This week I sang with the wonderful LSO again – this time in a concert to launch Tolga Kashif‘s The Genesis Suite.
Some of you may remember I wrote about recording some solo vocals for this CD and also the follow up article on the different challenges singing on the choir sessions a few days later. (Click on these links if you missed these articles and would like a bit of background).
The concert programme explained that “The Genesis Suite was inspired by the music of the world acclaimed English Rock Group, Genesis who influenced the growth of the progressive rock genre and drew their own influence from a wide range of music, both classical and mainstream rock….The musical innovation of Genesis included richer combinations of harmony and rhythm, vivid metaphorical imagery in their lyrics and the elongated song structures which lend themselves naturally to a longer form classical treatment in the Genesis Suite.”
The choir was London Voices and we met in the Barbican Choir Room for an hour to mark up our scores before the main rehearsal with the Orchestra. We only had two pieces to sing but there was a lot of information to plough through. The solo parts on Land of Confusion/Tonight, Tonight, Tonight were to be sung by three voices to a part. I had originally sung parts in all four solo lines throughout the song – especially in the ‘African’ singing section.
Terry started by announcing that a colleague and I had done the solo parts on the album but that twelve of us would sing the ‘solo’ lines today. This produced a big laugh from us all and kicked off the rehearsal with Terry’s usual, humorous style. I assumed it would make sense, as it would mean that there wouldn’t have to be complicated amplification for single solo voices. (It would also save costs in solo fees and amplification for the concert – which must have been a very expensive thing to produce.). The twelve singers would stand in the front row of the choir.
We had a break and then climbed onto the stage of the Barbican Concert Hall. It was a huge orchestra and I knew many of the players from the Beethoven 9th Symphony and Berio Sinfonia concerts which I had already done this Season. I was particularly pleased to see many percussion players that I know from my work performing the music of Steve Reich.
We took our places and all laughed again as I was sitting with my view of the conductor completely blocked by the biggest Taiko drum I’d ever seen. So much for being a soloist!
There were over ten percussionists and they were all sitting in a row directly in front of the singers. Four microphones had been put on tall stands between the orchestra and choir and were pointing at the faces of the back row, about a foot above my head. As we started rehearsing it became clear that they would probably amplify the already sumptuous ethnic drum sounds emanating from the LSO percussion section.
All the subtle phrasing that Tolga had worked so hard to get in the recording studio went out of the window and the choir had to belt it out to compete with the orchestra. We couldn’t really hear ourselves, so we had to trust that the sound at the front of stage was better than what we could hear ourselves. Terry was in the hall to check the balance and I saw him assuring Tolga after the rehearsal. When we reached the climax of the piece, it was a thrilling sound. Some forty top singers giving their all!
I wonder if in future performances, that particular movement would benefit from just four voices with a close microphone. They could then create the almost devotional, ethnic sound that exists on the album. This would then recreate the wonderful contrast to the big choir at the end of the track – of course, I’m a bit biased.
Tolga was conducting and did his best to guide us in the sound that he wanted. At one section he asked the twelve singers for an almost ‘pagan’ sound. We did our best, but as it was pitched quite low and we had no microphones the only way to achieve that was to use as much chest resonance and make the sound quite nasal, straight and as loud as we could – so different from the recording! He also had his work cut out sorting out balance problems between the orchestra and choir. We were finished in an hour, as he had quite a few more movements to rehearse with the LSO.
That evening, the choir were onstage for the whole concert which caused a few grumbles but meant we got to hear the marvellous soloists in the other movements.
The Cellist was Caroline Dale who had shot to fame when she ‘provided’ the fingers of Jacqueline Du PrÃ© for the film Hilary and Jackie. She reached an even wider audience when her performance of Handel’s Sarabande from the D Minor Harpsichord suite was used in an advert for Levi’s Jeans! The haunting solo violin fantasia on Mad Man Moon was played by Carmine Lauri, who co-lead the orchestra. He regularly leads and performs with the World Orchestra for Peace under Valery Gergiev.
For me, the highlight of the evening was the solo piano piece Entangled. This was played beautifully by John Lenehan. After the sumptuous orchestration of the evening, his moving clarity held the audience of the Barbican Hall completely enthralled. There was a very long moment of silence at the end of the music before anybody dared to break the spell he had created.
The choir joined the orchestra for a reprise of the opening number as an encore. The audience rose to their feet to applaud Tolga’s immense achievement.
In these difficult financial times it takes somebody very extraordinary to write, record, produce and conduct the launch of a new piece of classical music.Â ‘Those who do’ always impress me immensely.
Along with a very happy audience, I was glad to share in his very special night.
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