“Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.” Margot Fonteyn
Jamie*’s highly auditioned and highly respected community chorus sing at a (you can guess) high level. Though not a professional chorus, they are often used by a local professional orchestra when they program choral works. It was the last rescheduled concert in a year of rescheduled concerts. Concerts had been planned before the Pandemic and several had even been rehearsed, so it was nice to finish the process by finally performing them.
This last concert of their choral year was just such a concert, the Verdi “Requiem.” This concert had been planned before the Pandemic and all were looking forward to it. Jamie and his singers were, and the orchestra’s conductor was too. And it was a lovely concert, but Jamie wasn’t “feeling it.”
He was exhausted, more than he had ever been after a concert, but smiled and nodded his head and half-listened to anyone who greeted or wanted to chat with him. He responded with a few words here and there, enough so that those chatting would not know how removed he felt. Jamie told me he had never felt so cynical after a concert. He had an idea why he felt the way he felt and wanted to use me as a sounding board.
The rehearsal process had felt strange, perhaps because it had been interrupted for two years. But more than that, the management of the orchestra they were singing for, and he was preparing his chorus for, seemed so condescending and pretentious. These were new management, and folks he had never worked with before; the old crew left during the height of the Pandemic. They explained the same things over and over, often quite insultingly. The dynamic markings and tempi the conductor wanted went through management for the first time, then to Jamie. These markings and tempi were in conflict from what the CONDUCTOR had told him two years before. Jamie usually contacted the conductor for any changes and did so, confirming the original dynamics and tempi agreed upon in February 2020.
The whole rehearsal process went on like that, management told him one thing; the conductor told him another. He erred on the side of the conductor and decided to double check EVERYTHING from then on. He was scolded by management for “bothering” the conductor. The conductor wasn’t happy about the situation and SCOLDED the management. It went on and on like that for two months, until the week of the concert and combined rehearsals.
Rehearsals went very well during the week, and the conductor was pleased with Jamie’s chorus and preparation. Management seemed unhappy with the hassles involved with a chorus of 100 but it was the Verdi “Requiem,” so what did they expect?
Jamie was told he had to attend a cocktail party for donors the day before the concert, right after rehearsal. He did. Many of the donors he spoke with decided he knew nothing about Verdi or music because he was “just a choral person.” Several told him the new management had hinted his chorus was a “step down” from the group they usually worked with, and wasn’t he delighted to be able to work with such a fine orchestra? Except Jamie and his chorus WERE the group they usually worked with. The atmosphere was completely different from the many times he had worked with this conductor and orchestra, and he hated it. There was such smugness and pretension and he had real fears about the concert. He need not have worried; it was an excellent concert.
Jamie wants to know if he should continue a relationship with this orchestra and has to decide by mid-July. I told him if he enjoys working with the conductor and if his singers like singing with the orchestra, then he should explore ways to make it more pleasant for all concerned. He could speak with his Board about his experience for this concert because Jamie’s chorus knew nothing about his travails with the management. Perhaps his Board could contact the orchestra’s Board and see if the relationship with management can be defined. Or Jamie could contact the conductor and see if he has any insight on how to handle this situation in the future. Or he could do nothing and see if things improve. I think he should be pro-active and do SOMETHING because by doing nothing, he is guaranteeing nothing will change.