by Brian Hathaway
I have a confession to make. I am an unabashed space geek. I have always been fascinated by astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. When the race to the Moon with the Soviet Union heated up during the 1960’s I was there to witness it all. I was 12 years old when John Glenn orbited the earth in 1962 and 19 years old when Apollo 11 went to the moon and back in 1969. That passion has not waned. Several years ago, while attending a lecture by six-time Space Shuttle veteran astronaut F. Story Musgrave, I told him “Boy, I would love to spend an hour with you over a cup of coffee.” He told me “Yes….I could see it in your eyes…..you’re a believer.”
So, what does that have to do with Franz Josef Haydn and “The Creation”? Well in a manner of speaking, Haydn was a space geek too! But….I am getting ahead of myself a bit. First, there is the back story about how Papa Haydn came to compose his monumental oratorio, “The Creation.”
Those who have researched Franz Josef Haydn’s “The Creation” are aware that Haydn did not start composing an oratorio until late in life. The catalyst for his decision came from his trips to London in 1791 and 1794. Following the death of Prince Niklaus I in 1790, Anton, his successor at the Esterhazy Palace, had no interest in music and disbanded the Court Orchestra and released Haydn from his responsibilities. Anton’s father prior to his death granted Haydn a pension of 1000 Florins per year for the rest of his life. For the first time in decades, he was free to travel and accepted the invitation of violinist and promoter Johann Peter Salomon, who acted as concert Manager for Haydn’s first visit to England, to travel there. He arrived in London on January 1, 1791 and stayed until July 1792.
Haydn returned to London in January 1794 and stayed into 1795. During his visits to England, Haydn composed 250 works, a body of work equal to or larger than the career output of many other composers of his time. It was during these visits that Haydn was introduced to the oratorio form. George Frederic Handel was a revered composer in England, and Haydn attended festivals that featured Handel’s music. One such festival had over three thousand singers performing Handel’s “Messiah,” the likes of which Haydn had never seen nor heard. He was absolutely dumbfounded by the experience.
G. H. Purday (1799-1885) reported that his music-seller father had been present at that very moment. Josef Haydn mentioned that he would like to write an oratorio but was wondering where to start. François Barthélemon, leader of the London orchestra that played Haydn's symphonies, picked up a Bible and said: "There, take that, and begin at the beginning."
Upon leaving England in 1795, Johann Salomon presented Haydn with a poem titled “The Creation of the World.” Apparently, the poem had been offered to Handel, but he never set it to music. Haydn presented the poem to his friend, mentor, and librettist Baron Gottfried van Swieten when he returned to Vienna, and it was van Swieten who used the poem to develop a libretto for “The Creation” in both English and German.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. On June 15, 1792 during his first London tour, Josef Haydn visited astronomer William Herschel at his observatory near Slough. In addition to being an accomplished musician and composer, William Herschel was famous for discovering the planet Uranus ten years earlier. William Herschel was a consummate lens grinder, and he and his sister Caroline spent hours and hours grinding ever larger lenses to construct telescopes to view the heavens in great detail. During his career, William Herschel built over 400 telescopes. Some say that Herschel invited Haydn to view the heavens through his main telescope, a rather massive construction in the yard behind his home that was 40 feet long and had mirrors 48 inches in diameter. For 50 years, it was the largest telescope in the world.
There is only one problem. The guest book at the observatory in Slough for that day shows that Haydn visited during the day, when it was not possible to view the heavens. Furthermore, William Herschel was not there that day and was visiting friends in Scotland. However, his sister Caroline, who was his assistant, was there, and she most likely took Haydn on a tour of the observatory and had discussions with him about their observations.
Of course, in 1792 there were no cameras. To document their observations, astronomers would sketch them, and it is a good possibility that Caroline supported the descriptions of the “wonder of His works” with sketches of the more captivating images, such as Saturn with its rings, or drawings of nebulae, such as the NGC 1514 Planetary Nebula discovered in 1790 by William Herschel. In fact, on 26 February 1783, Caroline made her own first discovery. She had found a nebula that was not included in the Messier catalogue. That same night, she independently discovered NGC 205, the second companion star cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy.
One can only imagine what went through Haydn’s mind as he listened to Caroline Herschel and looked at those sketches of the heavens. Part of the discussion could have included the nebulae they were discovering and their role as the birthplace of stars. In a stroke of genius, Haydn starts out “The Creation” with a musical depiction of chaos before the formation of the Universe. One of the most profound moments to me is when the chorus begins singing “and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said: ‘let there be light’, and there was LIGHT!” What a tremendous opening! Could the inspiration for that opening have come from Caroline Herschel, a diminutive woman with a height of only four feet two inches?
