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Britten Steals the Night–Rehearsal with James Conlon

December 3rd, 2013 · 1 Comment

Yasmeen El-Mazeedi, a third year undergraduate violin student, has shared with us her comments about a recent rehearsal and concert by the Philharmonia with James Conlon, Music Director of the L.A. Opera. Please enjoy!

Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi

November 30, 2013

When I received the email requesting for me to play in a Britten concert, I thought to myself, ?Just another concert.? How much fun could it be committing one of my Friday nights to a school-related function? Little did I know the beautiful, surprising, and influential music I was about to experience with renowned conductor James Conlon, Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera.

James Conlon has such a presence. He?s a short guy, but every step he takes has vigorous energy. The UCLA Philharmonia had a rehearsal with him last year and he was a pleasure to work with, so I was extremely excited to see him again. We had rehearsed the music with Professor Stulberg, so we had an idea of what it would sound like. However, it sounded a bit empty without the chorus, so all of us were intensely confused as to how it would actually sound during the performance. We were not to rehearse with the choir until the day of the concerto we had no idea what to expect. Regardless, what we did hear was rather beautiful. The horn soloist was top notch; he is the principal hornist for the LA Opera.

The concert itself was a major success. The church itself had amazing acoustics, and the pews were filled with a huge audience, young and old, ready to be enchanted by Britten?s unorthodox yet beautiful chords.

The first piece was a cantata titled ?Rejoice in the Lamb? for choir and organ. It is based on a poem written in an asylum by Christopher Smart, depicting different worships of God. There are eight sections of this piece, varying from songs about cats and mice, praise of flowers, etc. There were four soloists within the choir who blew me away – their voices were so versatile and different. It was interesting to listen to, and my first time hearing it.

The second piece, a song cycle titled Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, was written to accompany six poems about the night. The prologue opens with the horn by itself, leading into the six movements: Pastoral, Nocturne, Elegy, Dirge, Hymn and Sonnet. The piece ends with an epilogue: the horn playing from afar. My favorite movement was ?Dirge?, which utilizes dissonance, clashing rhythms, and ominous, sinister undertones.

The final worked on the program, Cantata Misericordium, is scored for solo tenor and baritone, string quartet and orchestra. The story behind this piece is actually incredibly intriguing: a man (baritone) is robbed and asks those passing for help, but he is ignored by both a priest and a Levite. Finally a Samaritan appears, and the man does not believe that the Samaritan would stop to help a Jew. However, he does and the tenor and baritone proceed to sing a D major duet. This was my favorite piece, as the music?emotions, interweaved with the story, were encompassed within each part of the piece. I was able to visualize everything that was happening along with the music.

Upon the last chord of the Cantata, the audience stood up immediately to give Conlon and the performers a standing ovation. Everyone seemed overjoyed by the evening of beautiful music. I certainly was. Britten?s music is not average nor basic; there is a complexity between each of his bars of music that takes advanced knowledge to wrap your mind around; I certainly still don?t understand all of his music just yet but hopefully with more time and practice, I can learn to understand and appreciate it fully.

Although Conlon had no idea what it meant when I called him a ?homie? (a homie, for those of you who don?t know, is a shortened, street language version for an amazing, talented person), he smiled at me and told me we did a great job. I can only hope that as a member of the UCLA Philharmonia, we gave the pieces some justice. And I would be lucky if we got another opportunity to play anything by Britten again.

Happy Birthday, Britten. Hope you enjoyed it.”

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James Conlon rehearsing with the UCLA Philharmonia

Tags: Alumni · Faculty · Performance · Performance · Performers · School of Music · Students

1 response so far ↓

  • Musique rai // Jan 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Wow, great blog post. Really looking forward to read more about Yasmeen El-Mazeedi. Keep writing.