What a perfect title for a concert of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Op. 37, "All-Night Vigil" also called the "Vespers" by the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Synonyms for "resonate" or "resonance" are: reverberation, sonority, fullness, vibration, depth, resounding, booming, loud. That is exactly what it was this past Sunday night in Gehry's magnificent structure.. There were 15 hymns or selections sung in very precise Church Slavonic, not Russian or Cerilic. We had the sheet for translation and the Chorale had a consultant to help with the pronunciation and meaning. He was with Grant Gershon and Alan Chapman at the "Listen Up" at 6:P.M. It was very informative. I didn't catch his name or see it in the printed program above.
Historically, Rachmaninoff composed this master work more for performance and not for worship in the Russian Orthidox Church which was being shut down after the Revolution (1915) So it wasn't performed again in a church until the 1960's. What a loss. It was/is so inspiring. Sergei had to leave Russia by way of Switzerland and Stockholm before finally coming to America. He wrote very little after this composition (6) in all those years, dying in 1987 in Beverly Hills. His favorite work was Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" and he wrote a companion piece for that too. He was often "at odds" with his "mother-church" and wrote more secular music. This may have been because he married his cousin which was frowned on by "the church" at that time...probably still is. The "Vespers" is actually only partially correct as a name. There were 3 parts to the Festival in the monastic church on the Eve of a Feast Day. They had an "all night vigil" every Saturday night and it went on for hours. The Russians love to sing is my guess, especially the Russian Monks. The piece was originally written for a "choral school" and originally performed there. It certainly must've been a challenge especially for the deep bass voices. Two story/comments mentioned about that were those of the conductor saying it was harder to find competent low basses as it was to find asparagus in winter. He is reported to have told the basses to sleep with the winter window open and have several shots of vodka just before the performance.
Musically this work is considered the "pinnacle" of the Romantic/Harmonic Period. Sergei took many of the themes from indigenous "chants" from the local monks and some he even "made up". It has the "horizontal feeling and phrasing" that chants produce but with a richness and depth of harmonics that is just unbelieveable. Forget simple SATB and think SSS,AAA,TTT,BBB all interlaced and moving at the same time ie. a full spectrum of sound. Then there is just something about singing the Russian music and the deep resonating contrabass underneath that just gives you goose bumps, hearing or singing it. Selection #5, "Lord, now Lettest Thou Thy Servant" reaches a low Bb. The basses in the choral were mostly in the back and center and out of my view but you didn't need to see them. I had "a baritone" closest to me I'm guessing by the way he sang and when he chimed in. He had a blue spotlight on the back of his head and his gray hair was combed to produce a couple of little horns. Hardly what you'd expect or be reminded of when hearing this angelic work. In the "Listen Up" it was mentioned that RACH-maninoff "signed" his major works with a cadence that "said" his name. Four chords which usually finished the piece. Usually they were quick paced and decisive. In this work they were slower and more ponderous and Perfectly Authentic. During the several standing ovations I had to step out to hit the restroom and when I came out they were singing an encore...#2 I thought."Bless the Lord, O My Soul" Even from the lobby it was heavenly. The dynamics in so many of the selections were so extreme from very PPP to very FFF in just a few bars and with a group of more than 150 up there it was just awesome that they could sing so softly and then so loudly. Grant's direction was so expressive with hands only, no baton. This is one of the reasons I sit where I do, so I can watch his expressions and emotive gestures. He is a master ie. so expansive and yet so precise with his cut-offs. At times, I just had to close my eyes and transcend so I missed other visual cues. I truly did enjoy the singing of a tall second soprano #6 from the left in the third row. She was so attentive and really feeling the meaning of what she was singing even though it was in Slavonic. The two tenors named as soloist in the program were right there in the choir. I could see Charles Lane at all times and he really can sing. I couldn't see Sal Malaki but his voice was so perfect in tonality with this rich sonorous music. I think I caught a glimpse of Daniel Chaney but I couldn't be sure.
I think, in another life, I must've been a Russian Monk, a bass for sure. Or if not, maybe I will be. I'm sure they will be asked to sing in "heaven" simply because they RESONATED so heavenly here on earth. Thanks to RACH-maninoff!...and the L.A.M.C. Bob!