She was a noted astronomer, accomplished lens grinder, also a highly regarded singer and soloist in a time when female scientists and soloists were as scarce as hen’s teeth. My hat goes off to Caroline. She became an acknowledged expert in astronomy and was honored for her work. The gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society was awarded to her in 1828 "for her recent reduction, to January 1800, of the 2,500 nebulae discovered by her illustrious brother, which may be considered as the completion of a series of exertions probably unparalleled either in magnitude or importance in the annals of astronomical labour." This was the first time a woman was ever honored with such an award in Great Britain.
Whatever the case may be, we are left with a profound musical legacy in Haydn’s “The Creation.” We are also left with an amazing scientific legacy through the work of William and Caroline Herschel. We are better off for having been exposed to their collective genius. The last time I sang “The Creation” by Haydn, my focus was on the exuberant tone of much of the music. This time, I will be thinking about the limitless universe that Haydn came to appreciate and depict in his music. I will also be thinking of Caroline Herschel, a woman way ahead of her time personally and scientifically who may have been Haydn’s celestial connection.
You too can experience “The Creation” by Franz Josef Haydn and draw your own conclusions. The Florida Orchestra and The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay will present “The Creation” on Friday, March 22 at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, on Saturday March 23 at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, and on Sunday, March 24 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.
by Brian Hathaway
The performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem by The Florida Orchestra and The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay are only about a month away on the weekend of April 20-22. As part of The Florida Orchestra’s Masterwork Series, Verdi’s Requiem is one of the most dramatic Requiems in the choral repertoire.
When I prepare for a Masterwork Concert, there are several components to my preparation, including score study, individual practice, and rehearsal with my Master Chorale colleagues. To further enhance my understanding of the music, I research the history of the music, so I can better appreciate what the composer was trying to achieve in composing and performing it. During my research for this concert series, I uncovered several facts about Verdi and his Requiem. Some of these facts are very well known, while others may qualify as trivial or little-known facts. I would like to share the facts I uncovered.
The story of Verdi’s Requiem begins in 1868, with the death of Gioachino Rossini in Paris. Verdi suggested that the city of Bologna, where Rossini grew up and first tasted success, honor him with a composite “Messe per Rossini,” commissioning separate movements from Italy's leading composers. The idea was approved, and the various movements were assigned. Diplomatically, Verdi was given the final “Libera me” and the mass was completed, but a performance never took place.
At the time of Rossini's death, Verdi called him "one of the glories of Italy," asking, "When the other one who still lives is no more, what will we have left?" The other one was Alessandro Manzoni, a celebrated poet, and the author of the landmark nineteenth-century novel, “I Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed), a book Verdi himself had read when he was sixteen. When Manzoni died on May 22, 1873, Verdi returned to the idea of a requiem.
When poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni died, Verdi was too grief-stricken to attend his funeral, and the entire country mourned the loss of one of its leading cultural icons. Verdi shared the same national aspirations that Manzoni had, and Manzoni’s literature helped fuel an Italian national identity. Verdi also supported Italian unification, and his last name was used as an acronym for support of unification under Sardinian King Victor Emanuel: Vittorio Emanuel, Rei di Italia (Victor Emanuel, King of Italy). Following unification in 1860, Verdi served as a Senator.
Verdi went to the mayor of Milan and proposed composing a memorial in the form of a requiem to honor the memory of Manzoni. Verdi reworked the existing Libera me from the “Messe per Rossini” and incorporated thematic material from it in the other movements. While he was quite sincere in his desire to memorialize Manzoni, Verdi, a successful businessman, was also aware of the commercial possibilities for the Requiem. While he was negotiating with the city of Milan to underwrite the premiere and with the Church to allow women singers to appear, he was also arranging publication and performance royalties. As part of the arrangement with the city of Milan, Verdi offered to pay for the score printing himself on the condition that Milan assume responsibility for the cost of the performances.
The premiere took place in May 22, 1874, at the Church of San Marco as part of a liturgy so no applause was allowed. Women (Soprano Theresa Stolz and Mezzo Maria Waldmann, soloists who performed in Verdi’s European premiere of Aida four years earlier) were given a special exemption to perform by the local Archbishop on the condition that they must be veiled in black and hidden behind a grating. Verdi also arranged three concert performances at La Scala a few days later which were greeted with great enthusiasm. In the year following the premiere, it was performed all over Italy, in Paris, London, Vienna and even in America. The Requiem had become one of Verdi's most popular compositions.
