Saturday, November 07, 2009

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 5

Here is the fifth part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. Don't forget, she is conducting Musica Sacra and the Boston Cecilia in the Brahms Requiem on Sunday, 3 pm at Jordan Hall!

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA, Part 5

A: And do you have any programming secrets?
M: Yes. What I like. [laughs]
A: But how do you fit things together?
M: What I usually do – there’s usually a piece that I want to do. And then I play around with the idea of what would be a good theme that would fit this piece that I could find other pieces to do. So as an example, this spring, we’re doing a program called “The Spirit Still Speaks” which is all contemporary sacred music that is programmed around my desire again to do “The Sacred and Profane” of Britten. Because I love that piece. We’ve done it twice. Have you ever sung it? Oh, it’s fabulous. So, it’s like, OK, so I want to do that, and we’re commissioning a piece that’s going to be sacred, so there’s that, so what else am I going to do that’s going to work in with that? And that’s how I do it. So, now, with the Brahms, the programming for the Brahms I thought was a great opportunity to proselytize for the choral sound. Because I think second to the Messiah, and it was interesting, I just finished my notes, and I made it a real point not to online at anybody’s stuff, because I don’t want to plagiarize by mistake, but I’d already been saying to people in Cecilia and Musica Sacra that in my opinion the Brahms was second only to the Messiah as being a piece that people would come out to hear. That if there’s a person that doesn’t know any choral music, if there’s anything they know it’s the Messiah and then it’s the Brahms Requiem. And so it turned out that the guy who reviewed Levine at Tanglewood this summer wrote that same thing. So, my thought is, OK, you’re going to have people coming out to hear the Brahms Requiem, this is an opportunity to proselytize. And of course, I think a lot of conductors would say, “I’ve got this big orchestra, what else do I want to do with it?” I’m like, “We’ve got this big orchestra, we have very limited rehearsal time, what am I going to do that’s not going to use the orchestra?” So I learned about Heinrich Schütz from John Ferris, and the first year I was there was the 300th anniversary of his birth, so we did two full concert-length programs of Heinrich Schütz, and I saw John’s love for him, and it bred a life-long love for me. And then it turns out that Brahms was aware of the Musikalisches Exequien of Schütz. I would like to know if he purposefully took so many of the texts. I haven’t been able to search that out. I have somebody on it. But clearly he was aware of it, and they both ended with “Selig sind die Toten.” And his motet from 1648 “Selig sind die Toten” is gorgeous, I don’t know if you know that, but to me it’s a monumentally moving piece of music. So we’re opening with that. The idea is, this is where we’ve come from. We do the Brahms. And then I’ve become very excited in the past few years because – I kind of felt like I wasn’t learning about new composers. Because in this area, particularly, there’s so many choral groups, but very few people do, it seems to me, get off the beaten track much, because they’re worried about their audience, they’re worried about having an audience. So I found out through listening to Vox Radio, Eric Whitacre. I’d never heard of Eric Whitacre. And, oh my God! What a composer!
A: Lovely stuff.
M: Lovely stuff. And choral stuff. Stuff that can’t be – it’s not like it could be instrumental, but it’s choral. It’s choral. So I thought, “I’ll pair it with “Sleep.”” So it’s like, Schütz, Brahms, Whitacre. Where we’ve been, what you know of, and what you could be hearing if you were coming to more choral concerts. And that’s what I want to do. And so, for instance, one year we did the Schubert “Mass in G.” It’s all strings. And I’m like, OK, Schubert “Mass in G.” People who’ve sung in high school chorus are going to come out and hear that. What do I want them to hear that they won’t expect to hear? So we did the Pärt Berliner Messe. Similarly, people who are New-Agey people coming to hear Pärt…Schubert! So I like that juxtaposition. It’s like, I want to stretch you. I want you to come and hear something you know, and then I want you to come with me and look at some other wonderful things. Maybe you’ll go home and you won’t have liked the Schütz, but you will like the Whitacre, or vice versa. Maybe if I’m really lucky, some people will go home and think, “I’m going to go to a choral concert more often. Yes, I loved hearing that Brahms, but those other two pieces didn’t have any orchestra, and they sounded really cool.” I think unfortunately most people hear choral music because their kid sings in not a very good -- they have the church choir, anybody can join, the product’s not very good, it’s a kids’ chorus, the product isn’t necessarily very good, or it’s a big community chorus and the product isn’t necessarily very good, and they’re judging the whole medium on that particular product. So I’m like, I want you to hear a good product, and then you see what you think about the medium. Because even though so many of us sing it, people don’t come to hear it. So many of us sing it, people don’t come to hear it. People who sing don’t go to other choral concerts. Have you noticed that? Do you?
