Every time I work on a project with the Halle Youth Choir, I just remember how lucky I am to be involved in something which is simply extraordinary. The amount of work I have covered with them in the past two years alone has been immense - from Beethoven with the Kinshasa Symphonique (which was my very first project with them in London) to premiering O'Reagans work for the Manchester grammar school centenary, to re-opening the Whitworth art gallery with pieces based on Blake and then of course, the crème de la crème of performing at the BBC proms last summer!
Our most recent project has been a while in the making due to our preparation previously of the Vaughan William's Serenade to music. This project has meant working with the CBSO which resulted in a massive choral sound that was like ... a wall of texture and colour and, for want of a better word, awesome-ness!!!
As a fan of more traditional choral singing, because early music has become a thing for me recently the more I study it, it was great to really engage with some music nearer to my own time - from the 20th century. The programme featured orchestral renditions of the music from West side story too (which we got to see in the first half before the exhausting second half which was all us) and our renditions of Bernstein's Chichester psalms and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms.
A few weeks ago, we rehearsed the works in Birmingham for the first time and though a long rehearsal, it was one of the most exciting I have ever been involved in. Mainly because the Bernstein is written in Hebrew which meant working a lot with text and translation. Though containing much of the original the Lord is my shepherd, this is sung by a solo counter tenor and choir. My favourite marking for this piece was when there were some polyrhythms going and the tenor and basses had a really complex line whilst the sopranos carried on with the main gentle melody with the marking of Blissfully unaware of threat. Who else but the genius that is Bernstein could have thought something like this up? Like his requiem, this is work I enjoy a lot but it's quite controversial still - some people refuse to take it seriously. But it is definitely worthwhile too because although there are sections which might sound strange or silly at first, they are incredibly difficult to master.
Any way, I digress. The rehearsal was also exciting because we got to work with a Hebrew translator/interpreter so that our Hebrew was sounding as clear and natural as possible. The number of pencil markings in my score... although I lost count, they were the most useful resource of the whole project as it meant when focusing on the more complex sections I didn't have to worry about the Hebrew pronunciation too much because it was all right there in front of me and I could just read through it a few bars before the entry and then focus on the notes and the conductor.
When we went to the Bridgewater hall for the concert, we rehearsed everything several times over both with our choral directors and with the orchestra and their conductor. The BBC philharmonic are an extremely precise orchestra despite their creativity - every note was in just the right place so you never lost count. As someone who gets frustrated with scores which don't match up on occasion, this made me even more excited to perform these works.
The concert was even broadcast live on BBC radio 3, which makes it all the more exciting! If you would like to listen to the concert, you can click on the image below. We begin with our pieces at around 1 hour 15 minutes.
All in all, I think that (for a youth choir or an adult choir) we made a pretty impressive sound - but like I mentioned, it wasn't without hard work, not at all! In fact it was often the hard work that allowed us to get through the most difficult sections because there was just so much rhythm. The rhythm in these pieces was in fact more important than the pitches themselves, so at first when I was practicing at home, I would just practice the rhythms on a vowel before adding the text.