Verdi composed his Requiem with Soprano Theresa Stolz and Mezzo Maria Waldmann in mind as the female soloists. Soprano Stolz has been described as "the Verdian dramatic soprano par excellence, powerful, passionate in utterance, but dignified in manner and secure in tone and control” and premiered many of Verdi’s Operas. Verdi hired Mezzo Waldmann for the mezzo-soprano role in his Requiem, for which he wrote the Liber Scriptus with her voice in mind. Verdi particularly valued her for the rich, dark color of her lower, contralto register. For a Paris performance, Verdi revised the Liber Scriptus to allow Maria Waldmann a further solo for future performances. Previously, the movement had been set for a choral fugue in a classical Baroque style. With its premiere at the Royal Albert Hall performance in May 1875, this revision became the definitive edition.
When German conductor, composer, and virtuoso pianist Hans von Bülow, a close friend of Verdi’s rival Richard Wagner, stole a look at the Requiem score just days before the Milan premiere, he offered his famous snap judgment, "Verdi's latest opera, though in ecclesiastical robes," and decided not to attend the concert. When he finally heard it, at a parish performance eighteen years later, he was moved to tears. Bülow wrote to Verdi to apologize, and Verdi replied, with typical generosity, that Bülow might have been right the first time. By then, Verdi had grown accustomed to critical disdain, especially from the followers of Richard Wagner. And he knew that Bülow, who once switched his allegiance from Wagner to Brahms, wasn't the last listener who would change his mind about this music as well.
Playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw had a different opinion. Attending the London premiere, Verdi’s Requiem captivated him. His first impression stayed with him, as he had the “Libera me” performed at his funeral in 1950.
In January 1901, while staying in Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke. He died a few days later. Arturo Toscanini conducted the vast forces of combined orchestras and choirs composed of musicians from throughout Italy at his funeral service in Milan. To date, it remains the largest public assembly of any event in the history of Italy.
Performance of Defiance
Verdi’s Requiem experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1930’s, and one of the most interesting and disturbing chapters in its history took place between 1942 and 1944, when 16 performances were held in the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin (formerly Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia.
The story begins with Rafael Schacter, a pianist and conductor who was a Czech Jew. On November 30, 1941, he was transported to the Terezin Camp as part of the Holocaust. Terezin was a former Czech fortress and walled town that was set up as a ghetto for Jews who were later taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps. Allowed to take only one suitcase, he filled it with items he treasured, including scores from Verdi’s Requiem and Dvorak’s Carnival Overture.
The Nazis tried to make Terezin a model village as an example of how they were treating Jews humanely. Part of the façade was to create an active cultural environment in the ghetto, so shortly after arriving, Schacter was given the task of assembling a choir of 150 to perform Verdi’s Requiem. Not having enough scores for all the singers, he taught them the music by rote. The first performance took place in January 1942.
It is interesting to note that this Requiem for the dead premiered in January 1942, the same month that SS General Rheinhard Heydrich led the Wannsee Conference that approved the “final solution” to the Jewish question. Immediately following the premiere, about half the chorus members were loaded on a train bound for Auschwitz. Rafael Schachter was forced to reconstitute the chorus for the fifteen subsequent concerts as chorus members were either taken away or died in Terezin. The final concert was performed for members of the International Red Cross, who were visiting the camp at the invitation of the Nazi SS. Rafael Schachter was finally taken by train to Auschwitz in October 1944, subsequently dying while a prisoner.
In a postscript to the Terezin story, it is worth mentioning that Rheinhard Heydrich was also the SS Officer who ordered SS and SA troops to carry out the Kristallnacht in 1938, where Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses were attacked and burned all over Germany. English composer Michael Tippett was appalled by the news of the attacks and decided to memorialize the tragedy in music. His composition, “A Child of Our Time,” is on The Florida Orchestra and Master Chorale schedule for November 9 - 11, 2018, on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem has been loved by audiences and performers since its premiere in 1874. It is recognized as one of the most frequently performed masterworks in the choral repertoire. For me, I will have a completely different emotional connection to the Requiem because of the research I completed for this blog post.
Foremost in my mind will be the unknown victims who created a work of drama and beauty in the face of death and terror. I am drawn to recall the opera “Nabucco” by Verdi, where in The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, they sang “let the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices which may instill virtue to suffering.” For the prisoners of Terezin, the closing “Libera me” (Deliver me) was their most fervent plea for deliverance.
Even if you have listened to recordings of Verdi’s Requiem, the beauty and drama of the music is best experienced during a live performance. Please consider attending one of our concerts to experience it yourself.
