We’re home, and, having completed a choir rehearsal for my day job, I finally have a few moments to share some thoughts about our journey to Bethesda for our final performance of Elijah at Strathmore. The hall was as stunning as our investigations on the Google image search suggested. In situ, it sits nobly on a hillside, with lovely vistas in almost all directions (except for maybe the parking garage across the street). The architecture is on the conservative side of modern, but really very lovely, and the hall itself was grand. 100+ singers and an augmented orchestra felt extremely cozy, both in Millersville and at First Presbyterian, Bethlehem, and Strathmore felt opulent by comparison. The acoustics at the hall were warm, precise, with excellent bloom, and a very-welcome touch of reverberation. It was a pleasure to sing there, and an important reminder that natural, unforced sound is possible in a very capacious environ (the hall seats 1,800), when acoustical architects and engineers do their homework.
I don’t have the audience statistics in front of me, but it was an enthusiastic and generous crowd – many of our DC and Baltimore area friends and benefactors were there, and they provided a very warm welcome. The performance is a bit of a blur – Choir and orchestra worked very hard, and it felt wonderful to luxuriate in the space, and sing our hearts out. Our spring concerts usually comprise one performance, and it was a real treat to live with Elijah over three performances in three very different spaces. The soloists sounded wonderful, our orchestral colleagues played marvelously, and I was very proud of my colleagues in The Choir. I sat in the center of the stage, and the gentlemen were flanked on either side by sopranos and altos, who sang with remarkable blend, intonation, and commitment.
At the helm, Greg provided the kind of leadership for which he is justly admired – preparing each entrance with care, allowing the performance to breathe, to ebb and flow, shaping phrases carefully, telegraphing emotional affects that usually follow within a beat or two. Greg is in his 30th season as Artistic Director and Conductor, and a tenure of that longevity can often ease into a kind of artistic stasis. Our fearless leader, however, has chosen an alternate course – challenging himself as much as he challenges his singers and players. Elijah is a beast to conduct (as it is to sing and play), and Greg approached the task with an uncompromising sense of purpose, demonstrating an artistic and spiritual credo that prioritizes soli Deo gloria, with extraordinary respect for the music, for its composer, for his singers and players. Having sung for more than a few showboat conductors, I can’t tell you how much I (and I think I can speak for our singing and playing colleagues) prefer the intellectual, spiritual, and musical depths Greg reaches in every day of his music-making. These performances of Elijah demonstrated that, once again.
The Choir and orchestra enjoyed much camaraderie at the hotel after the performance over drinks, and we, yet again, marveled at the step forward the organization took with this series of performances. We have a week off from rehearsal, and then we return to continue preparing for the Festival in May. An exceptional array of concerts and events is on tap, and I hope you’ll plan to join us for each one! I’ll be blogging more about the repertoire for the Festival soon.
From the Washington Post:
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, founded in the 19th century, has gained international recognition through its annual Bach Festival, tours and recordings. Supplemented at this performance by the Millersville University Keystone Singers, the more than 100 vocalists displayed clean tone, excellent pitch and blend, and kept good tempo even in the most stressful numbers…outstanding, energetic and crisp. The orchestra was a collection of top freelancers from around the Eastern Seaboard including several from Washington… baritone Dashon Burton, was the standout. He has a clarion instrument that projects well throughout his range…a splendid dramatic performance. Soprano Rosa Lamoreaux was also excellent, expertly modulating her silvery tone for the various roles she took…This was the choir’s big night, though, and it gave great pleasure…
-Robert Battey, The Washington Post