Thursday, March 21, 2013

Recap of the 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas- Thursday Evening

Thursday Afternoon and Evening

My Thursday afternoon was taken up in meetings with Roger Dean/Lorenz, my main publisher (other than my current drive toward more self-publishing) as well as talks with various conductors. I missed a few performances but they were mostly choirs I have already heard and like- the Crystal Children's Choir comes to mind, what a great group (catch them sometime).

Thursday evening for gold track folks like myself held the Brock Commission premiere of Steven Stucky's "Take Him, Earth" and the Britten "War Requiem". Reg Unterseher and I were there early enough to grab some great seats (lower balcony front row) and the concert was one to remember for a lifetime. Stucky's elegiac piece is dedicated to John F. Kennedy (and we are in the 50th anniversary of the assassination right there in Dallas) yet is universal in text choice- JFK is never mentioned directly in the texts. The texts are quite sublime and highly expressive. They are by Aurelius, Aeschylus, Prudentius, and Shakespeare. The Shakespeare quote is from act two of Romeo and Juliet (cited by Robert F. Kennedy a few months after JFK's death):

When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Steven Stucky

I liked this piece very much but it really needs more than one hearing to grasp. That is a good thing, I hope you will agree. I would like to be able to explore its nuances AND understand its main arc through more listenings. The piece is for SATB and nine instruments- two violins, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, and horn (I do not know if there is or will be a performance version with piano only). The ensemble under Craig Jessop was impeccable and the singers- well, let's talk about that. I was amazed to note in an emergency ACDA NW posting I saw to learn (just about two days before the conference) that due to the government financial sequester that the choirs who had been rehearsing in DC with Jessop and who were to perform this piece (and the JFK tribute at the JFK memorial on Friday), namely THE JOINT SERVICE CHORUS (members of the Air Force Singing Sergeants, Army Chorus, and Navy Sea Chanters) were forbidden to make the trip to Dallas. This very late governmental decision would have hamstrung anyone else but musicians. Instead of giving up on performing these pieces, Tim Sharp, Karen Fulmer, Terry Price (and I don't know who else?) put out a call to ACDA members with high skill sets to see if ACDA could still go ahead with these performances. Who else but classically trained singers could dare to do such a thing (does the general public have any real idea about how highly skilled many of us are)? About 40 singers rallied to the cause immediately and I must tell you that their singing was exceptional, and highly artistic and expressive. No one on the planet would have guessed that these amazing singers had not seen these scores until about 48-72 hours before the premiere of the Stucky on Thursday night. I am amazed by what they achieved- they had only one rehearsal on each piece!

The Britten War Requiem followed. I had only heard it once before live, and was really excited to be able to hear this piece in such a venue and with such great performers. I believe most of the orchestra were members of the Dallas Symphony. The Dallas Symphony Chorus directed by Josh Habermann and the Childrens Chorus of Greater Dallas, directed by Cynthia Nott, made up the choral forces. The conductor was Craig Jessop and the soloists were Barbara Shirvis, soprano; Stanford Olsen, tenor; and Philip Cutlip, baritone.

Craig Jessop
I had never seen Jessop conduct with such amazing grand scope and yet still fine detail- this was a conducting performance for the ages. Shirvis, singing from the midst of the balcony chorus area was magical and her voice awe-inspiring in its clarity and power. Olsen and Cutlip sang the most heart-wrenching parts of the piece, and were equally up to the task.

Both the adult chorus and the children chorus were extraordinary- this was choral singing on a level you rarely hear. Every syllable of every word was important, every phrase sung with nuance, every part of the story told. Bravo to Josh and Cynthia- and everyone felt the same as I, the extra bows for them and the choirs were numerous. I hope that the children in Cynthia's choir know what this evening meant to all of us hearing them. What a great bunch of young people, many of whom I saw outside later on and who were all beaming with pride. Finally, the orchestra played with passion and pathos. The chamber orchestra toward the front of the stage was especially expressive and magical- this group is made up of almost the same instruments as the small group for the Stucky (with harp added). Their virtuosity was remarkable. So I think that by now you understand that this concert was epic in proportion (and that I am running out of adjectives!). One last note- as the piece ended in pianissimo, Jessop touched his fingers together in the air to hold and then very slowly release the last sound. But even yet he had only released the musicians- not the audience- he then held that position for a very long time and there was not a noise in the hall until he finally released this fingertip pose/gesture. Even then silence remained for awhile, and in a sense, time stood still, we were all so entranced and overwhelmed by the soul of this great piece. Finally there was thunderous applause, and the many curtain calls lasted for a very long time. Special applause and hollers went to the childrens choir, a very touching way for us as an adult audience to recognize their artistry. Bravo to all.

Joshua Habermann

Cynthia Knott

My evening ended with a trip to the President's Reception (this would be through invitation of incoming president Karen Fulmer who led the planning for this great conference) way up on one of the top floors of the Sheraton (nice view!). I was happy to see very cool people there including many folks from IFCM and foreign countries as well as folks I already knew well  like Rick Bjella, Karyl Carlsen, Mary Hopper, and others. I was also happy to get a chance to meet Susan Knight from the Festival 500 organization, someone I had been wanting to meet for quite awhile.

So that was my Thursday at ACDA- it was aboutt sixteen hours of great activities!

COMING UP: FRIDAY AT ACDA, including an absolutely astounding performance by the Pacific Lutheran University choir under Richard Nance

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  2. Paul, always enjoy your blog! Just one correction: the orchestra for the War Requiem was members of the Opera Orchestra plus free-lancers. The DSO is on tour in Europe right now.

    All the best!

  3. Thanks fore the encouragement to give new works a second (or multiple) hearing, before locking our opinions in stone.