By Brian Hathaway
Yes! “Dacci un Dramma!”, or in English “Give us drama!” is the topic of my latest post. I was drawn to this phrase because the current season of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay is all about drama, especially the way we create it through our voices in collaboration with The Florida Orchestra. To make it more interesting, this season is unique in that through four concerts, we take a “grand tour” of the history of creating drama with the voice through several musical genres that go back five hundred years. Let us take this tour in chronological order, even though the concerts this season do not necessarily follow that order.
Genre #1: Opera. Opera was the first musical form that combined voices and instruments to create drama as entertainment. The first opera, “Dafne” was composed by Jacopo Peri in Italy in 1597, although it is now largely lost. The earliest opera still performed is Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” composed in 1607. The opera genre was exported to Germany in 1627 and later to England and France in the mid 1600’s. As an art form, the opera has been widely performed up until the current time, although the mid to late 19th century is widely recognized as the “golden age of opera”, dominated by Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi.
Giuseppe Verdi started composing his Requiem in June 1873, shortly following the death of famed Italian writer and humorist Allessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi met in 1868. Manzoni’s death was the impetus for Verdi to write a complete Requiem, expanding upon the “Libera me” that he wrote in Rossini’s memory following his death in 1868. Verdi’s Requiem is not normally regarded as a liturgical Requiem and is primarily performed as a theater piece, and the music is infused with the same level of drama we would encounter in his operas such as “Aida” (1872) or “Othello” (1887). For me as a singer, I love dramatic moments such as the pounding of the bass drum in the “Dies Irae”, the unison opening of the “Sanctus” or the power of the opening phrase in the “Rex Tremendae”. The Verdi Requiem will be performed with The Florida Orchestra on the weekend of April 20-22.
Genre #2: Musical Theatre. Musical theatre grew out of the comic operettas of the 1800’s by composers such as Jacques Offenbach in Paris and Johann Strauss Jr. in Vienna. From 1871 to 1896, William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan collaborated on numerous comic operettas such as “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado” that poked fun at English society and became internationally famous. In America composers such as George M. Cohan and Victor Herbert gave musical theatre a distinctively American flavor. Throughout the first four decades of the 20th Century composers such as Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Irving Berlin popularized the musical theatre genre. Songs from musicals have become part of The Great American Songbook and an integral part of American culture.
In the 1940’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” was the first fully integrated musical, incorporating song and dance to develop the characters and the plot. The three decades of the 1940’s through 1960’s were marked by the worldwide popularity of the genre spurred on by the availability of original cast recordings and film versions of the musical. There are so many dramatic moments arising from musical theatre that they are almost too numerous to mention. Personal favorites of mine are the title song from “Oklahoma,” “I Am a Pirate King” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” and “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from Rodgers and Hammersteins’s “State Fair.”
Concertgoers will be able to hear many of their favorites in the “Celebrate Broadway” concert series with The Master Chorale and The Florida Orchestra during the weekend of April 27-29th.
Genre #3: The Film/TV Score. As musical theatre became a dominant force in bringing live music to the masses, the advent of films allowed even more people to experience the way music can combine with the moving picture to add drama and meaning to a story. The development of talking pictures starting with “The Jazz Singer” in 1927 added the component of sound to movies. This film incorporated a musical play where singer Al Jolson played a cantor’s son who ran away from home to become a famous jazz singer. The film is recognized as one of the 100 most influential films of all time.
Genre #4: The Video Game. Since the advent of electronic gaming in the late 1970’s, their complexity of the stories and images has been increasingly coupled with the development of music scores that are now equal to and in some cases exceeding the level of artistic expression in film scores. We are now light years beyond the “beeps” and “boops” we heard when playing “Pong” or the simple 8-bit compositions we heard when playing “Donkey Kong” almost 40 years ago.
Video game score composition now attracts some of the best composers who have embraced this avenue of artistic expression. These include Koji Kondo (Legend of Zelda), Jeremy Soule (The Elder Scrolls) and Michael Giacchino (Medal of Honor). Michael Giacchino also composed music scores for J.J. Abrams, producer of the current generation of Star Trek movies. Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the Final Fantasy music scores has been composing them for more than two decades, and concerts of his music play to sell-out crowds around the world.
Arnie Roth, after directing the Final Fantasy Concerts here, noted that if he knew ahead of time how skilled the singers were, he would have programmed even more choral music into the concerts. What a tribute to my Master Chorale colleagues!
