Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day Four of ACDA: Mendelssohn's Elijah

The final concert for gold track folks at the 2011 ACDA National Conference in Chicago was a presentation of Mendelssohn's Elijah performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, professional soloists, and guest conductor Helmut Rilling.

As orchestra hall filled up there was a sea of happy faces- everyone had enjoyed this conference immensely, we had experienced a wacky energy filled day of milling through Chicago on the day of the St. Patrick's Day Parade (a very big deal in downtown Chicago), and were really looking forward to this concert.

The CSO chorus was in exceptional form, the best I have heard from them in years. The chorus had been generally ignored for years by former music director Daniel Barenboim, but new director Ricardo Muti intends to make them a crown jewel again, which all the singers plus chorus master Duiane Wolfe deserve. The soloists were excellent, especially the Elijah, Markus Eiche. Eiche brought great energy and depth to the role, even though he did seem fatigued by the end- this is not surprising at all, the man sang the role three times during the week (twice for ACDA, once for the general public). When you think of a week filled with rehearsals plus three performances of this role, he must have been truly exhausted by the end of Saturday evening. The orchestra was in fine form, though a few people nitpicked about them- to me the only complaint I had was some muddiness in the woodwinds and a few other random things. Hey people, this is live music, it hasn't been auto-tuned to perfection in a studio!

Markus Eiche

I was especially pleased with our own audience. Throughout the entire concert I think I truly heard zero cellphones, zero coughs, zero talking- pure silence on our part. This was refreshing, as earlier in the week there was a lot of talking and walking in and out during concerts- especially at the Auditorium Theater.

Helmut Rilling conducted the entire score from memory and the performance was highly artistic. The chorus looked especially focused and proud of itself both dung the performance and during the many curtain calls, when Rilling made sure that the chorus got just as much attention as the soloists. Young boy soprano Henry Griffin also received great applause and affection for his role as the boy looking for storm clouds and relief from drought. It was a delight to hear him sing.

By the way, Alan Artner's short review for the Chicago Tribune can be found here.

With the final concert over most of the crowd wound back toward the Hilton for a final round of refreshments and talk. I was very pleased to be accosted by my friend Hak-Won Yoon (conductor of the professional choir Incheon city Chorale of South Korea) who gave me the biggest smile and hug and then walked back toward the Hilton with me. Hak-won and Mrs. Yoon had been at the conference all week but we had missed finding each other. So we finally got a chance to have a little chat. Some of us composer dudes sat around and chatted with our buddy Steven Sametz and then it was time to say buh-bye to Chicago ACDA 2011. It was a great conference, and I will have some final thoughts in my next blog.

Bonus: Here is my own funny little Elijah story. I have two sons, Shannon is 27 and Aidan is 7. The older son was a professional boy soprano back when he was, of course, younger. One of the roles he sang was the boy in Elijah. The first time he sang this role, I of course was more nervous than he was. So I was sitting in the audience and his solo section was coming up. Here I am the Dad crossing my fingers and sending him as much positive energy as I could. So Shannon opens his mouth and sings purely and beautifully, but he sings the words from the second entrance (the note are the same, but the words are different in these two spots). I do a double take and think- well it sounded great- the words were just a little off. Then comes the second entrance- and he sings it correctly. And then he went on and finished up his fifteen minutes of Elijah fame beautifully. I wondered if anyone else had noticed the little gaffe and later I asked Shannon (after of course congratulating him big time) what he though of it all. He sad he realized it just as it happened and then spent the next few bars of music (when he wasn't singing) trying to decide if he should sing the first entrance words on the second time around to "even things out"- which he decided against-- why double the mistake, just sing the second entrance words correctly where they belong (pretty smart on the spot decision-making for an eleven year old).

Later when we got home, I was leafing through the program and discovered that whoever prepared the program had typed the second entrance words twice and left out the first entrance words. Perhaps the Elijah we know from various folk tales over the centuries as being a bit of trickster, had been up to something. To anyone in the audience Shannon had sung exactly what the program book was telling them they should hear! We decided this was very curious and very funny, and it's been a great story to tell.

Next blog: Some final thoughts on the conference

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