Posted on January 29, 2012 by Michael
The Michael O’Neal Singers and Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra will be joining forces at the end of February for two performances of music by Ludwig van Beethoven. The program will consist of the Symphony #3 (Eroica) and the Mass in C Major, two masterpieces from Beethoven’s “middle” period of composition. Although he had not yet arrived at his ultimate style, as evidenced in works such as Symphony #9 and Missa Solemnis, there can still be heard in the Eroica and Mass a genius in the process of developing his “compositional voice.” Beethoven managed to pay homage to the greats who preceded him, men such as Haydn and Mozart, by acknowledging the forms and styles of the Classic period, yet at the same time finding ways to push the limits of those forms and styles.
The Mass in C Major was written as a commission for Prince Esterhazy in honor of his wife, Marie Esterhazy. Beethoven knew as he wrote the Mass in C Major that he was following in the footsteps of Franz Josef Haydn, who had been in the employ of the Esterhazy family for many years and had written several very successful earlier masses for the Princess. Beethoven recognized that his composition would be compared to those of Haydn, and in fact, the Prince was very disappointed in Beethoven’s work. Following the first performance on September 13, 1807, the Prince was overhead saying to the composer, “But my dear Beethoven, what is it you have done now?” The Prince did not hear in Beethoven’s music what he expected and wanted to hear, which would have been something familiar and comfortable. What Beethoven had done, of course, was listen to his own muse and create a work that was pleasing to himself. While we listen to the Mass today and recognize it to be a magnificent piece of music, we hear it with ears “conditioned” not only by Beethoven’s later works, but also by the 200 years of composition that have occurred since its creation.
Perhaps this should be a reminder to all of us to be willing to give music that is new to us a “second listen” before deciding whether we like it or not. By doing so we open ourselves to many remarkable musical experiences. Thank goodness Prince Esterhazy was not the final judge on the Mass in C Major!
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Beethoven, Eroica, Esterhazy, Haydn, Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra, Mass in C Major, Missa Solemnis, Symphony #3 Eroica, Symphony #9, The Michael O'Neal Singers | Leave a Comment »
Posted on August 16, 2011 by Michael
The Seventh Annual Michael O’Neal Summer Singers performed Bach to Broadway to a wildly appreciative audience this past Sunday afternoon. Nearly 750 audience members heard 150 singers perform a program ranging from choruses of Bach, Handel and Haydn all the way to musical theatre selections from Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables. The variety of our programming in that concert is analogous to the variety of backgrounds of the Summer Singers membership. I’ve enjoyed conducting this non-auditioned chorus each summer in part because of the vast background of singing experiences represented. The Summer Singers chorus includes individuals who might never be comfortable going through an audition procedure for our regular chorus membership to singers who are professional musicians and just don’t have the time to participate in a chorus during the regular season. When you take these two extremes and add singers who are at every level between the two, you have The Michael O’Neal Summer Singers! I love working with these folks for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their obvious joy in making music, and making it to the best of their abilities. As I told them in the warm up for our Sunday concert, in choral singing we often experience the Gestalt theory of the “whole being greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, we are able to accomplish something together we could never achieve individually.
For seven years my summers have been immeasurably blessed by my work with these wonderful and dedicated singers. This summer was especially rewarding. My sincere thanks to all of them.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: audition, Bach, Bach to Broadway, Gestalt, Handel, Haydn, Les Miserables, Man of La Mancha, Summer Singers, The Michael O'Neal Summer Singers, The Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story | 5 Comments »
Posted on June 7, 2011 by Michael
The Michael O’Neal Summer Singers began its 7th Season last night with about 155 voices joining together in selections by such composers as Bach, Haydn, Brahms, Verdi, Bernstein, and others. It was a glorious evening as these folks, representing a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, came together for the shared purpose of making beautiful music. It was exciting for me to feel the energy in the room as we began our two and half hour rehearsal, and although I was a little tired at its conclusion, I was also at the same time invigorated by what we had accomplished. The enthusiasm of volunteer singers is a wondrous thing to witness and I look forward to our summer of music!
At the end of yesterday’s rehearsal, I mentioned a blog I wrote in March 2010 entitled Why We Sing. In that blog I had listed reasons singers had shared with me in the past about why they sang in choruses and I invited new responses to that question. I’m doing the same thing today. We all have an enormous range of possible activities in which we can engage. To sing in a volunteer chorus is a choice from among all those activities. So, why do you choose to sing?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bach, Bernstein, Brahms, Haydn, Michael O'Neal, Michael O'Neal Summer, Verdi, Why We Sing | 2 Comments »
Posted on May 31, 2011 by Michael
We’re about to begin the seventh season of The Michael O’Neal Summer Singers and our program this year is entitled Bach to Broadway. Selections by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Verdi, and Parry will comprise the first part of the concert, followed by songs from Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Misérables. The variety of musical pieces in this concert in some ways reminds me of the great variety of singers we have in Summer Singers.
