BY NICHOLAS WHITE
The quotation above was overheard at a church music conference several years ago, soon before a late-afternoon performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass sandwiched between workshops and plenary sessions and a boozy evening boat cruise. Ideal circumstances for a cutting edge, historically-informed performance of this two-hour masterwork, with the finest-period instrument players and a 26-voice professional choir? Maybe not! However, as the conductor responded to the concerned delegate who wondered why the performers were not busily rehearsing in the hours before the concert, “If we’re not ready now, we never will be!”
He was right, of course. Not only had the musicians been meticulously prepared, again, for this latest performance of the great work. In the director’s seemingly flippant comment was the truth that any performer must grasp when about to embark on the life-changing experience of this piece. The nitty-gritty detailed rehearsal needs to be accomplished far ahead and the big picture embraced well before concert week. Stamina, fortitude, the ability to respond in the moment, and a spark of spontaneity are among many elements that constitute a successful performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, a performance that will engage the audience and harness the emotions of all those present.
That’s why I’m glad that the dress rehearsal for the March 21st performance by The Boston Cecilia is on Wednesday, March 19th, two days prior, giving a full day for reflection before the concert itself. In every way, the final rehearsal takes on the mantle of a performance. It must do so if we are to stand any chance of being ready. That one remaining part of the equation – the audience – will then play its own role in the success of the actual concert.
That’s why I’m glad that the performance—along with Bach’s 329th birthday—comes on a Friday evening, at the end of a long work week, when spirits are sagging, the commute to Jordan Hall has been challenging, the weather is unpredictable, and energy needs to be summoned from somewhere. This is when performers and audience members can come together, inspired by each other, to create moments of magic that transcend the real world. Yet this masterpiece is packed with humanity, almost unachievable by mere mortals, and can feed from those challenges that we, as humans, face on a daily basis.
That’s why I’m glad that Cecilia had the foresight to reserve Jordan Hall for this occasion, even before I had been hired as music director! What a gift for all of us to end the 138th season of this great organization with a performance of Bach’s masterpiece. It is very real, very relevant, and very exciting.
We will be ready! Won’t you join us?