My recovery from cataract surgery has been complicating my computer time but the delay gives me a chance to draw together two remarkable choral concerts that I was honored to be part of this month.
The first was a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony at my alma mater, Smith College, on April first. As you might expect, the performance forces were large, 90-some members of the orchestra and almost 200 singers, student ensembles from Smith, Amherst, UMass-Amherst, and Penn State plus alumni from Smith and Penn State. The orchestra filled the stage at John M. Greene Hall, with the chorus in the gallery.
The concert began with a piece from each of the four college choirs, followed by a brief intermission for all of us to assemble for the Mahler. The Second Symphony is known as the “Resurrection Symphony” – you can read more about it at the link above. The chorus sings in the later part of the fifth and final movement, which afforded us the luxury of watching our conductor, Jonathan Hirsh, and the orchestra playing for an hour before we joined in. As always, I was struck by Mahler’s talent in using such large forces in ways both subtle and powerful. He also uses space in an interesting way, for example, by using percussion and brass off-stage. The fourth and fifth movements include soloists, in our performance, Katherine Saik DeLugan, soprano, and
Rehanna Thelwell, mezzo-soprano, who both sang with soaring beauty.
Of course, the disadvantage of singing at the end of a symphony is that you have to have your brain and voice ready when it’s been a couple of hours since you have warmed up. Fortunately, we were able to rise to the occasion and do our part to create a remarkable and moving performance.
It is always risky to assemble a chorus from singers in disparate locations, who literally don’t rehearse together until 24 hours before the performance. Yet, thanks to Jonathan Hirsh’s skill as a conductor, the preparation given by the other choral directors, and the solitary practice of the alums in our homes, we were able to deliver a moving performance. As soon as Jonathan’s baton came down after the final cadence, the audience was on their feet. It was the longest ovation I have ever seen after a performance in which I have participated. It was a fitting tribute to Iva Dee Hiatt, in whose memory the concert was held.
The weekend was also meaningful for me because I was able to connect with several people who I knew in my student days from 1978-82. I had a lovely lunch with RP, my theory and composition professor and major advisor, whom I also saw at the concert along with his wife. I had dinner with my friend LT, who is an alum from ’81 and who lives in town. She joined several other members of ’81 at the concert, including MC who I hadn’t seen in person in about forty years. There were several alum members of the chorus from my era, including my senior year suite-mate PT. I was able to visit some special places on campus – Helen Hills Hills chapel where I played often for services and spent countless hours practicing, the Lyman Plant House and gardens, Sage Hall, Josten Library, John M. Greene Hall where we performed and where I played my senior recital, and the Poetry Center which didn’t exist in my day but has become an important entity for me.
The second concert was on Sunday, April 23rd. The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton sang our way through a hundred years of Broadway tunes. While we are more accustomed to singing art music, it was fun to sing a popular concert. We were thrilled to draw an audience of over 250 people, who smiled, swayed with the beat, and applauded familiar tunes from Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Sondheim, and Bernstein, while also enthusiastically receiving some newer tunes that might have been unfamiliar, such as “Who Lives, Who Dies” from Hamilton.
It was also great to have the opportunity to feature our accompanist, Jean Herman Henssler, at the beautiful grand piano at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and soloists from Madrigal Choir. We were honored to have a special guest, Bex Odorisio, who recently completed a national tour of Hadestown, sing a couple of tunes from her extensive repertoire. I especially enjoyed “Times Like This” from Lucky Stiff.
This was our final concert of the season and I’m looking forward to seeing what our director, Bruce Borton, has planned for our next season, which will be the 45th anniversary of the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. While I’ve only been a member for a little over a year, I’m so grateful to have a choral home again after the demise of the Binghamton University Chorus, with whom I sang from 1982-2019.
Stay tuned for more music gigs, perhaps this summer, but definitely in the fall!