Saturday, May 31, 2008

Concert report: Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares

Tonight I (and a few friends!) saw Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares at Church of the Covenant.

Short, pithy response:

Image created by LJ user bodhia

Longer response:

This will be a rambling entry - it's hard to assemble my thoughts in a coherent way, because so many aspects of this performance were so foreign to me.

First and foremost is their vocal production. It is totally different from anything I have learned, and it was fascinating to watch and listen to as someone coming from a different vocal tradition. It's a bright, nasal, cutting sound, but also very free, not at all tense, and very agile. Once again I refer you to the sound clips on their website.

Then there's the compositions. Although they are deeply rooted in folk tradition, these arrangements are really complex, and don't sound like simple folk songs to me. The song that opened the second half, "Mehmetyo," was something that I wish all my composer friends could have heard - it used not just the whoops and other sounds from the folk tradition but also some really inventive compositional techniques. Since I don't know any of the folk songs or the folk tradition that their music is coming from, I really couldn't figure out the roles of the composers and their relationship to the traditional folk music.

Then, of course, there's the text - I don't speak Bulgarian, and while the program provided song titles, that was about it.

But none of these questions interfered with my very great enjoyment - rather, they enhanced it. These women are really experienced performers - they were very comfortable on stage. They had great performance energy - they were comfortable looking at each other and singing to each other and making lots of eye contact with each other, but most of the time their faces and energy were directed outwards. (I was watching and learning for the next time I perform!) I also liked the clothing - the first half they were all in a variety of traditional dress, and the second half they had these gorgeous black dresses with colored strips.

They also really mixed up their ensembles. Each half began and ended with several songs with the entire chorus, but in the middle they had small ensemble arrangments for anywhere from 2-6 singers. And for these they had two male singers as well, who joined various combinations about four times during the concerts. The tenor, Daniel Spassov, had a voice which skipped right on by "pretty" and landed squarely in "dreamy." It will be worth seeing if he is on any of their albums. There were numerous solos by various of the women, of course, ranging from duets (one great one was called "The Dearest Relatives" and I had no trouble understanding that one! - it was just a bit snarky) to solos with the whole chorus behind them. Of the latter, I particularly enjoyed Mariya Leshkova's solo on "Pigeons are Cooing."

The final thing that really struck me, and I still can't quite figure out why, was that it was so novel and powerful to see so many middle-aged and older women on stage. The age range of the women ran the gamut, but most of them were at least middle-aged, and some were past that. And for some reason, this was really striking. I can't figure out why I feel like I never see this, because obviously I do - after all, I saw the Back Bay Chorale just last night, and their singers have an equally wide age range. Maybe it was that there were (usually) only women on stage. Maybe it is that they are not amateurs, but experts - possibly the best in the world at singing this kind of music. Thoughts on this are welcome - all I can say is that it was both fresh and refreshing, not to mention very powerful and inspiring, to hear such amazing vocal prowess coming from mature, wrinkled, real faces. (It's also possible I've just been watching too many Hollywood movies lately - that can skew your perspective!)

The audience seemed to be largely Bulgarian - I was surprised that the choral musicians of Boston were not out in droves. I was scared this concert would sell out before I bought tickets on Tuesday, but it didn't even come close. Your loss! Keep reading this blog, and I'll let you know the next time they're in town.

P.S. Amusing side-note: At the end, the man next to me muttered, "Maybe they're going to do a spiritual for an encore" which will crack up anyone who is familiar with American choral programming (choral directors all over the country like to stick a spiritual at the end of a concert to finish with lots of energy - this has become so common that it's a cliche. "Let's do a program of German Romantic choral pieces about nature! And then we'll end with a spiritual.")

Friday, May 30, 2008

Concert report: BBC Elijah

So, I just got back from the Back Bay Chorale's performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah.

It was quite exciting!

The chorus were the champs of the evening. They were extremely technically solid, and very expressive and intense. They really carried the entire piece. The weight of their accomplishment would seem to require more words, but I can't think of anything else to say other than "Well done." The orchestra was OK, although at the start of a couple of movements they were dragging behind the conductor, and took a few measures to find the tempo. The soloists were all exciting in their own way. The tenor, Yeghishe Manucharyan, was quite good. It's not exactly the biggest tenor showcase ever, but he has a lovely and lyrical voice. The alto, Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, was also quite good. In the first half she just sings the part of "Angel" and the writing is a bit bland, and I was not particularly wowed, but then in the second half she sings Jezebel, and that was GREAT. She really sunk her teeth into that bit. And her "Angel" aria in the second half, "O rest in the Lord" was just lovely.

