Monday, March 17, 2008

Musical weekend, part II

The final concert I attended this past weekend was the Arlington-Belmont Chorale's performance on Sunday afternoon.

The Chorale performed three Bruckner motets, and Vivaldi's Gloria, both quite respectably, although the pianist on the latter was rather rickety, and the conductor of the former (Assistant Conductor Christopher Charig) had distractingly odd finger positions when conducting. However, the real excitement of the program was the premiere of Executive Orders, a new multi-movement work for chorus with solo vocal quartet, string quartet, and electric guitar, by my good friend Michael Veloso.

It was a setting of texts relating to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and it was really good.

I tend to judge music on two scales. First there is what you might call the idea scale. Is it original? Beautiful? Inspired? Does it communicate? Is it interesting? Do I care? I am happy to report the answer is yes on all of the above.

But the point on which I am often far more critical is the second scale, which is competence of execution. Did you write well for the instruments, with respect to their ranges, timbres, and limitations? Did you balance your musicians well? Did you set the text with intelligence and attention to detail? If you were writing for a specific ensemble (as Mike was) did you consider their level of skill when composing? Would I ever consider performing this piece myself? In short, was your writing elegant? And again, the answer was a resounding yes.

I suspect that sometimes people, including composers and performing musicians, think that by this time in history, the only way to be truly original is to write something really hard. Surely, the theory goes, there is less variety of easy music to be written than hard music, as if both difficulty and originality exist in a sort of outwardingly expanding circle from a central point, and all the easy music has been written already, and the only way to do interesting things is to live on that event horizon of originality and difficulty.

But in fact, this is completely untrue. Mike wrote something completely fresh, and beautiful, and gripping. But he also wrote something that amateur musicians could master. And call me a Yankee pragmatist, but that impressed and delighted me the most. I am pleased to report that both the Chamber Chorus and the four amateur soloists did really well - diction, tuning, notes, rhythm, intensity - everything was there. Kristin Boardman, the alto soloist, and Brian Middleton, the tenor soloist, deserve particular praise for some really beautifully sung solos. Barry Singer, the conductor, did a very good job of assembling this piece.

So Mike succeeded beautifully in all possible ways, and deserves much praise, and I am very proud to be associated with him. The only frustrating part was that starting in about the middle of the first movement, I desperately wanted to be conducting this myself, with a big professional choir, and the Guarneri quartet, and maybe Steve Vai on the stage of Carnegie Hall. I feel very proprietary towards Mike's choral music, since we've worked together in the past, and this was a big milestone, and a great piece. Not having the resources to do it myself, and give it the full professional treatment so that I could do everything perfectly was very frustrating. The result is that today I was poking about online again, looking at DMA programs.

Anyways, Mike deserves more commissions. (There are two solutions to this - you could commision him directly, or someone could just GIVE ME A BIG FAT CHORAL CONDUCTING JOB and I'll take care of commissioning him myself.) Also, there will be a repeat performance on May 16 at 8 pm at First Parish in Arlington, and I suggest you go, especially if you are a conductor on the look-out for new repertoire (as every conductor should be.)

In short, why does everyone always perform the Vivaldi Gloria? It is both charming and not difficult. Well, now you have a new contender! Don't perform that anymore - perform Executive Orders instead! I am sure Mr. Veloso would be happy to send you a copy of the score for review. Right, Mike?


  1. I certainly wouldn't argue.

  2. Sounds glorious! Wish I could have been there.