In conclusion, do you remember what we were discussing 1,300 words ago? Looking back at the operatic roots of combining the human voice with instruments, we can see a kind of musical karma. I think if Richard Wagner were alive today, he would enjoy an animated conversation regarding leitmotifs with Nobuo Uematsu. What is seen through these very broad brush-stroke discussions of musical history is the unmistakable impact the human voice can have on listeners. The current Master Chorale Season still offers opportunities to experience live music that you will find enjoyable and memorable. As a singer, it is a joy to be a part of the creative process that takes place when we prepare and present great music for our Tampa Bay community.
Dacci un Dramma!
We are deeply grateful for grant awards from the following organizations, which help make our programs possible.
We are pleased to announce the appointment of internationally renowned conductor Doreen Rao as Visiting Artistic Director for the 2017-2018 season.
"With deep admiration for its exceptional history, and in joyful anticipation of its new beginnings, I am delighted to join The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay this year as their 2017-2018 Visiting Artistic Director. It will be a great pleasure for me to work with these devoted and faithful singers in collaboration with Michael Francis and The Florida Orchestra for a brilliant season of musical masterpieces and innovative community engagement."
- Doreen Rao
Dr. Rao is celebrated internationally for her moving concerts, inspirational teaching and ground-breaking choral publications. Her pioneering career changed the landscape of music education in America. Linking the standards of performance and the goals of education with the values of diversity and social responsibility, Rao's seminal work teaching children to sing inspired a generation of conductors and teachers to lead young choirs in schools and communities around the world. In a national tribute presented to her by the American Choral Directors Association, the eminent conductor Robert Shaw wrote: "The world of choral music owes her special thanks. She is preparing our future."
"We are thrilled to welcome Doreen Rao while we complete our search for a permanent Artistic Director and prepare for our 40th Anniversary," said Robert Hicks, Board Chairman. "Doreen brings a tremendous wealth of experience in conducting, guiding, and inspiring symphonic choirs which will continue to propel The Master Chorale forward during this important artistic leadership transition."
"Doreen is thoughtfully passionate about conducting and preparing exquisite choral music," added Kara Dwyer, Managing Director. "Doreen's persistent attention to the highest standards of artistic excellence added to her innovative and diverse community engagement plans deeply resonates with The Master Chorale's vision and core values. We couldn't be more pleased with her appointment."
The Master Chorale's 39th season includes four powerful concert collaborations with The Florida Orchestra, an inspiring educational program that will engage more than 1,000 students in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, and engaging community sing events. Performances with The Florida Orchestra will include Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," Handel's "Messiah," Verdi's "Requiem," and a Celebrate Broadway concert series.
Stay tuned for our full schedule announcement and information about our Summer Sing and Master Chorale Auditions, both taking place at the University of South Florida School of Music later this summer.
About Doreen Rao
Rao is committed to global-style programming, intergenerational performance, and innovative collaborations. She founded The Rao Center for Choral and Contemplative Arts in 2014 to mentor emerging conductors, singers and music educators in the practice of mindfulness-based conducting and choral teaching. Doreen is a member of the Zen Peacemaker's Order and a long time student of the American Zen Buddhist teacher, Joan Halifax Roshi. She is the author of Circle of Sound-a Contemplative Approach to Voice Education that serves as the philosophical and practical foundation for her mindfulness-based approach to conducting and teaching.
by Brian Hathaway
Yes, Mahler is in the middle, book-ended by two Requiems. The first is Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, a flowing piece of music based upon Gregorian chant. The Master Chorale just completed a series of concerts with The Florida Orchestra featuring this French gem, an intimate work of about 40 minutes’ duration.
The second bookend is Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, a work of considerable scope and drama written by Verdi primarily as a concert piece to honor his friend, poet Alessandro Manzoni on the first anniversary of his death. It is dramatic and grand in scope with a performance duration of about 85 minutes. The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay will perform this work on April 23rd in Sarasota with Gloria Musicae and the Sarasota Orchestra.
In the middle, we have Mahler in a work of no small proportion. I have three recordings of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), and they all have performance durations of about 90 minutes. The choral portion comprises about 16 minutes at the end of movement 5, but heavens, what music it is! We will perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with The Florida Orchestra in only three weeks, on March 17-19.
It was several years later that I got a copy of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. The experience literally blew me away and quickly became one of my favorite symphonic works. The lyrics, first encountered in “Urlicht”, another song taken from “Das Knaben Wunderhorn” in movement 4 pulled at my emotions: “O red Rose! Man lies in direst need! Man lies in deepest pain! I would rather be in heaven!” The Alto solo was in stark contrast to the power of the orchestra and caused a sense of peace to wash over me.