There was DRAMA concerning the soprano. Apparently the original soprano had to back out last weekend or Tuesday or something (owing I am guessing to illness, but I am not sure.) So they found a soprano to take her place...who had to cancel last night due to laryngitis. So the soprano they finally found, Anne Harley, they found TODAY. You never would have known - she was excellent. And doing accompanied recitative on no rehearsal is not easy, either!

And the baritone. Richard Zeller. Mr. Zeller's bio says, "He is known for his beautiful dramatic voice and presence as well as his outstanding musicianship" which in my opinion pretty well covers it. However, he was responsible for giving everyone a near heart-attack in the first half. During one of Elijah's recitatives, he started a phrase "And --" and then abruptly cut off. Nobody knows what happened, but a friend sitting near the front of the stage says he seemed to choke a bit, so it may have been vocal (rather than brain freeze, which is the only other explanation I can think of.) There was a painful silence, with the conductor frozen, waiting (and that must have taken nerves of steel, I hope that doesn't happen to me on the podium) and then he went on. It was a painfully stressful moment - as soon as it happened every muscle in my body tensed and I was abruptly pushing hard against the back of the seat until he continued.

But my man Zeller recovered and more - he hit the rest of his performance out of the park. He was a splendid Elijah. His two arias in the second act in particular were really special. There are times during a performance when something touches you and you know that you are part of the audience, and you are all being touched together in the same way, and something really special is happening. And then there are times when the music touches you and you know it's personal, that only you are responding that way at that moment. Both types of moments are equally special in different ways. The first aria, "It is enough, O Lord" was an example of the first - it was the emotional high point of the performance. But the second, "Though the mountains shall depart," felt as if it reached out to me personally - it was just so lovely, and such a giving, gentle performance. I don't generally feel a great deal of affinity for Mendelssohn, but I could feel Zeller's performance of that aria physically chipping away at my opinion, and changing my Mendelssohn attitude permanently for the better.

All these bits and pieces I'm reporting don't really give the full impression of the evening. This was a huge piece. A Happening. An Event. And I stayed engaged through the whole two-hour-and-45-minute performance, which is Impressive. Part of that is the composition - for all its length, Elijah really is pretty tightly constructed and composed. But partly credit for that has to go to the conductor. Scott Jarrett established excellent pacing through the whole thing, he consistently maintained emotional intensity with his musicians, and his conducting was expressive and fluid and clear. He used a stick during the first half, and no stick during the second, which I found interesting; I think I preferred no stick, because his conducting seemed a bit more organic that way. I do really wish that he wouldn't mouth all the words (especially at his soloists!!!) But he did a fine job leading a large cast through a grand and exhausting evening of stellar music-making.

Have a drink, Mr. Jarrett (and pat yourself on the back for finding that soprano at the last minute) - you deserve it!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Weekend Concert Calendar, 5/29/08

Your choices for this weekend are not overwhelming in quantity, but delightful in quality!


Top pick goes to the Back Bay Chorale's performance of Elijah, starring Richard Zeller, Elijah; Elizabeth Keusch, soprano; Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, mezzo-soprano; Yeghishe Manucharyan, tenor. There is a pre-concert lecture at 7:00 pm by Ann Howard Jones, director of choral activities at BU. The concert will be at Sanders Theatre at 8:00 pm. I'll be there - come say hello!

Also that evening the Boston Choral Ensemble presents Randall Thompson's Peaceable Kingdom and also the winner of their Annual Commission Competition. This will be at 8:00 pm at First Church in Cambridge. They will repeat this program on Sunday, June 1 at 2:00 pm at St. John the Evangelist in downtown Boston. I will note that the Friday concert is $20 a head, and the Sunday concert is free. (So if you go Sunday, be nice and make a donation!)


Tough choice tonight! At 8 pm at Symphony Hall you can hear the Boston Pops Gospel Night featuring Oleta Adams and the Boston Pops Gospel Choir. That looks pretty awesome to me.

But instead I will be going to hear Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares and very excited about it I am, too! They will be at the Church of the Covenant in downtown Boston at 8 pm. Here is their website. I have never heard them live, but the sound on their recordings is thrilling. You can listen to sound clips on their website. Damn, that sound just hits me like nothing else.


Chorus pro Musica (in concert - ha! - with Concert Opera Boston) will present Bizet's Carmen. Featuring Victoria Livengood as Carmen, Adam Klein as Don José, Robert Honeysucker (woohoo!) as Escamilllo, Nouné Karapetian as Micaela, and Philip Candilis as Zuniga. This will be at 3 pm at NEC's Jordan Hall, and will be sung in French with projected English translations.

