Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday Evening at Central ACDA: Penderecki's Credo at Cincinnati Conservatory

On Thursday night of the Central Divisdion ACDA conference we all boarded buses for a short trip to The University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music for a major program- Augusta Read Thomas's "Ring out Wild Bells" and the major work, Krzysztof Penderecki's "Credo". The CCM forces for this concert included the CCM Philharmonia, the CCM Chamber Choir (led by Earl Rivers), the CCM Chorale (Brett Scott), and the Cincinnati Children's Bel Canto Choir (Robyn Lana). The concert was conducted by Earl Rivers.

The faciilites at CCM seem to be amazing- a new(newish?) main building with a concert hall, Corbett Auditorium, with excellent acoustics (lots of wood surfaces and very elegant design) plus lots of other music facilities and buildings. I have never been to this conservatory but I was very impressed by these facilities.

I got a chance to chat with Brett Scott before the concert, and also got a chance to say hi to Glenda Crawford who is working hard on an advanced degree here.

I was not familiar with the Penderecki, although maybe I should have been. The work was meant to be part of a full Mass, but apparently he got so involved writing the Credo and other things added into the Credo, that it never became a Mass. It is quite idiosyncratic, at times very tonal, at times a bit gnarly, at times somewhat esoterically colored (I mean that in a good way), yet always with a very apparent driving purpose- a deeply held conviction in the meaning of the words assembled (the Credo plus other texts in Polish which obviously resonate for Penderecki). What seems to make the piece meander at times are some solo instrumental "contemplations" interspersed here and there. I actually liked these a lot (they are almost like moving through the stations of the cross in church), yet it would be very interesting if Penderecki had a version wherein all the vocal movements are tightened up by slipping past some of these instrumental interludes. It would make for a more concisely focused choral piece, and I may be crazy to be thinking all this- but it would be interesting to hear!

The soloists, choir, and orchestra were all students at the conservatory masterfully led by Earl Rivers. I have not heard a better conservatory orchestra than this one, and I hope to sometime hear these choirs in an a cappella setting so I can truly hear how great they are. There were not many extended a cappella sections in either of the pieces in the program, and I REALLY wanted to hear more a cappella singing by these great choirs. What I did hear was a richness of tone and complete command of phrasing for sure, and never once did I feel anyone, even in fff sections, was pushing the sound into unmusical territory. The children's choir was also incredible- amazing clarity of tone and really I thought a special color to the tone that I rarely hear in children's choirs- I will have to ask Robyn about that if I run into her.

Earl Rivers conducting was impeccable and always in charge- he is obviously a master conductor and his mature approach to this music was a valuable leadership element in this performance. I also would like to compliment the decision to use students in the very demanding vocal soloist roles- they were sung with complete professionalism and with strong, operatic clarity, full formant defined singing in the grand oratorio style. I can imagine other schools where the vocal performance professors might insist on singing these parts themselves, so I truly admire and applaud the ego-free decision to make this an opportunity for students, not profs, to shine as soloists in demanding music.

It's truly wonderful to see great creators continue to explore their world, to change over the years, to find very new voices within themselves and allow that to happen. When you look at Penderecki you see a man who granted himself, while still a star of the avant-garde, the freedom to completely reinvent his compositional identity beginning in the 1970's. Not content to keep writing the same piece in the same style year after year but truly astounding us with new ideas, sounds,styles, and a drive to express great human convictions- it reminds me of Stravinky's many new paths after the early big hits.

All in all, an amazing night of music from CCM- thank you and bravo!

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