Coming Up: Missa solemnis, Take 2

My final subscription concerts of the season with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus are happening this weekend. Michael Tilson Thomas will conduct us in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. Our soloists will be soprano Laura Claycomb, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael Fabiano, and bass-baritone Shenyang. They are sounding fabulous in rehearsals, both on their own as well as in their wild and intricate ensembles. The concerts start with the chorus singing the Kyrie, Gloria, and Agnus Dei from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, conducted by Ragnar Bohlin. The performances are Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11, at 8:00 pm at Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets are available online and at the box office.

We performed the Missa solemnis two seasons ago. This was the first time that a lot of people on stage had performed it: it was the first time MTT had conducted it, the first time Ragnar Bohlin had prepared it, and the first time that many in the chorus and orchestra had performed it; it hadn’t be done at the Symphony in 16 years. Those performances still had a lot of discovery about them, and received some of the least favorable reviews since I’ve been in the Chorus.

It has been such a joy to come back to this piece and be able to take it to the next level. Things that gave me trouble before are now going much better, both due to familiarity and improved singing technique. Our solo quartet is also better suited to this piece, with fresher voices and better listening to one another.

People sometimes wonder why come back to a piece so soon after it has been performed. I think this will be a great example of the power of withdrawal and return. When you immerse yourself in something — whether a technical issue in engineering, or performing a masterpiece of the musical repertoire — it is so productive to get away from it for a while and come back to it from a renewed and refreshed perspective. In music we can work with a longer timeframe than in engineering, but the process sure feels similar to me. Coming back to the piece allows for both greater depth in interpretation and greater polish in performance.

There are only a few tickets left for these two performances, so get them quickly. I think these will be performances to cherish.

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