Tomorrow I’m off to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii for the Kona Choral Society’s annual performance of Handel Messiah. This will be my fifth year in a row that I’ve been in Kona for this annual event and I’m honored to be asked back year after year. For the last two years, during the performance someone leaned up against the light panel in the Sheraton Kona Ballroom and all the lights have gone out—I wonder if it will happen again this year?! I also wonder if the audience will clap between every movement in Messiah which they have done in the past?!
Someone at the Tacoma Symphony has already addressed this phenomenon as written in their blog: “Clapping between movements? The nerve.”
“we just performed a sold-out concert of Handel’s Messiah at St. Charles Borromeo church and the enthusiastic audience not only clapped between every movement (a considerable accomplishment in the case of Messiah) but even made up a few extra movements where none before existed.
“During intermission I endured the wrath of one indignant, seasoned patron who complained that the applauders were ruining the performance and wanted to know why we hadn’t printed “do not applaud between movements” on the program page. (I restrained myself from pointing out that the program page already enjoins “no photography” and “turn off cell phones” to only modest, occasional effect.)”
The post goes on to refer to New York Times critic Alex Ross’ article on applause, “The Rest is Noise,” in which he explains that the custom of not clapping between movements originated in 19th century Wagnerian opera, and “it didn’t hit the concert hall until Leopold Stokowski introduced it in the 1920s, and was adopted only gradually, attaining universality not before the late ‘50s or even early ‘60s.”
The Tacoma Symphony blogwriter ended with, “It’s a natural human reaction to want to respond with joy to the music. To not applaud this music is itself anomalous – an example of the restrained, repressive attitude toward classical music that has made people avoid our art form like castor oil.
So I’m overjoyed that those people clapped at every turn on Friday night. First, it means we had a lot of new friends in the house, and we should welcome them. Second, apparently there are people out there who don’t know about the prim and proper school of classical music, but still believe it is meant to be a joyful, participatory group experience. Maybe we can learn something from them.
Maybe there’s hope for our art form after all.”
The other work on the program is Gloria by John Rutter. It was composed in 1974 and was commissioned by Mel Olson, conductor of choirs in Omaha, Nebraska. It was Rutter’s first commission from the United States, and according to Wikipedia, “Rutter composed it according to Olson’s specifications, noting his influence: ‘Much of the credit must go to Mel Olson … because, in telling me what he was looking for in a new choral work, he was telling me what thousands of other choral directors were looking for too.’ ” According to ClassicFM, “this turned out to be the first of many trips to the United States, where his music found a huge audience.” Apparently Gloria was the piece which brought Rutter international attention.
From David’s Review Corner: …The Gloria dates from 1974, when the composer was twenty-nine, and was the result of a commission from America, its three movements ending in a vivacious riot of choral joy in a fast running vivace.
From Classics Today: It’s hard not to get caught up in the overall excitement—Rutter ideally captures the festive, celebratory nature of these texts while offering plenty of his signature melodies, catchy rhythmic structures, and vibrant orchestration, involving powerfully expressive brass, percussion, and organ in the Gloria and Te Deum.
From Gramophone: Although best known for his many carols and anthems, John Rutter is equally adept at handling music on a larger canvas. His reflective Requiem (now 25 years old) is an established classic. Much the same can be said of the evergreen 1974 setting of the Gloria, Rutter’s first major overseas commission. Its incisive, punchy, syncopated brass opening lingers memorably, setting the scene for some spectacular, polished and vibrant singing. The notoriously taxing finale is accomplished without a wobble, resulting in a deeply satisfying performance.
I confess that I don’t know very much music by John Rutter, and his compositions have been criticized for being overly approachable and saccharine. However, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed working on the Gloria, as it has been technically challenging in spots. I’m looking forward to the dress rehearsal and performance this weekend!
Here is a YouTube video of the work, with John Rutter himself conducting the choirs of St. Alban’s Cathedral and the Ensemble Dechorum.