At the end of the 2015-2016 season our Music and Artistic Director, Dr. James K. Bass, announced that he accepted a position as Director of Choral Studies at UCLA. Speaking personally, I had the honor of working with Dr. Bass for his entire tenure with The Master Chorale. I learned volumes from him, and I will miss his steady hand guiding us as we prepare each concert program. It has been an enriching experience for all of us in the Chorale.
Our hard working Master Chorale staff and board lined up a series of guest conductors to take us through our preparations at our rehearsal and administrative home at the USF School of Music. Up first is the opening concert of the Florida Orchestra 2016-2017 season on September 30th, October 1st and 2nd featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Poulenc’s Gloria conducted by Michael Francis. Here is where the “fast” part of our motto comes in…we have only seven weeks to prepare this program. Although we have many veteran singers who have performed the Beethoven, there only a few singers who have performed the Poulenc Gloria.
Fortunately, we have two seasoned Directors to lead us in our preparation. First Dr. Bass returned to us for three rehearsals. It was like “old home week” having him at the podium. Brett Karlin, who was our Assistant Conductor for three years is now the Artistic Director of the Master Chorale of South Florida, and he offered to lead us in the other rehearsals. Brett helped Dr. Bass prepare us for a concert in Miami with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Master Chorale of South Florida featuring Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in March of 2013. Talk about a slam-dunk.
Now for the “flexible” part. Getting used to a conductors’ style and teaching methods is something every choir singer is familiar with. Now try doing that with eight different conductors in one season.
Dr. Joseph Holt will be leading the Chorale in preparation for our three “Making Spirits Bright” holiday concerts on December 2, 3, and 4, 2016. Our performance on December 2 at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg will be recorded and then broadcast on WSMR later in December, the performance on December 3 will be hosted by the historic Tampa Theatre, and the performance on December 4 will be at a new venue for the Chorale in Clearwater, the Northbay Community Church on McMullin Booth Road. The concert will also feature our Ensemble Singers conducted by Deah McReynolds and the premiere of a new and unpublished Christmas Carol from our National Christmas Carol Composition Contest conducted by our Assistant Conductor, Kevin Trapasso.
Back in 2010, Dr. Holt was Interim Director of The Master Chorale, preparing us for Mendelssohn’s Elijah with The Florida Orchestra and directing us in a “Salute to Broadway” concert series in 2010. Both concert series were resounding successes. Dr. Holt is also Music Director of Gloria Musicae in Sarasota. Formerly the principal accompanist for the U.S. Army Chorus, he has performed for presidents and dignitaries from all over the world.
While the full Chorale is preparing for Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Poulenc's Gloria, and "Making Spirits Bright," the Master Chorale Ensemble Singers, led by Deah McReynolds (Artistic Director of Lumina Youth Choirs) will also be busy outside of the Chorale's usual schedule rehearsing and planning for the Chorale's new in-school Education/Outreach program in Hillsborough Pinellas Counties set to reach over 1,000 students. The Ensemble Singers will also perform on the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert with The Florida Orchestra on December 16, 2016.
For Durufle’s Requiem, Dr. Holt will be helping us with early preparation for the concert series scheduled for February 17, 18, and 19, 2017 with The Florida Orchestra conducted by Michael Francis. He will be joined in this effort by Dr. Timothy Peter. Dr. Peter is Director of Choral Activities at Stetson University. He is a native of Minnesota, received his undergraduate degree from Luther College and completed his doctorate of musical arts degree at the University of Arizona. Before coming to Stetson University, he was professor of music at Luther College and served as the head of the music department. He has prepared choirs and orchestras for performances at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Orchestra Hall and Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and many other locations. He has conducted in Germany, Namibia, Oman, South Africa and South Korea.
Following the Durufle concert series in February, we will move quickly into preparing for Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection Symphony" only one month later on March 17, 18, and 19, 2017 (remember “fast”?). To me the "Resurrection Symphony" is like Beethoven’s 9th on steroids. The Master Chorale last sang this on the spring of 2009. The emotional impact of the lyrics coupled with the music is unforgettable and I remember struggling with parts that just brought me to tears as I sang it.
For this concert series, Dr. Doreen Rao will be preparing us. She brings a wealth of experience preparing symphonic choirs for the Chicago Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. She was recently the Music Director of the Chicago Chamber Choir and currently directs the Buffalo Master Chorale. Dr. Rao worked with The Master Chorale during our 2016 Summer Sing. Recognized as one of the world's leading experts on young choirs, Doreen Rao founded the American Choral Directors Association's National Committee on Children's Choirs and inspired the children's choir movement in America.
On April 23, 2017, we will “take it on the road” for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with Gloria Musicae and the Sarasota Orchestra in the Sarasota Opera House. Dr. Joseph Holt will lead us through preparation and conduct the performance. The Verdi Requiem is just a blast to sing! The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay last performed this work with The Florida Orchestra in the spring of 2009. There is nothing like a road trip to add a sense of “fun” to our musical offering.
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.
Auditions for our 14-15 season officially begin today! Good luck to everyone!
May this video of The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and The Florida Orchestra rehearsing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 from last fall inspire you as you are preparing for an audition or getting ready to return for another fantastic season. Shout out to the USF Chamber Singers who were also on stage with us for this amazing collaboration.
Here are a couple videos from our friends at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus to get you excited about Saturday's music! The Chorale will be performing both pieces with The Florida Orchestra this season.
The Master Chorale Beat