At 8:00 pm the Zamir Chorale presents "Wild Peace," a celebration of works from Israel's greatest composers. Included will be the world premiere of Charles D. Osborne’s oratorio for chorus and orchestra, Like Wildflowers, Suddenly, inspired by the poem "Wild Peace," by Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai. This is at Sanders Theatre (a busy place this weekend!).

And if you wish, there is an open sing of the Brahms Requiem in Charlestown at 3 pm. It is at St. Mary - St. Catherine of Siena Parish and is hosted by Coro Polifonico of Boston (which I have to confess, I have never heard of before. They should join the GBCC!) Scores will be provided, but bring your own if you have one.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cappella Clausura links, and tech experiments

I"m trying out cut-tags in blogger. Click below to read my full entry, and see some neat links to Cappella Clausura stuff! Edit: OK, that attempt at cut-tags was totally unsuccessful, but please enjoy the links anyways!

First of all, there is a radio interview with our director, Amelia LeClair. This happened before the concert we did in April in Connecticut at Sacred Heart University. It is a very good overview of what the group is about and what we sing.

And secondly, here is a slide-show of us at that concert! I am the first person to the left of the continuo group.

Messiah gone wrong

This link was sent to me by one of the two organists at my church. As she said, "I thought it might give you a chuckle or a knot in your stomach."

This is one of those situations where you can use statements like, "That was...amazing," or "That was unlike anything I've ever heard before!"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weekend Concert Calendar, 5/23/08

Will this be one of the weeks I get my act together and actually post about the weekend concerts?

Yes! Ironically, there are no concerts to post about, since it is Memorial Day Weekend.

Well, that's not strictly true. I can find ONE.

On Sunday at 3 pm, the Cambridge Community Chorus will present their final concert directed by William E. Thomas. Selections wil include Haydn's "Harmony Mass" and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast." This will be at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge. Check out William Thomas's biography - he has been a champion of new music and under-performed works, and a particular expert on composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Also, a heads-up for next week: on Wednesday the chapel choir of Thomas's Preparatory School in Kensington in the U.K. will give a lunchtime concert at 12:15 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. And it's free!

Next weekend, save Friday night for the Back Bay Chorale's performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah. And on Saturday, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices) is in town! I am so there! Let me know if you want to join me - I'm going to buy my ticket this weekend!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Weekend Concert Calendar, 5/15/08

Well, I am falling down on the job again. This time my excuse is that I am getting a cab to the airport at 4:30 am (that's in 5.5 hours and I haven't packed yet) for my brother's graduation. Huzzah! And double-huzzah because he has a job, which he just got today! And he's getting married at the end of June. He's a busy guy.

Anyways, I will simply remind you that, back by popular demand, Michael Veloso's piece Executive Orders will be performed again by the Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus on Friday, May 16 at 8:00 pm at First Parish, Arlington.

I previously wrote about this piece here. Do go see it - it's a great piece of music! And then as a bonus, there's also some Hindemith on the program! Who could ask for more?

See you all on the flip side. Wish me a decent nap on the flight.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day Choir

Yesterday my church choir and I had quite a moving experience.

One of the pieces we did for the service was Bobby McFerrin's "Psalm 23: Dedicated to my mother." I introduced it at rehearsal on Wednesday, and I sent them a Youtube link to a good performance online (I try to do this whenever possible.)

For those who don't know, this piece is set with a very free rhythm - he just writes a whole note, and then writes a long line of text under it that is supposed to be sung in speech rhythm. (My understanding is that Anglican chant is similar to this.) Difficult to conduct, to say the least. So we were going through it on Sunday morning in our rehearsal before the service. And it was clear that we were having lots of trouble singing it together - everyone was at different speeds. So I went through it, giving them the emphasized words, and telling them where to put breaks (I did this on Wednesday as well, so doing this on Sunday was a refresher.) And then I said, "OK. This is obviously not coming together with me conducting, so here's what we're going to do. I am not going to conduct. Not even with my head. I'm just going to listen. And Maureen (the accompanist) is just going to give you your notes, and she's not going to play. You all just have to breathe together and go, and sing the piece together. This is an experiment - just try it." And they did. And it WORKED. In fact, it was amazing. They were really together, in a way that would have been flat-out impossible if I had been conducting. They had to come together as a group, b/c they didn't have me in there gumming up the works.

