Friday, March 6, 2009

A gold standard

Just back from my first time accompanying the Duruflé Requiem - the culmination of an insanely busy few weeks of performances and auditions. (The nigh-unmanageable schedule I describe above may or may not be causally connected to the fact that I haven't been blogging for, errrrrrr, almost four weeks).

I've attracted some minor controversy recently for my comments on the state of contemporary choral music; much of the music currently popular in the choral world leaves me feeling annoyed, insulted and thoroughly unsatisfied. To be openly critical of this repertoire, however, places a greater responsibility on me to recognize greatness when I see it. Duruflé's Requiem is unquestionably great. The work is a gem - impeccably written for the choir, rewarding both for the singer and the listener. Even the formidable difficulties of the accompaniment part - organists speak of the Sanctus movement in hushed whispers - are not insurmountable. Rather, the organ accompaniment is a really superior example of how to arrange an orchestral score for organ. Practicing the part is like having a lesson with Duruflé on orchestral transcription - you can practically see him peering over your shoulder, leaning over the keyboard to demonstrate a particular effect, and then waiting patiently while you struggle to master it. I'm glad to have learned the part, even if it took more work than any organ accompaniment I've ever played.

The bottom line is that the Duruflé is a superb piece of writing, and that with works like this in the repertoire there's no excuse for programming bad music. Enough said about that.

How did the performance itself go, you ask? Fine, thank you. Most of the movements went exceptionally well, notwithstanding a horrible moment when the SSL system decided to stop working properly in the middle of the Sanctus. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, but we cleaned the blood off the floor and moved on.

The audience seemed to enjoy the concert very much, and I was particularly delighted to speak to a few people who had never heard organ music before and were amazed by the variety of tone colour in the music. Reaching people like these - often lapsed churchgoers or people who would never step into a church except for a secular concert - is, I think, one of the most important ways to build an audience for organ music. Your congregation hears you play every week for free - can you blame them when they don't come running to hear you give a recital?

In any case, an evening of unalloyed delight.

1 comment:

Alice said...