Time to Hook up the Ivy

That's a bad pun, I know.

From Providence’s own Brown Daily Herald, which sounds like a pun, but is not:

The Brown University Chorus filled Sayles Hall with songs of worship and love Saturday night.

Okay, so not the review fare on which we at the Detritus usually aim our sights, but, nonetheless, there are issues worth considering.

Featuring five works from various genres, the hour-long concert elicited thunderous applause and a standing ovation.


The chorus, which is composed of 50 singers and is one of Brown’s oldest performing groups, began the concert with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil,” [Op. 37] a Christian song of worship.

Impressive! It’s not a small piece at all (about an hour in length).

Wait. The concert was only an hour long!? Oh. Oh! Ugh.

That they sang excerpts is, well, not very impressive. Failing to mention that they only sang excerpts is misleading.


The performance started off peacefully but quickly rose to a crescendo, giving the audience its first glimpse of the chorus’s musical abilities.

They have the ability to sing soft and loud. In other words, loads of ability.

They also sang Robert Evett’s “The Mask of Cain” and Stephen Chatman’s “There is Sweet Music,” followed by Kirby Shaw’s choreographed “Plenty Good Room,” which concluded the first half.

The second half of the concert featured a performance of “Narcissus,” a cantata written and arranged by James Woodman. Normally, a composer is responsible only for arranging the music, but Woodman also “wrote the poem itself,” Jodry said.

He made it up all by “himself”! Please.

After the piece’s last movement, the audience exploded into a standing ovation.

Figure 1. Old-timey gags are awesome.

Okay. This is all well and good. It sounds like it was a concert, with potentially interesting stuff. But:

[Conductor Frederick] Jodry said it was imperative to choose a “wide array of music” so that the audience didn’t lose interest, since the performance was so long.

There are several issues here. First, I don’t doubt that the pieces exemplified that “wide array,” but I take issue with the choice of program. If it wasn’t musically interesting enough to sustain itself without gimmicks of some sort or another, then why not choose different, perhaps better, music? It seems to me that the conductor made the job difficult for himself. Why not just perform the entire Rachmaninov? I’m not a huge fan, but the quality of the work and audience interest is guaranteed.

Second, and this goes hand in hand with the first, I think the conductor underestimated his audience. We’re talking about Brownians, smart people—smart people who have an interest in choral music. I mean, what more can you ask for? This isn’t a high school choir performing for their parents, after all.

Finally, if our critic’s concert time estimation was more-or-less correct, about an hour, then, generically, what does this say about concert culture? Nothing good. Might it be time to start phasing out Mahler, again?

The first three pieces were distinctly heavier than the fourth, which carried a more whimsical tone and “made the audience grin,” accomplishing its purpose of keeping the audience engaged, Jodry said.


Orchestra director: Let’s make the audience grin so they don’t nod off.
Board member 1: Huzzah!
Board member 2: What’ll we program? It should be topical, no doubt.
Board member 1: We need some kind of star power, too.
Orchestra director: I know! Let’s have a tribute to Teddy Kennedy, with...
Keith Lockheart: ...with narration from Morgan Freeman!
Board member 1: Huzzah!
Board member 2: And Ed Harris!
Board member 1: Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!
Orchestra director: Why not? Why not go all out and get Robert DeNiro and Cherry Jones, too?
Board member 1: That might be a bit much. Don’t you think?
Board member 2: And video!


Danny said...

I wonder who would be more offended at labeling the All-Night Vigil "a Christian song of worship" -- Orthodox Christians or Christians who aren't Orthodox.

And Boston Pops hasn't played any legitimate classical concerts in decades. If you want to make an argument about the decline of the popular classics, that may be a worthwhile discussion. But it's a little unfair to imply that it's worth comment in the larger classical world given that at its day job, it's the same orchestra that plays probably more Elliott Carter than any other orchestra out there.

Gustav said...

Who composes a cantata and says "written and arranged by"? Did he not also edit, transcribe and orchestrate the music?

Sator Arepo said...

The purpose of art is to keep audiences engaged? Which makes it different from bread and circuses how?