Friday, April 27, 2012

One Week to Go!

In-Choir-ing Minds attendees explore the unique features of Hector Berlioz's "Grand Messe des Morts" with my pal (and ISC Keyboard Artist) Kris Sanchack

We are just one week away! Next Saturday, May 5, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir presents the magnificent Berlioz Requiem at 8 pm at Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis (Words on Music begins at 7:05 with Dr. Michael Sells). It's hard to believe...after years of planning and preparations...we are so close to this thrilling event!

When composed in 1837 (exactly 100 years before the founding of the ISC), Berlioz had grand spaces in mind. The Chapel at Les Invalides in Paris afforded him the opportunity to dream on a massive scale scale. Good thing too, since a listing of the required instrumentation reads like an encyclopedia of orchestra instruments:
4 flutes
2 oboes
2 english horns
4 clarinets
8 bassoons
12 horns
8 pairs of timpani
2 bass drums
4 gongs
10 pairs of cymbals
50 violins
20 violas
20 cellos
18 doublebasses

Plus brass off-stage
16 trumpets
16 trombones
6 tubas

And a chorus of
80 sopranos
60 tenors
70 basses

Consequently, four brass choirs, placed in the four corners surrounding the performers and audience, provided a unique chance to depict musically the "wondrous trumpet" calling to all creation.

The last Indianapolis performance of this work was over 30 years ago. The Symphonic Choir is proud to share this powerful, moving work with our community. See you at the concert!

Checking out the view from the Theater Side Box, "home" to one of the off-stage brass choirs for our May 5 performance of the Berlioz Requiem

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Preparing (for) the Berlioz Requiem

Nearly 250 singers, 80 on-stage orchestra members, another 20 or so brass off-stage, one tenor all comes together in one earth-shattering moment on May 5.

That's the day I'll conduct one of the most dramatic and thrilling works in all the choral-orchestral repertoire, Hector Berlioz's Grand Messe des Morts (Requiem).

Featuring the members of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, the Chorale and University Choir from Butler University, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and tenor Joe Shadday, this performance will be the first Indy-based presentation of this work in nearly 30 years.

How does one approach a piece like this? Luckily for me, I have had a long relationship with this work ever since singing in a choral performance of it at the Jacobs School of Music waaaay back in 1989. My teacher Jan Harrington conducted, and I was blown away by the depictions of terror, majesty, humility and peace. The first time I heard the mighty off-stage brass bands in the Tuba Mirum, I got goosebumps like I'd never experienced before! I also wrote my doctoral dissertation on another of this composer's works, La Damnation de Faust, and gained a very deep appreciation for the composer's ability to work on a larger-than-life scale.

Since those formative years, I've been lucky enough to hear memorable performances of this work since then: at Cincinnati's May Festival with Robert Shaw, the New York Phil with the Westminster Choir College and Charles Dutoit, and in the newly opened Disney Hall in Los Angeles with the LA Phil. Each time, I've discovered new beauties in this magnificent work.

The choirs have learned all the notes at this point, so now we are working on the details: pronunciation of the text (a HUGE matter, given the massive sounds of the orchestra--our pronunciation of strong and clear consonants is often our only hope in the struggle to be heard), striking the correct choral "color" for each moment/mood/message, and of course preparing and strengthening the musical underpinnings at work within each singer...our ability to remain rhythmically solid and perform as a cohesive unit is crucial in a work of such awesome scope.

This is a work that, more than many, depends upon the space in which it is performed. Berlioz wrote it for the chapel at Les Invalides in Paris, a residence and health care facility for military veterans. An immense space, it gave this most visually oriented composer a huge spatial palate for his musical imagination. Every conductor since has owed it to the work to consider carefully the deployment of forces for a performance of the Requiem.

Our performance will take place in the beautiful Hilbert Circle Theater in downtown Indianapolis on May 5, 2012. This space gives us a number of wonderful options for placement of the large array of percussion, off-stage brass, and tenor soloist.

Join me for a FREE exploration of the work, and a tour of the concert venue, on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 pm. We'll meet in the Wood Room of Hilbert Circle Theater on Monument Circle, chat a bit about the work, then take a special behind-the-scenes tour of the theater in anticipation of our performance. (Attendance at this In-Choir-ing Minds event is free; please RSVP to to reserve your space.)

Then, we'll see you at the concert! Saturday, May 5, 2012, 8 pm. Tickets are available at the ISO box office (

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Mary Jo Moss, longtime member of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, receives the Choir's ovation after her final concert of active membership

She never saw it coming! Per my (admittedly misleading) instructions, longtime Indianapolis Symphonic Choir (ISC) member Mary Jo Moss was waiting for me in the lobby at Hilbert Circle Theater. We had just concluded our final performance of the weekend-Brahms's "Gesang der Parzen" and the world premiere of "Missa Mirabilis" by pianist Stephen Hough.

Mary Jo had told me this would be her final concert as a regular member of the ISC. So I had invited her and husband Wayne to join me for a nightcap at a local restaurant before heading home.

But she didn't know that another singer had been dispatched to bring them both to the Choir's rehearsal hall. There, over 100 singers and loyal fans were waiting to surprise her with a reception thrown in her honor.

Every choir has them: a few volunteers so seemingly dedicated that the organization's very well-being may be attributed to their years of hard work, love and nurture. These choir "angels" make it possible to perform, to share some of humanities most indelible musical expressions.

And Mary Jo is an angel of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

For nearly 40 years, she has been a singer in the soprano section, a volunteer and paid staffer in the office, a member of the board of directors, president of the board of directors, generous patron and supporter, the list goes on and on. For me, she has been a special friend, a trusted confidant and fierce cheerleader. I have been most blessed by her special place in my life.

So for Mary Jo, and for all the choir angels out know who you are (if your choir folder is nearby, or if you've been humming a phrase from this week's rehearsal, that's YOU!) have our collective and undying accolades and thanks!!