When I lived in the D.C.-Baltimore metro area, one thing I could count on was a review. When the Washington National Opera performed, it was written about in the papers. When the local choruses sang major concerts, reviews appeared in print and online. Even as I have traveled to other parts of the country, major arts events get reviewed. Here in Vermont that is not the case. I have sung some major works with some major local companies, and have yet to see a review posted for any of them. Seriously?
Now, I don’t want to confuse lack of reviews with a complete lack of support. There are plenty of pre-show write-ups, announcements, articles, and media hype. This is a good thing. But to have no one giving an opinion after the fact just seems…un-American! This past weekend I sang with the Middlebury Bach Festival in an ambitious program of 3 full Bach Cantatas (plus the Brandenburg Concerto #5 thrown in for good measure), under the baton of the music director of American Bach Soloists, and nary a reviewer was in sight. The local paper, The Addison County Independent, doesn’t even have an arts section, for goodness’ sake! So it was clear that if I was going to get a review for my fabulous singing, I was going to have to write it myself. Here goes.
The student singers of Middlebury College joined up with local professionals and out of town masters to put on a tour de force performance of Bach on Saturday night. The community was out in good numbers to support what has become a local tradition and source of pride, as the evening started off with a performance of J.S. Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. The tempi were upbeat and the music was, as always, sublime. Led by the masterful bow of Jane Kittredge, the opening ensemble included two Middlebury students, who more than held their own against the other musicians.
After a short break to move the harpsichord and reset the stage, we were treated to the arrival of conductor Jeffrey Thomas, on loan from California and the American Bach Soloists, and the first of three cantatas that we were to hear. For this early work, BWV #12, the soloists sang also the choruses, one on a part. This was probably quite difficult for them, especially considering that it was possible that some of them were not aware that they were singing anything other than the tenor solos until a week prior. But you wouldn’t know it from the masterful singing that I could hear from where I was sitting. I mean, yes, something went horribly awry in the “die das Zeichen” allegro section, but I’m sure no one else noticed. Professional Altoprano Lindsey Warren did some of the best singing of the night as she managed to make some of the slowest bits of the evening quite interesting. As for “Sei getreu,” well, that aria is a bitch, and Tenor Dad sang the hell out of it, so there.
The evening was already running late as we sped through intermission and on to the second half. BWV #106 was up next, again with the soloists doing double duty as choristers. The high point of the evening, quite literally, was local living legend Tenor Dad’s high Bb at the end of “Ach, Herr.” And the very fast and hard to sight-read “Glorie, Lob, Ehr” was not a total train wreck, as some of the singers on stage must have feared it would be going into it. No, it moved along at a good clip and everyone made it through to the amens unscathed.
Finally, as we began the final selection of the evening, BWV #182, the Middlebury College chorus took the stage, relieving the frightened tenor soloists of any choral obligations. The choir sounded appropriately glorious as they welcomed the king of heaven, and many people sang many things, but let’s skip ahead to Tenor Dad again, who sang “Jesu, lass durch Wohl und Weh.” Mr. Dad was under the impression that this went slightly better during rehearsal, but I am pleased to report that he does not know what he is talking about. It sounded fine, and he should just stop worrying about things that have already happened. It’s a live performance. Some things go well, some things go wrong, and most of the time everyone there is wrapped up in the energy and having a fine time. I would definitely go hear him sing stuff again, and you should too. Now I just need to go find a place to publish this review, since local media does not care to report on such things. But they should.
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