Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tale of Two Cities: ATL and NY ... Two Performances of One Monumental Work

Photo - Brianne Turgeon
When long-time members of the ASOC prepare Benjamin Britten's War Requiem for current performance, the talk inevitably turns to a third city, Berlin 2003.  The spirit of those Berlin performances still inhabits our collective consciousness, and the experience remains an important milestone in the history of the ASOC:  an amateur chorus takes its vaunted reputation for choral excellence on the road, to one of the most culturally demanding cities on earth. The 'magic' at the Berlin Philharmonie included the warm (if somewhat surprised) welcome from the Berlin Philharmonic musicians ... a week of long rehearsals, punctuated by visits to the Gendarmenmarkt ... remarkable meals at the Philharmonie backstage canteen ... capped by three nights of enraptured audiences delaying their applause while Mr. Runnicles held them, long seconds after the last murmured 'Amen' had disappeared into the ether.

Our invitation to Carnegie Hall, to be the centerpiece of the NYC Britten festival, was, in part, a nod to those historic Berlin performances.  But, although the Berlin Philharmonie experience belongs in the Palace of Choral Experiences, the ASOC's reputation doesn't rest on a memory; it is built on solid choral discipline and musicianship, a commitment we renew each season.  The chorus is much like the man poised beside Heraclitus' river:  'No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.'  We approach every work, new and familiar, with the same rigor, but with each subsequent performance, there is new intelligence, new subtext, new goals, all of which ignite a wholly different and exciting interpretation.   Our understanding of this commitment keeps us moving forward as an entity,  The fact is, we can still sing Britten's War Requiem as well as it can be sung by anybody ... but performing it with our own orchestra, and with Mr. Spano, was the opportunity to 'step into a new river', to deliver unique, memorable performances in both Atlanta and New York.

I see two forces illustrated here:  the orchestra and its chorus have a responsibility to protect the cultural legacy founded here in Atlanta (invoking another spirit, that of Mr. Shaw).  We also strive to surpass ourselves, which is, in the eyes of the world, a validation of how seriously we undertake that responsibility.

The ASO Carnegie Hall performance, under the direction of Mr. Spano, can be listened to here: