For All Flesh Is as Grass

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The St. Louis Symphony Chorus met for its first rehearsal on Tuesday night: Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, in preparation for concerts the first weekend of October.

First St. Louis Symphony Chorus rehearsal, Season 2014-15
First St. Louis Symphony Chorus rehearsal, Season 2014-15

The manager of the Chorus, Susan Patterson, told me that a colleague who overheard the rehearsal remarked on how the ensemble sounded “so beautiful, so together” in this first run through. But Patterson informed me that at least 80 percent of the chorus has already sung this work many times in their lives. “That’s why the finest orchestras are so good. The musicians all know the standard repertoire; they’ve played it so many times. They can get to the real heart of the matter.”

Getting to the heart also means getting at the details. It might be how you get to the heart. Amy Kaiser, entering her 20th season as Chorus Director, is known for being very precise with language, with pronunciation, with diction. Kaiser arrived with her “IPA sheets” [International Phonetic Alphabet] along with recorded samples of vowel sounds for the German text.

“Amy is intimately familiar with the work,” Patterson added. “She can talk about how the music represents the words.” For example, during one passage the “key is unsure, unsettled, ambivalent, because the text is dealing with the uncertainties of life.” Elsewhere, “a circle of fifths is like the circle of life.”