comedic intent. One of these was an a cappella arrangement of La Cumparsita wherein two of the singers in the choir strove boldly (but with winks and gestural asides to the audience) to outdance two professional tango dancers onstage. The audience roared with laughter as they sometimes danced well but sometimes flubbed too- but really their comedic talent gained the audiences favor, as all roared with laughter at the wonderfully broadcast inside joke. It was all a great witty choral/dance/comedy performance of great hilarity. What a great way to finish a concert for all the young people in the audience- to see that “classical music” could be deeply beautiful AND really entertaining and witty-- and not just for self-appointed aesthetes! Oh, by the way, the women of the chorale used three different outfits for this concert- all three were gorgeous and added some extra visual class and interest to the evening’s performance.

After the concert ended there was great excitement in the lobby- the audience and performers mingled, Dr. Yoon’s entire church choir was there to applaud him, everyone was smiling and taking pictures, many choir directors attending approached me and I chatted with many people. We did a lot of photos and I signed a few autographs (that still feels strange to do) ad everyone went home happy and fulfilled. I was driven back “home” to my hotel and I relaxed with a very nice bottle of Spanish red wine that just happened to appear there. All in all, this was my most rewarding evening ever as a composer and I was so thankful to all the many people who contributed to the evening’s fun and success.

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