However, it was the fifth movement that held me transfixed, with a quiet choral entrance that builds to a final powerful climax. As I read the lyrics from Friedrich Klopstock’s poem while I listened I found they spoke to my soul. “What has come into being must perish! What perished must rise again!” I was so profoundly affected by these lyrics with their message of hope that I read them as part of the eulogy at my father’s funeral when he passed away in 2006.
It was in August 2007, only 14 months after my father died, that I auditioned and was accepted into The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. My father would have been proud of me, as he was a singer in his church choir and we shared a love of choral music. It was at the end of that first year that I learned we would be singing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. I was ecstatic! I will admit that it was difficult getting some of the lyrics out because of my emotional connection to this work, but I knew Dad was listening.
Now eight years after my first experience singing Mahler’s Second, I can approach it with the special joy that comes from combining with The Florida Orchestra and my colleagues in The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay to create a truly unforgettable musical experience.
by Brian Hathaway
This is a tale of three friends named Mike, Brian and Ludwig. It is a tale that transcends time and space, a tale of mortality and immortality. It is a tale of things that last and things that don’t, of joy and sorrow, but mostly it is about friendship through music. Let me start at the beginning.
I had just graduated from high school and as a boy from upstate New York was faced with changes my life. For the first time in my life, I was going to be away from home for an extended period of time as I began my freshman year at the SUNY at Buffalo. At the same time, my friend, Mike Debatt was facing a similar situation. The boy from Brooklyn was away from home too as a part of that same freshman class. We met each other when we joined the AFROTC Program. As classmates, we got to know each other well and discovered that our interests intersected in many ways. We both ended up as Political Science majors, and we both loved classical music. Within two years we were roommates in an apartment near school.
As we shared that apartment, we also shared our interest in music. Even with our meager resources as college students, we grew our collection of classical albums. The real cherished albums were produced by either Angel Records or Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, or DGG. They usually had the finest orchestras and the greatest selection of repertoire. Among the many composers we listened to, one of our favorites was Ludwig van Beethoven. There were times when the three of us would gather in that apartment, Ludwig, Mike and me, sharing in some of the greatest music of the last two centuries.
In 1970, the focus on Ludwig van Beethoven became quite intense, as Beethoven’s 200th birthday would fall on December 16th, 1970. I was always able to remember Ludwig’s birthday, as mine was one day earlier on December 15th. On that day, we all gathered in the apartment and I was given several gifts to open. I will never forget Mike’s gift. It was a DGG boxed set of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. I was ecstatic! Beethoven’s birthday was going to be very special that year.
We spent many hours listening to that wonderful set. Beethoven’s famous symphonies like the “Eroica”, the “Pastoral” and his monumental 5th were a joy to hear, articulated by one of the great Beethoven interpreters of that age, Herbert von Karajan. Of all these symphonies, one stood out above all others, Beethoven’s 9th. In a stroke of genius, Beethoven included a choral finale in the fourth movement based upon Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” or “Ode to Joy”. The joining of orchestral and choral voices during the finale was a revolutionary step, but the product is simply amazing and unforgettable. Ludwig, Mike and I became fast friends, cemented in a common love of Ludwig’s amazing 9th.
In less than two years, our friendship entered a new phase. We graduated from college, accepted our USAF commissions and went to different parts of the country. Mike went to Navigator Training in California. I went off to Illinois to Aircraft Maintenance Officer Training. In a way our lives intersected again, as we both ended up in the Strategic Air Command, Mike as a B-52 crew member in Georgia, and I as a Maintenance Officer in New Hampshire. We still got together on a few occasions. He was in my wedding party and I was in his. We maintained contact with letters and phone calls as time went on. We both ended up separating from the USAF and moved into civilian jobs. Mike moved to Rhode Island and went into the investment community. I moved to Saratoga Springs, New York and went into manufacturing.
Living in Saratoga had a neat benefit. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center was only four miles from my home and was the summer home of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra. While there I had the chance to visit our friend Ludwig. The Philadelphia Orchestra was performing Beethoven’s 9th! I had never seen Beethoven’s 9th performed live and couldn’t wait to go to the concert. What an experience! As I sat on the lawn on a gorgeous summer night, I looked at the heavens above me while I was transcended by Schiller’s words and Beethoven’s music; “Ahnest du den Schopfer, Welt? Such ihn uber’m Sternenzelt. Uber Sternen muss ehr wohnen.” Yes, I felt the creator, knowing that He dwelt beyond the stars. O Freude, what joy!