So that was the way we did it in the service. When the choral benediction came along, I just sat down in the front pew, and Maureen gave them their notes, and they sang the whole piece by themselves with no conductor, and it was great, and I just listened. In fact, I made the mistake of listening too vulnerably, and by the last verse I had tears in my eyes and wasn't sure I was going to be able to keep from really crying. This happens sometimes to me as a conductor when I make what I will mis-call "the mistake of listening." Obviously one of your primary jobs is to listen...but when you are working hard at being open, you run the risk of not being able to hold yourself emotionally together. The other notable time this happened to me was in the dress rehearsal for my masters' conducting concert. My teacher DM came up behind me while I was conducting Brahms' "Waldesnacht", and talked me through opening up and connecting to the music, and he succeeded a little too well - it was all I could do not to break down sobbing and I seriously felt like it was an effort of will to keep my joints together - I physically felt like I might break apart. It is one of the scariest challenges as a conductor to figure out how to open up the channels to emotion, to connect to the music yourself and thereby enable other people, both performers and audience, to connect to the music, without totally losing it yourself.

But the fact that my choir's performance affected me so strongly was a clear indication of how well they succeeded at making some real music. And what better story for Mother's Day? I taught and prepared them - they had the notes, and they knew what words they were heading for and what the rhythm should be, and where all the breaks and breaths were. And after they learned it I tossed them off the cliff and they flew. I love my choir.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Weekend Concert Calendar, 5/8/08, Part Deux

OK, finishing up the list for this weekend! The additional entries are almost all on Saturday of course, because apparently this Saturday is CRAZY for choral music.


On Saturday at 2 pm at Fanueil Hall the BCO and the Boston Children's Chorus are putting on a concert of music by Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Haydn, and African-American and Native American songs followed by an instrument petting zoo. It's sold out, though. Too bad for you.

Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm the Harvard Bach Society Orchestra and the Dunster House Opera Society will present a semi-staged performance of Copland's opera The Tender Land. The location will be The Memorial Church, Harvard Yard, Cambridge.

Also on Saturday at 8 pm the Assabet Valley Master Singers will present The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Karl Jenkins (2000 Commission in England) based on the 15thC French song "L'Homme Arme." Texts include Tennyson, Kipling, the Koran, Christian mass, & the Mahabharata. This performance will be with the Algonquin Regional HS Chorus, and will be held at the Algonquin Regional High School, Northboro, MA.

At 7:30 in Peabody a group called simply the "Choral Art Society" will present Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil (aka the Vespers.) This will be at St. Vasilios Church in Peabody.

And at 7:30 that same day in Scituate another group simply called the "Choral Art Society" will perform "Czeching Into Vienna: Music of Dvorak, Schubert, and Brahms." This will be at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Scituate.


Not strictly choral, but at 3 pm in Pickman Hall at Longy there will be a vocal chamber music concert by members of the Vocal Ensemble Class. Music for voices & piano, flute, harp, trumpet, and violin by Bach, Caplet, Cornelius, Dvorak, Handel, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Spohr, and others. This one is free!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Weekend Concert Calendar, 5/8/08

Finally I am jumping back on the bandwagon, after two weeks of being most unhelpful to anyone who was looking for choral music! I'm glad to say that my flu is better, and the intense concert season is (for me) mostly passed, so let's see what we have going on this weekend, hm?

Self-plugs, as always, come first! Anthology is singing at First Parish Cohasset Friday evening at 7:30 pm. This is a full-length concert, and also a fund-raiser for First Parish's organ fund, so I encourage everyone to show up for a good cause!


At 8 pm the Cantata Singers will be at NEC's Jordan Hall in downtown Boston. They will present: Kurt Weill: Symphony No. 2; Charles Fussell: High Bridge—A Choral Symphony After Poems of Hart Crane (First Boston performance.) Karyl Ryczek, soprano; Janna Baty, mezzo-soprano; William Hite, tenor; David Kravitz, bass.

At 7:30 pm Fretless Voices, Mudville Madrigal Singers, and Peking and the Mystics will join together for the 3rd Annual "Only A-cappella Night" at the Saint Andrews' Performing Arts Series. This will be at 79 Denton Road, Wellesley, MA.


The choruses are out in force tonight!

At 7 pm at the Pleasant Street Congregational Church 75 Pleasant Street, Arlington, MA, the deVaronistas will present "Selections from 20th Century Song Cycles." I quote from an e-mail from a friend: "Lorna Cooke deVaron is conducting her last concert with the deVaronistas on Saturday, May 10, in a splendid and characteristic program." For those who don't know, Lorna Cooke deVaron was at NEC for over 40 years as director of their choral program, and directed the Longy Chamber Singers for many years after that. A biography is here. (Also, if you follow the link to the deVaronistas, you will find a fascinating press release. It is not current - it is for December 2006 - but it is instructive all the same.)

