Dale and I went to hear Jere sing with the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall on 4/8. I was looking forward to this concert since the fall, because they were doing two pieces I was eager to hear: John Adams’s *On the Transmigration of Souls* and Paul Hindemith’s *When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d*.
They opened with the Adams. I’m a huge Adams fan from way back, and had read about this piece, a commission from the New York Philharmonic to commemorate 9/11. I wasn’t really wowed by it. Moments in it were stunning - - there was a quiet sequence with a prominent celesta part, that was ravishing. And some sparkling, luminous music early on. But too much of the time it felt like the Grodie Stew sytem of composition. A certain aunt of mine (who shall remain nameless) was occasionally known to take everything out of the fridge, throw it in a pot, and call it dinner. Her kids called this Grodie Stew. It’s not really dinner - - it’s Grodie Stew. Well, Adams, in the middle of the piece, didn’t quite know what he wanted to do, so he had the strings going chakka chakka chakka, added the woodwinds going whoop whoop whoop, the brass going bwap bwap bwap (with a BWAAAH from the Wagner tubas), and let’s throw in a clang clang clang from the chimes and a ding ding ding from the glockenspiel. That’s not really music - - it’s Grodie Stew.
The Hindemith was another thing entirely. Lovely piece, lyrical and beautifully constructed, expert writing for the orchestra, the chorus, and the soloists. I was reminded of a quote - - I think it was the great composition teacher Nadia Boulanger who said this (again, I’m paraphrasing): “I would rather hear well-made music than beautiful music.” Amen to that, sister! The Hindemith was also beautiful in places, but every single moment was well-made.
Lee Poulis was the baritone soloist - - gorgeous voice, a sure sense of what he was doing. Beautiful, consistent singing. Abigail Fischer was the mezzo soloist - - I have to say right up front that I know Abby and am a fan of hers.
Her aunt Martha is one of my favorite people on earth, and her sister Becca is priceless, she’s the first violinist of the Chiara String Quartet (you’ll remember I lived with their cellist when I first came to New York, and Richard and I heard them playing all the Bartok quartets from memory last fall). Abby is an extraordinary singer, the real deal - - a lush, vibrant, distinctive voice, expressive and thrilling, and a full-bodied sense of musicianship. I’ve heard her a few times over the years, and am now making myself a promise to try and hear her every time she sings.
The chorus did strong work on both pieces, which are each challenging in their own particular way. They have a beautiful blend and sing with purpose and a full range of dynamics. If there’s one area where they’re lacking, it’s in their basic sound - - it’s a big group, over 100 singers, yet their overall sound is somewhat shallow and colorless.
The orchestra was from the Mannes School of Music, and they knocked me out. They played the Adams like it was a masterpiece (which it isn’t), and gave a glorious performance of the Hindemith (which is a masterpiece). There were quite a few wind solos (flute, trumpet, etc) in the Hindemith, and every single one was absolutely perfect.