As the years went by, our respective lives changed yet again. I moved to Florida many years ago and began feeding my love of music by joining our church choir and singing. Mike moved into management with his company and accepted a position as Branch Manager in Albany, New York, my hometown. We had an opportunity to visit while we were on vacation in New York about fifteen years ago and had a chance to reminisce and share our friendship.
In 2005, I had yet another opportunity to visit with Ludwig. The Florida Orchestra and The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay were performing Beethoven’s 9th. Lynn and I went to the concert and savored that wonderful music yet again, but with a slightly different feeling as we knew several of the orchestra members and had friends who sang in the Master Chorale. During that concert, I told myself that, should my schedule permit, I would love to be a part of the Chorale.
In late 2005, the lives of Mike and I intersected again. Mike had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. As he and his wife Jan sought treatment from doctors throughout the northeast, they were given the news that the tumor was inoperable. They came to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where surgeons felt that they may be able to excise the tumor and offer Mike a chance to recover. The surgery was scheduled for November. Mike and I made tentative plans to meet for dinner once the surgery was complete. Unfortunately, the surgery did not go as planned and complications set in. The next time I saw Mike at Moffitt, he was in a coma from which he would not recover. I did my best to support Jan and her family as she faced difficult decisions. Mike was placed in a hospice facility in Dade City. I made several trips to the Hospice to see Mike. My last trip was the night before he passed away in January, 2006.
A year later in April, 2007, we all returned to the Dade City Hospice for a reunion. Mike’s family had made a donation to the facility and was awarded a plaque to honor their contribution. Lynn and I went to the reunion, where we met Mike’s former B-52 crew. I decided to honor Mike by singing a song called “Eternal Father Strong to Save”, which asks help from God in caring for those in the military. We all shared our memories of Mike, and I recounted the story of the Beethoven boxed set he gave to me which I still own and treasure.
In August of 2007, I learned that The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay was holding auditions for new singers. Since my work schedule had changed and would permit me to attend rehearsals, I signed up to audition. We were told to bring a favorite song to sing as part of the audition. I selected “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from the Master Chorale that I passed the audition and was now a member of the ensemble.
At the end of my third year in the Chorale, I learned that we were scheduled to perform Beethoven’s 9th in 2011. Once again, I was ecstatic. I would now have the opportunity to become even more intimate with Ludwig’s beloved 9th. Since then I have had the honor of performing Beethoven’s 9th two more times, once with The Florida orchestra and once with the Cleveland Orchestra in Miami.
Oh, by the way, the last building I see before I turn into the USF School of Music parking lot on the way to Master Chorale rehearsal each week is the Moffitt Cancer Center. Having spent so many hours there visiting Mike, I think of him every time I see it.
This week, we are in final rehearsal for the opening concert of The Florida Orchestra’s 2016-2017 season, featuring Poulenc’s “Gloria” and Beethoven’s beloved 9th Symphony. 150 voices are prepared to join with the Florida Orchestra and soloists as we put life into the notes printed on a page. Under Maestro Michael Francis’ direction, we will combine our preparation with Dr. James K. Bass and Brett Karlin to create a memorable event for all in attendance to hear.
I know it will be both memorable and emotional for me. As I stand on the risers, my mind will go back to that apartment in Buffalo, the DGG boxed set, and a pair of friendships going back more than forty years. Ludwig went on to be with the Creator centuries ago. Ten years ago, Mike joined him. I know that they are both watching and will be at that performance with all of us on that stage.
As for me, I will sing for Mike: “Einem Freund gepruft im Tod”
by Brian Hathaway
I wrote in a blog a couple of years ago about our motto, “Friendly, Flexible, Fast, and Fun.” In my humble opinion, this motto is an excellent characterization of what makes the Master Chorale a unique and valued contributor to the Tampa Bay music scene. This year we will be challenged to put that motto to work! Allow me to explain.
Yes, our flexibility will be tested as we transition between directors, but the real opportunity is to be prepared by extremely talented and experienced musicians who will maintain the high standards that Dr. Bass led us to achieve.
One of the joys that I have experienced with the Master Chorale is how “friendly” and welcoming we are to all those who come through our doors. I have heard numerous comments from guest artists, clinicians and directors that we have a warm, welcoming and friendly demeanor that makes the work they need to accomplish with us so much more “fun” to do.