The Summer Singers (MOSS), unlike the regular season MOS, is a completely non-auditioned chorus, and open to all interested singers. The wide range of experience found in the individual singers in each summer’s chorus helps make the entire effort very gratifying to me. I love taking people of various backgrounds and skill levels and helping them become a unified and sensitive musical ensemble. In just a few days we’ll have over 150 singers joining together in the shared purpose of making music! I can hardly wait!
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bach, Bach to Broadway, Brahms, Handel, Haydn, Les Miserables, Man of La Mancha, Mendelssohn, Michael O'Neal, MOSS, Parry, The Michael O'Neal Summer Singers, The Phantom of the Opera, Verdi, West Side Story | Leave a Comment »
Posted on October 12, 2010 by Michael
A gem can be defined as “something prized especially for great beauty or perfection.” MOS begins its season on October 24 with a program entitled Choral Gems, consisting of music that fits that definition. Chosen from some of history’s greatest choral masterpieces, the selections sung will span 250 years of creative genius and will include many beautiful and recognized melodies. While most of the pieces are settings of sacred Christian texts, I would suggest that the nature of these selections transcends the religious boundaries of specific dogmas. That is one of the reasons I derive so much satisfaction from performing this music, as it provides an opportunity to have a window through which may be glimpsed the “divine other.” If one believes, as I do, that great composers can sometimes create these windows through which we obtain our “glimpses,” we can further understand and appreciate the responsibility that has been given to those of us who perform , as we attempt to faithfully fulfill the wishes of the composer.
One of the greatest experiences ever provided me as a musician was to have the opportunity to sing under the direction of Robert Shaw for nearly twenty years. Shaw, former conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses, and possibly the greatest choral conductor of the 20th Century, gave the reason he so revered Arturo Toscanini to be that “he never felt sorry for himself, he only felt sorry for the composer.” I heard Mr. Shaw repeat those words often and I believe they describe him as well as they did Maestro Toscanini. It was through Shaw’s performances of the masterpieces represented in today’s program that I developed at least a partial understanding of the emotional and intellectual depths explored in this music. So as MOS performs pieces from the repertoire of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Duruflé and Orff, it is my hope that all present, performers and audience members alike, may be transported to a place that will allow us all to experience the enormous beauty and profundity of these “choral gems.”
Filed under: Choral experiences, choral masterworks | Tagged: ASO, Atlanta chorus, Bach, Beethoven, choral gems, Durufle, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Michael O'Neal, Mozart, orff, Rachmaninoff, robert shaw, Toscanini | 4 Comments »
Posted on March 24, 2009 by Michael
The Michael O’Neal Singers recently performed a concert entitled Celebrate Musical Genius. The program included selections by two undisputed geniuses: Kleine Orgelmesse by F.J. Haydn and Requiem by W.A. Mozart. In comments made to the audience prior to the Requiem I mentioned that in conducting this work numerous times over the years I have never failed to find in it something “new.” That’s the way it is with works of musical genius – there are degrees of understanding and appreciation that can only be fully reached with a serious commitment by the performer and/or listener, and there is always something new to be discovered.
I sensed this “serious commitment” by both the audience and the performers (chorus, soloists and orchestra) this past Sunday afternoon. And because of the “commitment” made by all the parties mentioned above there was an environment created that encouraged a “communication” between all the parties. This communication took many paths, paths which included all the possibilities inherent between and among audience, chorus, soloists, orchestra AND composer. That’s right, I said composer, even though Haydn has been dead for 200 years and Mozart for 218. So, how do we communicate with someone long since departed? It is my contention that a musical genius leaves something of his or her soul in a composition. That collection of dots, dashes and squiggles on a piece of paper, when made into sound by sensitive and intelligent musicians, forms a conduit by which the composer “lives” again. What a mystery, and what a responsibility to those of us who desire to perform the music of these geniuses!
Concerts such as we experienced on Sunday are as good an explanation as any as to why I am so thankful to have a career in music, and why I am so appreciative to those who make it possible. The comments I’ve already heard from audience members and performers would suggest that I am not the only one who experienced something special. I’d love to hear from you. What did you feel? How were you affected? Through this blog it is my hope that our Sunday “communication” can continue.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: audience, choral concert, genius, Haydn, Kleine Orgelmesse, Michael O'Neal, MOS, Mozart, Mozart requiem, performers, The Michael O'Neal Singers | 6 Comments »