Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sitzprobe Review

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Last night The Hartford Chorale had its sitzprobe rehearsal led by Constantine Kitsopoulos, guest conductor for our upcoming performances of the Brahms Requiem with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and candidate for the soon-to-be-vacant post of Music Director of the HSO. Yesterday I wrote about sitzprobe, discussing the derivation of the word itself, as well as its traditional function in the opera house and as it is used by The Hartford Chorale (you can read that posting HERE).

As I wrote yesterday, it’s common practice with a symphonic chorus like the 170-voice Hartford Chorale that the chorale’s own music director (ours is the marvelous Richard Coffey) prepares the chorus over several weeks of rehearsal, and then hands us off to the conductor who will lead the performances. (Of course, Mr. Coffey also conducts some of our performances with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, particularly in the Baroque literature that is one of his specialty areas, as well as all of the Chorale’s independent productions.)

At the beginning of any rehearsal with a new conductor, there’s always a subtle undercurrent of concerns, uncertainties, and questions: What will he (or she) be like? Will he like our sound? Does he understand the voice, the singing instrument? How will he work with text, not only the management of vowels and consonants, but the meanings of the words and their relationship to the music? Will he be respectful of us as musicians? Will he work with the technical detail we’ve mastered over the past seven weeks (cut-offs, dynamics, etc.), or will he make lots of changes? What relationship has he developed with Mr. Coffey, and how will that be manifested during rehearsal? Most important: In just one rehearsal, will we be able to develop a rapport with this man who will lead us and the orchestra through four performances of this profound and deeply human music?

It turned out to be a wonderful evening. Maestro Kitsopoulos started off on the right foot by being suitably impressed by our greeting to Mr. Coffey. (“Good evening, choir.” “GOOD EVENING, MR. COFFEY!”) It really is impressive if you’ve never heard it before: 170 voices greeting our maestro in perfect unison, fortissimo, con amore. (Certainly this is the mark of a good choir with a good conductor!) And it was even better when Mr. Coffey introduced Maestro Kitsopoulos (“GOOD EVENING, MAESTRO KITSOPOULOS!”) – Maestro Kitsopoulos just laughed with delight. It was a good start.

One could almost hear a susurration of relief waft through the room as we sang the first movement, and as we began to understand that this is a conductor who understands the vocal instrument, reads German and can translate as he goes along, loves Brahms, admires the Chorale and Mr. Coffey, and respects the hard work we had done over the past few weeks. He was gracious with the soloists, appreciative of our accompanist, and kept an eye on the clock. He was polite, funny, and engaging. (If you think it's odd that I mention respect and politeness as important factors, then you've never endured a rehearsal with a nasty, condescending director.)

Best of all, it was really wonderful that he took us through each movement, without stopping, before offering his comments or suggestions. We were able to get the “big picture” of how he would shape each movement, and he was able to hear us sing for long stretches, gauging how well we responded to his direction, getting a feel for our dynamic range, our tone and color in different passages, how we handled textual matters, etc.

Often, when we have these one-shot rehearsals with guest conductors, or even with the HSO’s own music director, we rarely run entire movements. Some conductors will start and stop frequently, fine-tuning specific musical moments or making small adjustments. While these may all be legitimate and valuable proceedings, the quest for perfection is often undertaken at the expense of making music together from the start and getting to know each other as musicians. We’ve sometimes worked with conductors who stop so frequently that they never get through entire movements in sitzprobe or even in dress rehearsal. The end result in these cases, of course, is that the performance might be the first time we’ve actually gone from start to finish of entire movements. That is disconcerting, indeed (pun intended).

Our upcoming performances of the Brahms Requiem represent the beginning of the HSO’s search for a new music director, as the incumbent, our friend Edward Cumming, will move on after the 2010-2011 season. It would be wonderful (but wholly impractical) if each candidate could conduct a choral work so that the Chorale could have the opportunity to evaluate the candidates and offer our collective assessment to the HSO search committee. While the candidates must primarily be instrumental conductors, of course, it also seems important that whoever is engaged must also be able to work effectively with a symphonic chorus. The Chorale performs two or three times each season with the HSO, and if reviews and audience reaction are any indication, the choral works are eagerly anticipated and very well-received. This has been especially true in the past five years or so, during which time The Chorale has improved so markedly.

Do come and hear The Hartford Chorale and the HSO perform the Brahms Requiem under the direction of Maestro Kitsopoulos – I think it will be wonderful. Call for your tickets today!

The Hartford Chorale and The Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem

Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, November 13, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.
Belding Theater at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford

To purchase tickets, contact:
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra
PHONE 860.244.2999
or online at https://tickets.hartfordsymphony.org/
Discounted tickets may be available via https://www.letsgoarts.org/ for some concerts.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your insightful comments. I was in the audience for Saturday's performance and I was impressed with the conductor the symphony and the Chorale. Mr. Kitsopoulos' experience with symphonic, operatic and Broadway works could serve well the community and HSO's mission if he is chosen to be the next Musical Director of the HSO .

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