Rachmaninov All Night Vigil Performance 14th April 2018

Slava Tebe Bozhe….Glory be to God….for Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil, 14th April 2018

Last night, we performed Rachmaninov All Night Vigil to 100 people at the lovely An Grianan Centre in Termonfeckin. All proceeds are going to the very deserving Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre in Drogheda.

So what have we learned from our second major performance?

The choir concept is about bringing Irish doctors and medical students together with others with a shared need and love for choral music. The aims are to raise money for local charities and offer chances for people to hear lesser performed works that are big and or unusual. We are an amateur choir, but want to perform at a professional level; these are driven people.

The house was boutique and interesting. We spent the day before and day of the performance at the venue, getting used to environment. The sun shone that evening during the reception at which Gareth played an expert and fun piano sequence. The sun set as the performance started, bringing an intended, natural atmospheric contrast. The hall was not big, so we would be close to the audience and the acoustic was sharp and unforgiving. This would be an exacting venue.

A few of us spent time with Brian to help him realise his vision of staging. He created an unconventional and interesting audience arrangement in a U around him and the string quartet in the centre in front of the choir. It gave the audience a very intimate experience of the quartet’s performances which divided up ours into groups of three sections. The room was dark and atmospheric and we were lit up against a deep red curtain. The scene was set.

How did it go?

Like any choir, we had our troubles getting to grips with this very different style of music. Extensive preparation was needed, using audio pronunciation guides, listening to the music, using audio learning tracks with the score. This preparation really was essential. This music used very different rhythms, vowel sounds and harmonies of Rachmaninov’s setting of Russian Orthodox sacred music in Church Slavonic.

There is a lot to the piece, a lot of singing as it is unaccompanied and is long. Nevertheless, we made good progress at workshops before and on the first day of performance day. However, we got tired during the workshop days. On the afternoon of performance day, we started to unravel. Low morale then hit us further. Brian is a magificent choir master, though. He gathered the choir back in again and helped restored our spirits with some careful, meaningful words of experience and targeted work. Respect is due to someone with his capabilities.

The opening ‘Priidite poklonimsya’ (‘Come worship’) was sung outside the room and brought a sudden and unexpected drama to the audience experience. The initial ‘Amin’ was a single chord that had a warming, rich tone and full body. I could’ve actually left happy and fulfilled at that point.

I felt part of something beautiful and spectacular last night. Brian commented on magical sounds he heard during during workshop. I heard many of these during the actual performance. I felt the practiced rhythms of the basic chants come through. I felt the rise and fall of the dynamics. I heard our voices blend and merge within our section and twist and weave with the other lines. The 4 voice sections often divided into 3 each, when Rachmaninov intended to create a complex richness to this a cappella work. I loved being the ison for the other parts, holding and keeping sharp a C for several bars (with minimal, staggered sneaky breaths, of course). When we were on more melodic sections, I felt the support of lower voices through their harmony, pulse and power. Fullness of the sounds was difficult to sustain but was there.

The quartet (Ealta: David Lehane , Maja Hurley, Jennifer Macauley & John McCaffery) played delicate and energetic pieces expertly. Soloists Jane Holland and Conor Breen were magnificent, their voices full of rich tone who rose above the chorus with great skill. Our readers (Emma Fletcher, Finola Roche and RAB Mollan) read fascinating and beautiful poetry that fitted the tone of the evening perfectly and complimented the music.

As we approached the end, the weight of meaning of the whole powerful liturgical text fell on me. Slavonic vowels Brian had worked on with us were giving a convincing feel to the text as we sang. In the last section, an Akathist, the entry ‘vzbrannoy’ fitted the text meaning ‘glorious’. It felt glorious.  The energy of this section resolved to a gentle melisma with a clear final chord. It was profound. As I wandered through the audience afterwards, people I didn’t know stopped me to say how much they loved it. My Romanian Orthodox colleague looked like she was going to cry with appreciation after the experience. Thank you Brian.

What did we learn as a choir and musical director? I can’t speak for everyone who was there or for our musical director, so what do I think we learnt? We, as choir members, need to work very hard before and between workshops. Intense concentration is needed on our instruction in workshops. We need prep, prep, prep. We are capable of something beautiful together that can be a profound experience that will be remembered. We have a community that values its continued existence. We want more. Thank you again Brian.

This Gladsome Light tenor cannot wait till the next time we convene (you had to be there to get this one!).