Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Singing in Innsbruck

In case you didn't already know, pretty much my main hobby is choral singing, and I'm just back from a few days in Innsbruck with the ACZ (Academic Choir of Zurich) where we were rehearsing and performing Dvorak's Stabat Mater.

Whenever the choir rehearses with the orchestra for the first time in a strange hall with an acoustic you're not used to, it's a big shock how different everything is from when you're rehearsing with just a piano in a familiar setting. And this time was no different in this respect. The orchestra was loud and the room just swallowed up our voices, so we tried to sing louder. And the conductor insisted on rehearsing some of the louder passages several times over, all of which is very unforgiving on a choir. The musical style of the professional tenor soloist, who we were also meeting for the first time, was not to everyone's taste, and he also had some difficulties with his part. All in all, not an auspicious start to the weekend.

And then the church we were to perform. Another shock (or two). Firstly it was small by our standards, around 200 seats for the congregation, I would guess. Secondly, we had been promised that the church would be warm, and we wouldn't need to wrap ourselves up in winter woolies to sing there. But, It was cold. There was heating, but if obviously hadn't been turned on for very long, and because of where the heating was, and the shape of the church, it had set up a nice convection cell where the hot air rose to the ceiling where the public would sit, displacing a mass of cold air which then descended directly down the necks of the choir where we had to stand jammed in between the altar and the back wall. The 'dress' rehearsal was carried out in overcoats. I felt like a penguin on the ice, standing perched on a narrow step huddled together with other choir members for hours on end. It was also not much of a dress rehearsal, which is supposed to include a straight run through of the piece, as though for real. It turned out that a recording was to be made in this rehearsal, and this meant that it progressed only slowly, movement by movement, with quite some repetitions to try to eliminate problems with the recording. And the solo tenor was still having problems. With the last buses through the snowy streets back to our hotels leaving at 23:30, the rehearsal finally broke up at 23:20, having started at 20:15. We'd been standing most of this time. Morale was not high.

On the following day however, the concert went considerably better than anyone had expected. It was warmer in the church, and with the adrenalin pumping it was possible to stand there in shirtsleeves. The concert was sold out, with people standing at the back. The tenor sang much better than he had in rehearsal. As usual in concerts I discovered a couple of new minor mistakes to make that I'd never made before. But overall, we went home happy after a meal of goulash soup in a room at the back of the church.

We're performing the piece again in the Neumünster in Zurich on the 7th and again on the 8th of January. Let's see what happens then.