We recently began rehearsals for the 2015-2016 season and the experience was a departure from last year. As Monty Python would say, “And now for something completely different!” Last year, a large percentage of the Chorale membership like me, had sung Carmina Burana before, making the learning curve a little less challenging.
This year, we began the season rehearsing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, a choral symphony. When Dr. Bass asked how many singers had performed the work before, only one hand out of 160 went up. This was new territory for just about all of us. The concert series on November 6th through 8th will be the premiere of this piece by both The Master Chorale and The Florida Orchestra.
The choral symphony is scored for tenor, soprano and baritone soloists in addition to the orchestra and chorus. It is comprised of four movements; “The Silver Sleigh Bells,” “The Mellow Wedding Bells,” “The Loud Alarm Bells” and “The Mournful Iron Bells.” Rachmaninoff remarked that like many Russians the tolling of bells had a special meaning to him: “All my life I have taken pleasure in the differing moods and music of gladly chiming and mournfully tolling bells. This love for bells is inherent in every Russian.” Rachmaninoff also noted that The Bells was one of his favorite compositions.
I find it interesting that the text of The Bells is taken from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe. In 1913, when Rachmaninoff composed the work in Russian, he used a translation by Konstantin Balmont, who took some liberties with Poe’s text, essentially rewriting many parts of the poem’s four stanzas. The effect is that the lyrics take on a darker tone than Poe’s original, adding several references to death or oblivion where none existed earlier.
The music reflects a darker tone also. Rachmaninoff employed the theme of the “Dies Irae” throughout the work, and also borrowed from the adagio lementoso of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") in movement four.
I had not heard The Bells before, so I purchased a recording to accompany my score study. For us in the Chorale, the “heavy lifting” occurs in the third movement where the choir sings without any soloists and must blend with the orchestra at some of the loudest moments in the piece. In addition, the score is sung in Russian, so learning the proper pronunciation and articulation of the text is critical to getting the musical message across. I am confident that by the time concert week rolls around, I will have spent enough time with the score that it will become an old friend, even though we just met in August.
Our premiere performance of The Bells with The Florida Orchestra is paired with another great Russian composition, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition as orchestrated by Ravel, so it will be a great concert to attend and “slyshish”!
Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 8:00 PM
Tampa - Straz Center for the Performing Arts
Sat, Nov 7, 2015 at 8:00 PM
St. Petersburg - Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Nov 8, 2015 at 7:30 PM
Clearwater - Ruth Eckerd Hall
244 2nd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, FL 33701