Convivium Musicum (a very good local amateur Renaissance choir - I recommend them) will give a concert on Saturday at 8 pm at First Church in Cambridge, Congregational in Cambridge. The concert description reads, "Two weddings and a treaty: Renaissance occasional music. Convivium Musicum offers a concert of Renaissance music penned for occasions and personalities: popes and kings, treaties and dedications, weddings and funerals, patrons and fellow composers."

The Brookline Community Chorus has a very neat programme at 8 pm at First Baptist Church , 848 Beacon St. Newton Centre (Green line accessible!) I quote from their release: "Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert, Chosen from three substantial collections of music Ellington called “sacred concerts” this program highlights inspired music that the jazz great considered to be the most important of his works. Classic 1940s dance band music alternates with introspective blues and full-throttle gospel. Instrumental and vocal virtuosity shares the spotlight with supple, graceful choral and ensemble writing."

The Concord Chorus will be at Cary Memorial Hall, 1605 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington at 8 pm, presenting various works by Bach, Brahms, and Mozart.

The Master Singers will be right across the road, also at 8 pm in Lexington, at First Parish Church on the Battle Green presenting works by J.S. Bach and Schubert, including Schubert's Mass in G.

The Paul Madore Chorale will be up in Salem at 8 pm, presenting Anton Dvorak's Te Deum with Trudy Hill, Soprano and Donald Wilkinson, Baritone. Dave Brubeck's To Hope - a Celebration (a Boston-area premiere.) Their location is St. Anne's Church, 290 Jefferson Ave., Salem.

The Snug Harbor Community Chorus will be performing at 8 pm at The Duxbury Performing Arts Center, 73 Alden St, Duxbury, MA. "The Music, the Magic, and the Memories: a Tenth Anniversary celebration featuring mixed genre selections that capture the evolution and essence of the chorus."

Sunday (Mother's Day!):

At 3 pm the Masterworks Chorale will present an all Vaughan Williams program at Sanders Theater on the Harvard campus in Cambridge. And they advertise that "All women in attendance receive a red carnation!"

And for all of you G&S fans out there, this is the last weekend you can go see Ruddigore at MIT! Shows are tonight (Thursday) and Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 2 pm. Location is La Sala de Puerto Rico, on the 2nd floor of the MIT Student Center.

I haven't even finished listing everything yet, but it is late and I have to get up early, so I am going to have to sign off and give you an addendum tomorrow!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Weekend Concert Calendar - NOT AGAIN!

Sorry to be unhelpful two weeks in a row, but I am sunk down lo with the flu, and need to sleep rather than do a choral roundup. (I am in fact so sick that I didn't go to the Boston Cecilia's awesome new music concert tonight, so you know things must be pretty bad.)

However, tomorrow night is a VERY IMPORTANT CONCERT, so please come! (And if you didn't get this in e-mail form, head over to Anthology's website and sign up to be on our mailing list!)

Dear Friends,

Anthology would like to invite you to a couple of our upcoming concerts! These will be our first full-length concerts together, and we're all very excited.

On Saturday, May 3, at 8:00 pm, we will be performing at First Parish Cambridge ( The church is in Harvard Square at 3 Church St. This is our first full-length concert, and we have quite a variety of music in store. We are singing all varieties of classical music, from madrigals and Renaissance motets, through Brahms and Bartok, and including several pieces written within the past couple of years by New England composers Michael Veloso and Eva Kendrick. We'll also be performing some folk music, a little barbershop, and some Sweet Honey in the Rock as well. We will be asking for a $15 donation at the door, but if you can't afford that, we want you to come anyways - that's why it's called a donation. We hope you can make it!

On Wednesday, May 7, at 5:30 pm, we will be performing at the Church of St. John the Evangelist at 35 Bowdoin St. in Boston ( This is a "commuter concert" so it may be hard to get there if you do not work in Boston, but it is extremely close to a number of subway stops. There will be a donation plate at the door. Please let all your friends who work in Boston know about it! This concert will be about 45 minutes long, and we will be focusing mainly on our classical rep.

On Friday, May 9, at 7:30 pm, we will be performing at First Parish Cohasset ( in Cohasset on the South Shore. This will be a repeat of the program we are offering on May 3, so if you are unable to make the May 3 concert, we hope you will consider making the trek out to Cohasset to hear us! We will again be asking for a $15 donation, and half the proceeds of this concert will go towards the First Parish Organ Renovation Fund.

We hope to see you all in the audience sometime soon!

All the best,
Vicky, Anney, Michelle, and Allegra


P.S. If you would like us to remove you from this e-mailing list, please just reply to this e-mail and let us know.