A: I do.
M: You do?
A: But I always look around the audience, and I’m like, “Where’s my peeps?” You know?
M: Yes. Yes.
A: There are certain concerts where you do – BEMF will usually bring out – you know, I’ll look around and I’ll see a crowd I know, but I’ll go to other concerts, and I’ll be thinking of certain people who are really deep into the choral scene, and I’m like, “Maybe you should be here.” Although one person who I always see really going to listen to things is Walter Chapin.
M: Oh really?
A: Do you know him?
M: Yes, I do know him.
A: He goes to concerts.
M: Well, you know the interesting thing about Walter Chapin, too, is that we did a bunch of Tormis, because a guy who’d gone to Haverford introduced me to Tormis, and I was like, “Oh my God! I can’t get enough!”
A: Yes! But so expensive!
M: Exactly! So I went on the web to see who I could borrow it from, and guess what group popped up? Walter Chapin.
A: Good for him.
M: So, you know, before I’d even done it…now, he’d only done one piece from one thing, but still, he’d done it. So. But, you know, so often I think, you know, it’s like, here we go again with the same old, same old. I’ll tell you, I wanted to do the War Requiem. That was what I wanted to do. We got a children’s chorus lined up. We got Cecilia lined up. I couldn’t find an orchestral conductor – we decided that we had to have a collaboration with an orchestra. I couldn’t find anyone who wouldn’t get off the podium. And I get that, but it’s like, look, this is 30, 50 for us. [Note: Mary Beekman’s 30th anniversary w/ Musica Sacra, and Musica Sacra’s 50th birthday.] We’re doing it for you, you can do it for – no. If I can’t conduct it, we’re not doing it. So I had to give it up.
A: That’s sad.
M: It is sad.
A: But I’m looking forward to the Brahms! [laughs]
M: Well you know, it’s funny, because I was like, Brahms, Schmahms. In fact, I did Brahms my second year with the Graduate Chorale. And what’s so interesting is how it’s so in your brain. You know how stuff you sing when you’re a kid, it never leaves you? Whereas stuff you do as an adult, four years later it’s like, “Oh, I know that, what’s it from?” The Brahms is just, it is there. Because I taught it when I was 24 to these people that didn’t sing much.
A: That’s great.
M: Yes, yes.
A: So I’m going to finish up the interview – have you ever seen Inside the Actors’ Studio?
M: No.
A: It’s an interview show with famous actors, and they always end it by asking them this little questionnaire, which I like very much.
M: OK.
A: So I’m going to ask you this questionnaire, I’ve added two questions which I’m sure you’ll – they’re the only two musical questions. And you should just answer as quickly as you possibly can.
M: OK.
A: Your favorite word.
M: Precise. Oh my God!
A: Your least favorite word.
M: [laughs] Precise!
A: Very good! What turns you on artistically or spiritually?
M: Things that make an emotional connection with me.
A: What turns you off artistically or spiritually?
M: Things that leave me cold.
A: What sound or noise that is not necessarily musical do you love?
M: The sound of water passing under the hull of a sailboat.
A: What sound or noise that is not necessarily musical do you hate?
M: God, any of the sounds that are going on next door as they build an addition.
A: What is your favorite swear word.
M: It’s got to be the F-word!
A: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
M: Speech therapy.
A: What profession other than your own would you definitely not like to attempt?
M: Being in any position where I had to take direction from someone that I didn’t respect.
A: Who is one of your favorite composers?
M: Oh, God, don’t make me do that.
A: One of.
M: Britten, Schütz.
A: Who is one composer where you really don’t see what all the fuss is about.
M: Oh, that’s a great question. Oh, Lassus.
A: [makes a sad face]
M: Well, you ought to tell me what you love, because the stuff of his that I’ve looked at for the most part…
A: There’s one piece that I love particularly.
M: What is it?
A: “Tristis est anima mea.”
M: Oh, OK, I’ll look at it.
A: And if Heaven exists, what do you want to hear God say when you go through the pearly gates?
M: Good effort. [laughs]
A: Thank you so much!
M: Thank you so much.

(end of interview)


  1. This was a fun read. Thanks for sharing--best wishes in your journey!

  2. @ Patrick:

    Glad you liked it - thanks for reading!

  3. Thank you; that was very informative, and a pleasure to read!