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Classical Notes

Day 2 in Kyoto

Posted at 12:19 PM on July 28, 2005 by Brian Newhouse

The concerts are the highpoint of the Symposium, but between these everyone scurries off to take in as many of the workshops as possible. Symposium attendees are largely choir directors, and these workshops offer them a chance to learn new repertoire and tricks of the trade while on summer break. This morning I stopped in for snippets of a lecture on South American choral music, another on the African tradition, still another a master class for conductors.

This master class was notable because here was a small, not-especially-great choir of about 20 singers working through a Brahms motet (Warum ist das Licht gegeben) under one of Europe's grand old choral men, Sweden's Dan-Olof Stenlund. He'd been handed four 20-something conductors to tutor in this two-hour session. They got their money's worth.

Stenlund stood baleful and impatient at their elbow while each one worked—or tried to.

"What's your left hand doing? Why is it doing it? Not like that! The choir's flat, how will you get them in tune now?" He was the grumpy uncle just awakened from a nap, stopping the young conductor before a bar of music had passed.

Choral music at its best is a slice of heaven. But watching it become its best can be like observing the creation of sausage or legislation. We in the audience began to squirm, feeling lucky just to be seated and not up there being slow-roasted with the young conductors.

Today's photos:

Gagaku ensemble

A small Gagaku ensemble performed a lunchtime concert in the World Choral Conference Center. Gagaku is the oldest Japanese performing art, combining vocal and instrumental music as well as dance and religious ceremony. This ensemble contains wind, string, and percussion instruments, and their music dates from the fifth century.

The kakko is a double-headed horizontal drum The sho is a bamboo mouth organ
The shoko is a suspended gong