As a volunteer chorus, the members of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte put in a lot of hours rehearsing for concerts. We work hard at it. We do it, of course, because we love it and because we get something out of it. In exchange for the time we spend driving to and from rehearsals and the actual hours spent in rehearsal, we get to sing some of the finest music ever composed. We work with world-class conductors. We meet interesting people who share our love for music. We sing with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
It’s a fair trade.
And then, sometimes we get a night where the conductor, the symphony, the chorus and the soloists are all in sync, the house is full, and the audience is engaged. When that happens, the experience can be magical. Of all the arts, music alone, I think, has that singular ability to so collectively elevate the human spirit.
I think we experienced that twice this past weekend.
At the post-concert talk after Saturday night’s performance of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and Requiem, a member of the audience noted that she had been attending concerts that featured the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte for about 15 years. She wanted to know why we sounded so much better in this performance than she had ever heard before.
Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Choruses and Assistant Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony, primarily credited our musical growth to the commitment of the Charlotte Symphony to the Oratorio Singers and to its ongoing commitment to the choral repertoire. (He was right, though his own commitment to Oratorio Singers should have been included as well.) We are, in fact, larger in number than in recent years (about 150-strong), and I do think our quality is on the rise. One aspect of that quality is having enough mastery of the material to be able to respond to the spirit of the moment—and of course, the direction of the conductor—during a live performance.
Christopher Warren-Green obviously has the musical standards, knowledge and sensibilities one would expect from a conductor of his pedigree. He also makes himself available to moments of inspiration on stage. One could argue that this is in fact the essence of a live performance, but not all conductors allow themselves the same level of expressive freedom. Warren-Green does. And for a chorus that has sung only a couple times under his direction, this can be a scary notion.
It can be a bit nervy for the conductor as well. Getting an orchestra to perform with four soloists and a large chorus requires a lot of trust on his part. Trust that wherever he leads, they will have not only the technical ability, but also the musical instincts to follow. I think Christopher Warren-Green trusts his orchestra. Soloists can be a tricky proposition, especially when much of their performance is ensemble singing, as it is in the Requiem. Soloists are, by definition, individualistic. (That’s not a knock. It’s who they are.)
And then there is the chorus. If the conductor doesn’t trust the chorus, he will reign in his musical muse in order to preserve the integrity of the music. The result is a competent concert, but not a transcendent one. So within our preparation for a concert, we don’t just learn the music as indicated in the score. Scott Allen Jarrett has us practice different endings to movements, different tempos and dynamics, different interpretations of key passages, even different ways to produce vowels. By the time rehearsals began with the orchestra last Tuesday, we had developed the confidence to not only sing well, but to deliver what Maestro Warren-Green was asking of us. And if he wanted to try something else, we could produce that as well.
So this past week weekend, the result was two great concerts. The soloists did marvelously, the orchestra did its usual excellent job, and I think the chorus gave Maestro Warren-Green enough confidence to follow his muse without having to worry about whether we were going to come along. The house was full, and the audience each night was both engaged and receptive to the music. The result? Two special nights enjoyed as much by those of us in the chorus as by those in the audience.
Photos by John Graham ©