Symphonic Choir performs at Carnegie Hall

The Westminster Symphonic Choir performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 23, directed under the renowned conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Nézet-Séguin was trained in choral conducting at Westminster Choir College. The concert was also covered in the Oct.25 issue of The New York Times. The newspaper cited the choir as “superbly trained” and said that the orchestra as a whole “has seldom sounded greater.” This blog post was written and published the night of the concert by a Westminster graduate student.

By Jordan Saul

Tonight was the final performance of this series with the Philadelphia Orchestra and just happened to be Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s debut at the august institution that is Carnegie Hall. Right now, as we drive in three full-sized charter buses through Times Square traffic, we are collectively tired after four wonderful performances and thoroughly satisfied with the manner in which we helped bring Verdi to life for appreciative audiences.

Our third performance was this past Sunday – the only matinee – and we met at school at 10:30 a.m. to travel to the Kimmel Center.  As soon as the bus stopped, half of the choir headed to our rehearsal space and the other half made a beeline to the closest coffee shop.  (It is not unusual to walk into Starbucks or Elixir in downtown Philadelphia and see 20 of your friends in line and a slightly worried looking barista.)

Once properly caffeinated, we convened to warm up and get notes. Dr. Joe Miller spends a good amount of time warming up the choir for matinees so that our sound is as rich and vibrant as in evening performances. Then, he gives us notes for any challenging parts of the work where we need to focus our attention or where the maestro has made a change.
The matinee was beautifully received, and once again the crowd roared its appreciation for the choir, the orchestra and the maestro. We got home Sunday evening with just enough time to tackle frighteningly large piles of homework.

Tonight at Carnegie, the energy was fervent and wild with an undercurrent of deep peace. When we arrived at the hall (after getting coffee and taking some pictures with the posters for the concert), we walked up the seven flights of stairs to our rehearsal space. Miller spent only a short amount of time warming us up, and most of the notes we received were in reference to the unique acoustic of the hall. We headed down for a sound check with the maestro and the orchestra and had a chance to gather in the magnitude of the hall and the significance of this performance.

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin prepares the Symphonic Choir backstage at Carnegie Hall.

Our call time soon arrived, and Miller spoke to us about our performance. He opened the floor up to us to have a chance to address one another and express our appreciation. In the midst of an active love-fest, the maestro entered. He told us that he had so many thoughts that he wanted to share with us that in order to fully express himself, he would need to write it all out. I should mention that many of the choir members have written personal notes to Nézet-Séguin and he has responded to each in a personal, caring way.
It was a tight fit on the Carnegie stage.

There was not one personal bubble in the choir that wasn’t popped as soon as we sat in our chairs, but we were also much closer to the orchestra, and much closer to the maestro. The performance was the kind that is over in a flash because everyone is flowing – Nézet-Séguin asked us to remember to enjoy ourselves and honor our humanity through Verdi. When we were close enough to read every subtle (and not subtle) facial expression, we became conduits for sound in the most profound fashion so far achieved. I could wax on for pages about the astonishing experience, but I will leave the rest to your imagination and to our collective memory.

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