Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meet Our Scholar-in-Residence

Meet Vance George, Emmy-winning Conductor Emeritus of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, world traveler, foodie, and Hoosier! We first met Vance when he came in 2005 to conduct our acclaimed performance of the Vaughan Williams DONA NOBIS PACEM. His innate musicianship, inspiring leadership, vocal expertise and wit endeared him very quickly to the Choir. We are delighted to welcome him back as Scholar-in-Residence for our B MINOR MASS performances in April.

Be sure to arrive a little early on concert night, since Vance will be interviewed at our pre-concert talk, starting at 7:15 pm in the Wood Room at Hilbert Circle Theatre. Vance will draw upon his years of study and performance of this work, having conducted it and prepared it for Robert Shaw.

In preparation for Vance's visit, I have asked him to share some of his thoughts and reflections about the work.

Eric: Tell us about your first experience with the MASS IN B MINOR.

Vance: Robert Shaw took the work on tour. I also studied it with Shaw's teacher, Julius Herford. One can only stand in awe at this extraordinary work and extraordinary composer.

E: Do you have a favorite movement in the work?

V: Probably the closing movment Dona Nobis Pacem, though Confiteor is so amazing with the many canti firmi, imitative themes, but then there's the Crucifixus...perhaps for pure mysticism the Crucifixus. I can't choose. Sorry.

E: When conducting or preparing the chorus for the Mass in B minor, what unique challenges does it pose? What lessons does it teach us?

V: It is structure that the conductor must study, understand and teach the chorus and even more the orchestra. the thematic and contrapuntal ideas are so beautifullly worked out.

E: As we know, this is a work surrounded in mystery--why did he write it, why did he choose to create a "Catholic" complete mass setting, the fact he probably never heard the whole thing performed at once, etc. Do these unanswerable questions influence your approach to the work? Are any of your interpretive decisions impacted by them?

V: It may have been finished for a church in leipzig, that remains a controversy. My thought is simply he had to compose it. He wrote The Art of the Fugue, the Goldberg Variations and the Well-Tempered Clavier. He wrote how many cycles of cantatas. It was simply what he did and it was easy for him. No one in music history has come close to Bach's comfortable playfulness in composition, exhausting every concept of counterpoint and composition. And then there are the Passions.

E: Do you have a favorite performance or rehearsal memory of the work?

V: Every rehearsal was a joy to prepare for the performances here in San Francisco. It was however John Nelson's performance when I first came to San Francisco that was for me the most moving. (note from Eric: many in the ISC will remember Maestro John Nelson, the former ISO music director who took the orchestra and Symphonic Choir on tour to Washington DC and New York City.)

E: Some conductors utilize large ensembles for performances of this work, some use very small...even to the point of one singer per part. Do you have a preferred approach?

V: Well one per part I find curious musically and aurally. He wrote the Art of the Fugue and did not specify which instruments should be used in performance. So I think this speaks to the B minor, a very complex work and as it unfolds it moves from 5 part chorus and arias and duets to a six part chorus. The more divisi you make the weaker the effect unfortunately. It would seem a thicker texture would increase the intensity of the work but, this is not true in the mass and thus how to make the work grow in intensity.

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