Aside from a chair falling over in between movements, last night’s opening performance of Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor was perfect in every way. Maestro Carl Crosier set the pace with a grand opening Kyrie followed by a series of fast, joyful choruses contrasted with expressive solos and duets. The final Dona nobis pacem ended triumphantly, getting grander with each passing measure.
The ticket team and ushers were scrambling to find more chairs on the LCH campus as the people kept coming and coming. They even had to use the few chairs left in the instrumental musicians’ green room for audience seating. Everyone was high with excitement for the first Mass in B Minor performance in 11 years in Honolulu. The last time a local choir did it was over 20 years ago.
There were so many highlights in the performance from the vocal soloists, to virtuosic instrumental playing and agile choral singing. Georgine Stark and Sarah Markovits, sopranos, Meg Bragle, alto, Les Ceballos, tenor, and David Newman, bass, were outstanding in every way. Bach pairs vocal solos with instrumental obbligati and Carl highlighted these duets by having the instrumentalists stand while they played. One of the best moments was Meg Bragle’s Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) in the reprise of the theme — she sang incredibly softly yet expressively with a clear tone, while the muted violins played sensitively in unison underneath.
In the orchestra, Darel Stark‘s virtuosic violin playing and Scott Janusch‘s gorgeous oboe d’amore solo clearly were highlights. Other stars included Claire Starz Butin, flute; Marsha Schweitzer and Philip Gottling, bassoons; Steve Dinion, timpani, and the whole trumpet section of Ken Hafner, Russell Ishida and Mark Minasian. We absolutely had the very best players in Honolulu!
Jonathan Parrish just nailed the horn solo. I told him that when we were in Valporaiso, IN to hear the Bach Collegium Japan, we heard the horn player practice his octave leap at least 50 times before the concert. “Yes,” Jonathan said, “and then you have to wait about 45 minutes into the piece before you play it. And then it’s 4 minutes of pure terror.” But Jonathan sailed through his solo with heroic ease.
The Choir exhibited such a purity of tone and blend in all sections. Even though four of the tenors who were initially engaged either dropped out or were sick, the remaining guys carried it off. I think the choir got some of the biggest applause of the night.
But the real hero of the evening among all the stars was undoubtedly the maestro, Carl Crosier. Even my mother said she couldn’t believe her eyes to see Carl “jumping for two hours.”
I thought he got all the tempos just right! Expressive when it needed to be, and fast and exuberant in the big choruses. He confesses that he “got lost in the Quoniam” because of the many staves of music he had to look at, and forgot to give the sopranos one of the cues. But he felt the overall architecture and expressiveness of the piece was conveyed in spite of this barely noticeable shortcoming. Hey, he doesn’t conduct an orchestra every day!
I thank the audience for being extraordinarily quiet. No cell phones went off, and I don’t think anyone even coughed.
What a miracle, and what a night for Bach! We’ll do it all over again tonight.