Monday, September 15, 2008

In which I avoid bomb-related punnery...

It's not uncommon to hear members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus wishing a Monday night rehearsal were over before it even started or cursing the intense performance-week schedule. I myself have cut back on my commitments to the group this season -- to be specific, I've dropped Chamber Chorus -- because I'm too young to be married to the chorus. Many members have been in the group longer than I have been ALIVE. This being the case, it's easy to imagine how one might take membership in this group for granted or see it as merely a routine task to be completed or a hurdle to be overcome in the course of the week.

In my relatively limited experience with this organization, though, there are always moments when it dawns on you what an amazing privilege it is to be a voice in the ASOC. To sing under Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles. To nit-pick every eighth note or quarter-tone with Norman Mackenzie, as agonizing as it is in the process. (It's especially easy for me to overlook the value of rehearsal with Norm since I see him roughly eight days a week, but he's a brilliant, exacting musical creature.) I've come away from each of our first two rehearsals with a sense of pride in my membership and profound excitement for the performances to come.

This season, as in others, we've got some old, lovely chestnuts of choral-orchestral repertoire on the docket, but the first performance of the "big chorus" will be a concert version of John Adams's 2005 opera Doctor Atomic, which makes its Metropolitan Opera debut this October. I first performed Adams last season and find the opera to be idiomatic with On the Transmigration of Souls in terms of harmony, rhythm and structure, but the libretto* is even more striking, for me, than the Sept. 11 inspired work. I love that there exists a man who hears music in these words and can make it seem totally natural that one would sing these phrases. Reading it now, I can't help but hear the words sing.

Here's a taste of the choral part, which begins the opera:

We believed that "matter can be neither created nor destroyed, but only altered in form." We believed that "energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but only altered in form." But now we know that energy may become matter, and now we know that matter may become energy, and thus be altered in form.

Act I, scene i
The end of June nineteen-forty-five finds us expecting from day to day to hear of the explosion of the first atomic bomb devised by man. All the problems are believed to have been solved, at least well enough to make a bomb practicable. A sustained neutron chain reaction resulting from nuclear fission has been demonstrated; production plants of several different types are in operation, building a stockpile of the explosive material. We do not know when the first explosion will occur, nor how effective it will be. The devastation from a single bomb is expected to be comparable to that of a major air raid by usual methods. A weapon has been developed that is potentially destructive beyond the wildest nightmares of the imagination; a weapon so ideally suited to sudden unannounced attack that a country's major cities might be destroyed overnight by an ostensibly friendly power. This weapon has been created not by the devilish inspiration of some warped genius but by the arduous labor of thousands of normal men and women working for the safety of their country.

This is going to be AWESOME.

*Libretto by Peter Sellars, drawn from original sources

1 comment:

Steve Reed said...

Hey Cathleen,
Speaking only for myself, as one of the folks who've been in the ASOC longer than you have been alive, nothing is farther from my mind when we start a rehearsal as the idea of when we will stop rehearsing. I don't take an ounce of it for granted, or consider it routine. It has helped me keep my boat afloat across some fairly rough water, and, as long as they allow it, I'll keep rowing. I don't don't know if that constitutes being married to the ASOC or not, but if it does, she has been a loving and rewarding mate, and I can't wait to see you there next Monday. Thanks for the chance to sound off.

Steve Reed
Founding Member
ASOC, T1, 261