Friday, April 22, 2011

To Be [More] Profound ?


I'll say it again, I'm no classical music expert.
Mostly because I never officially sang in a choir.
(except one year in undergrad when I randomly got aboard a student-directed choir called Koinonia, and it was with all my friends, and we wore green t-shirts, and sang silly songs like "Oooo, Sinner!" all over PA and Virginia, and they said I sang tenor, so I stood in the center and smiled and valiantly tried to sing, but I'm not so sure we can call that "choral performance." But it WAS fun.)

So I don't quite know what to make of Bach's St. Matthew Passion performed last Friday at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
All I can say is, knowing what was going on
helped make it (more) profound.

Three choirs, from Princeton, New Haven, and New York, all performed together - which made for a jumbled lot. The enormously cavernous space of St. John only made it worse: apparently, there was echoing, which meant a muffled sound.
The nice person seated next to me said the three groups had trouble coordinating emotions.
But at least they looked cool (which in this case meant "majestic" and "grandiose"), or at least I thought so. But then, I suppose, the quality of sound is kinda important for when you're singing.

I'll tell you who sang well: Rufus Müller, as the Evangelist. From memory, with stirring emotion and dramatic facial expressions, he sang the narrative parts of the gospel story, nearly muting his voice when Christ goes quiet, and rising to a tense crescendo when something painful happens.

I also liked how the orchestral music (directed by Thomas Crawford, if you've heard of him; I hadn't.) complemented the singing:
When Christ sang his lines, there was always a three-note chord holding steady in the bass ("like a halo," my neighbor Sharon explained).
When the chorus sang an aria, mentioning thunder and lightning, when Christ is captured, the music is going all over the place and it's loud and played violently.
When they sing about "false witnesses," the music has a cunning slyness to it ... (Man! this is hard to describe! so unfair. I'm gonna stop now.)

I also liked the countertenor Patrick Fennig, whose voice was really, really high for a guy. (He sang what's called a "Recitative" at the beginning, among other things.)
And I liked the line, "Live, die, rest here, you forsaken chicks, stay! - Where? - in Jesus' arms." (Profound and Funny. as I like it.)
And did I mention the whole thing was sung in German? Fairly impressive, I think.

So, basically, it was epic, as far as I could understand.
Some people left at (and after) intermission, before it all was finished. And I thought that was strange, though a three-hour performance is undoubtedly long.
And I don't know what else to say, except...

Listen to this song by Regina Spektor, from her latest album Far. The song is called "Laughing With." It's appropriate I think for playing the-day-after-Good-Friday. And you'll like it.

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