That is the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay….Friendly, Flexible, Fast and Fun! We will live our motto to the fullest during the 2016-2017 season.
by Brian Hathaway
Let me begin my latest post with a story. Every year since I joined The Master Chorale in 2007, there is a singer survey at the end of the concert season where we answer a series of demographic questions and offer our opinion about the season just past. One of my favorite questions is: “What orchestral and choral work would you like to perform with The Master Chorale?” For the past five years I have given the same answer: “The Brahms German Requiem”. At last that wish is coming true, for we will be offering Brahms' "A German Requiem" in concert with The Florida Orchestra on the weekend of March 11-13, 2016.
Although I had many of Brahms works in my listening collection, they focused more on his orchestral works. Fortunately, many years ago I had a church choir director who challenged us musically and he introduced me to “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place.” Being fairly new to choral singing, I found the piece a bit of a challenge, but I loved the sound of it, and shortly thereafter added the German Requiem to my listening library.
As we move through our musical journey to prepare for the performance of this work, there are some interesting elements that can promise an exceptionally memorable musical event.
The first is the Florida Orchestra and its new Music Director, Michael Francis. His love of choral music became apparent last year when we performed the Faure Requiem with the Orchestra. Maestro Francis chose a more intimate orchestral score that made the choral portion of the score more apparent. He also took additional steps to improve the acoustics at Mahaffey Theater to enhance the sound of the chorus more in that venue. This fall, he chose The Bells by Rachmaninoff, a very difficult and infrequently performed choral work which we sang in Russian. His enthusiasm for the Chorale was apparent through the rehearsals and performances, solidifying our artistic collaboration that began with the Faure Requiem.
Second, The Master Chorale has a long and storied history with the Brahms Requiem. From 1986 to 1997, the Master Chorale performed the Brahms Requiem five times. One of those performances in 1996 was with choral giant Robert Shaw at the podium. Now, almost 20 years later, The Master Chorale will again present this wonderful work.
Third, our Music Director, Dr. Bass, wrote his Doctoral Thesis on Johannes Brahms, so we have at our podium every week one whose encyclopedic understanding of Brahms can only help us put our music into context with the message Brahms intended to deliver.
Finally, in 2012, Dr. Bass was Chorus Master for a recording of the Brahms Requiem by Seraphic Fire and the Professional Choral Institute leading to a GRAMMY nomination for this recording. In listening to that recording, I can see how Dr. Bass is applying the approach that made that recording fresh, innovative and memorable to our preparatory work.
With all these elements of success, it is up to us on the risers to apply our best efforts to make these performances memorable. I for one, am extremely excited to be a part of these performances, for at last, my wish is coming true!
By Brian Hathaway
During my first blog post of the 2014-2015 season I used the metaphor of reconnecting with an old flame when rehearsing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Because I had sung the work several times before, it was familiar territory and I felt comfortable reconnecting with Carmina.
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”!
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By Brian Hathaway
As I was considering how to start my latest blog post, I came to the word humanity, because making music is part of what makes us human. Billy Joel stated “I think music itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by.” Making music is something that defines our humanity and probably first occurred as humans sought to recreate sounds that they heard. John Koopman, in a 1999 article noted that “The voice is presumed to be the original musical instrument, and there is no human culture, no matter how remote or isolated, that does not sing.”
The Master Chorale recently completed singing in four concert presentations of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” with the Florida Orchestra, USF Chamber Singers, and the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus. With over 200 singers on the risers, we collaborated with the Florida Orchestra to present one of the most frequently performed choral works in the repertoire. While many of the works we perform are sacred in origin, Carmina Burana most certainly is not. Rather, it celebrates our humanity as we sing about love, desire, eating, drinking, and the arrival of springtime.
The concerts were a huge success and we received standing ovations and multiple curtain calls after each of the four concerts. Many Chorale members recounted their own stories regarding the experience of their friends or family members who attended. I was most interested in those who had never attended a live performance of Carmina Burana. One member of the Chorale encountered a young woman who was moved to tears upon seeing this performed for the first time. I had a friend who sings in my church choir come to the Friday performance who recounted to me that she was blown away by the performance.
In processing the concert experience, many Chorale members shared their impressions on social media. A common thread through the conversation was one of unbridled gratitude, thankful that we were a part of this effort. The realization that we were joining together with others to create art that was much more than the sum of its parts was both exhilarating and humbling at the same time. I heard or read this sentiment over and over again as I connected with my colleagues. This mass of humanity on stage created a truly memorable experience for those who came to see and hear us.
What amazes me is that we are at our best when we are most decidedly human, where we step out of our day to day existence to create something noble and uplifting. Out of that creation we are able to leave an indelible impression on people; one that I hope will encourage them to return to hear us again and bring a friend to share the experience.
That is why we are here. That is why we sing.
The Master Chorale Beat