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Brahms Requiem

(originally posted Nov 2022)

Brahms Requiem is on my mind at the moment. Emmanuel Episcopal Church Choir in Baltimore is presenting this amazing piece on Sunday (tomorrow!) in a concert starting at 4pm. Usually beyond little social media posts, I don’t tend to write about the choral concerts that I do. But I’ve decided that has to change. I’m singing some pretty spectacular choral repertoire over these two weeks and that really shouldn’t be ignored.

Brahms is a special composer for me. I loved playing the e minor sonata as a cellist and remember my mum’s excitement when I was sight-reading orchestra excerpts and started playing Brahms symphonies. It’s one of only a handful of times when she was excited for me to show my Dad what I was playing. He chuckled in a proud way when I did. Later, in college, I was in a group that performed both of Brahms’ sextets. By coincidence, my Dad was in town and came to the concert. A friend peaked through the window into the recital room and asked, “hey, who’s the guy in the back who looks like Brahms?” We were all a little confused, I peaked in and was like “Oh my God, you mean my Dad?!?!” It was a hilarious moment but also a big deal for me to have him there and I heard from his friends that he was very excited to talk about it afterwards.

As a child, I first sang the Requiem when I was 11 years old. My memories of this are obviously a little vague but what I do remember is that I was singing soprano, the soloists were senior students at the school - very impressive thinking about that now - as was the orchestra. Those of use at school who weren’t in the orchestra were automatically the choir. It was quite an event. I should add that I went to the Purcell School which is a music specialist school. I was there from the age of 11 until I was 18. I don’t remember very much about the music from that time apart from the fact that it was exciting and that my Mum was so overjoyed that we were performing it.

My next encounter with the piece was at an Eton Choral Course as a teenager. I was singing alto in a mixed section including some fantastic countertenors. I believe we sang movements or maybe just one movement with organ.

In my adult years I have seen my closest friends as soloists, sung movements as church anthems and grimaced at singing them in English as, to me, the musical timbre changes with a change of language.

Now, 34 years after my first encounter with the piece, I am singing in a performance which feels very special. I am in a choir of singers who care deeply about the music; we have two soloists taken from the choir who are singing the choral parts as well as their solos; we have a director who allows us to ask musical questions and cares about every detail in the score; and today we were joined but an incredible piano duo who play with such a great range of colors that it allows us to really capture them in our voices too.

Color in music is incredibly important to me in all that I do - teaching, composing, singing, coaching. If you’d like to know more about this please feel free to get in touch.

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