Catch up: Esterhazy Palace, Ave Verum choral competition, etc

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May 12th 2012
Published: May 13th 2012
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The last three days have been remarkable, but such a whirlwind that I have gotten behind In posting to my blog. I will attempt to catch up!

One of the most remarkable opportunities thus far was the scheduled informal performance at Esterhazy Palace. We had secured permission to perform a short set of pieces at this hall, one that is considered by many to have nearly perfect acoustics, and, of course, was home to Haydn while he was under the patronage of the Esterhszy family. Pleasantly, this performance developed into a full conceret performance, since we were invited to continue singing on for a significantly sized audience as a result of several large buses of visitors arriving at the hall. We were thrilled to be asked to continue with our program so that the visitors could experience a concert in the hall. They, along with all of our audiences, were extremely receptive and seemingly appreciative of our music. To get to do this was quite an opportunity, and offered opportunity for our graduate conductors to conduct, along with Patrick Rooney to conduct his original composition.

Now, it was on to Baden for our three days of competition. This entire experienince was both thrilling and a bit frustrating.

The competition was amazing in many respects, but the most incredible aspects were the deep appreciation shown by the Austrians for choral music and the high level of choral performance by all choirs. Prima Voce's performance was not only their best, but was absolutely stunning, particularly with regard to tuning, accuracy, and precision. The audience was quite enthusiastic with their response to our performance, and numerous people, conductors and singers, unsolicitedly remarked that they had us as one of their Grand Prix picks. While they received a silver designation, they were not selected for the Grand Prix round.

Let me say this: it was not just a matter of this choir "doing their best" but unable to pull it off. They were right up there as contenders, and held their own. This, in spite of being in a competition where very little English was spoken (a bit confusing to follow at times!) alongside some of the top choirs in the world (little did I know how good- these choirs compete and train regularly for these competitions which is more in line with the European approach. The American approach is to submit recordings for conferences, competing to be selected to perform, and the competitive aspect ends there. In Europe, you do also compete for a spot in the competition through juried recordings, as we did, but another level of competition continues at the event, which does not occur in the US (other than in the minds of the other conductors in the audience.) This was a solid performance. Judges' comments were primarily small interpretive differences, but there was no one consensus of the judges, other than that they were quite impressed with the technical aspects of the performance, but would have liked to see the choir more expressive with their facial involvement and more dramatic in their interpretation. All fair comments. We were viewed as the "intellectual" choir (and we were actually the only academic choir selected, so this distinction is actually appropriate.) There was also a mix up in the judges having the correct score to the short version of the Jannequin piece, which I supplied to the host, after getting permission to perform the shorter version due to time constraints, but it apparently never made it into the hands of the judges. This was an error on the part of the competition workers, and each judge mentioned this, but I have no idea whether or not it was a factor in our not being invited to the Grand Prix round. But in the end, through this competition, Prima Voce grew into a top-tier chamber choir, and had opportunities to perform four concerts of repertoire for packed houses of appreciative choral enthusiasts. They got to experience a dynamic cultural exchange through our beloved medium of choral expression. It was an unforgettable experience. Oh, and the Grand Prix winner was Argentina.

As an American, I was almost envious to see the way this society views choral music. Audience enthusiasm and participation were parallel to US sporting events, with a high level of competition, but with a general respect and deep appreciation for all contenders and the various perspectives they brought. The pagentry and high regard for choral music exhibited here are a tribute to deep long tradition and prde taken in joining together to sing.We would be a better society if we were able to embrace choral music in a similar manner.

Tomorrow, we sing 6 pieces in the mass at St Stephan!!


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