It was a little strange last night, attending my first rehearsal of this session with everyone else well practised in the music. And it felt strange singing apparently unconnected pieces rather than a big work with a single over-arching trajectory and narrative.
Anticipating the former, I had taken time to listen to all four of the main choral works during the week. And, somewhat unexpectedly, I found some connections between them.
The Choral Medley from Bernstein’s West Side Story happened to come first. This celebrates the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s death on the day before the concert, and is of course a re-working of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, but with the gangs of the Sharks and the Jets replacing the feuding Montagu and Capulet families.
This connects with Shearing’s Songs and Sonnets which comprises settings of seven poems from different Shakespeare plays, in a delightful style which is part classical, part jazz.
The jazz theme is developed in Bob Chilcott’s Little Jazz Mass, a work which manages to be light-hearted yet reverential, and happy but serious. Chilcott, one of the original King’s Singers, admits to having been greatly influenced at the start of his career by Shearing, particularly in his use of jazz based rhythms. And the piece finishes with a great sense of peace.
And peace and love are hallmarks of Eric Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs. This ethereal music to words by Whitacre’s then finacee, now wife, is clear and limpid as can be. It is the aural version of watching the ripples caused by pebbles being dropped into a perfectly still pond. And it too ends with a great sense of peace.
So, four pieces, but with interesting connections. Each is lovely in its own right, and each has its own place in the program. I am really looking forward to getting to know each piece better as we prepare for performance.