May 27, 2016

Preparing to sing with the RPO

The Rochester Oratorio Society will join the RPO's Philharmonics Season Finale concert weekend on Thursday June 2, and Saturday June 4, performing Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" from Prince Igor and Daphis and ChloƩ Suite. No. 2. This concert also features Van Cliburn winner Olga Kern on Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. ROS is an audition-based choral group with a 70 year history in the Rochester community. Led by artistic director Eric Townell, the Rochester Oratorio Society is a frequent guest to the RPO, having performed Carmina Burana at the 2015 Season Finale most recently.

“ROS is a great opportunity to sing in a high quality choral group,” said Henrietta resident Barbara Bissell-Erway, who sings second soprano. “When I moved to Rochester in 1995 I became interested through family and friends who were participating in ROS/RPO concerts. Handel's Messiah
ROS sings with the RPO
particularly drew me to the experience of performing.”

As artistic director, Eric Townell strives to educate the choir on the cultural and historical context of the pieces they perform to help them connect with the music on an emotional level.

“We have a text to convey in ‘Polovtsian Dances,’ and are immediately immersed in a cultural element," said Townell. "What is a Polovtsian anyway, and how do we sing it?”

Townell learned that the Polovtsians were warrior clans that invaded Russia in the 12th century. "Polovtsian Dances" concerns a conflict between Prince Igor, a Russian prince, and Konchak, leader of the Polovtsians.

“We are actually singing in Russian,” said Townell, who invited a Russian speaker to coach the chorus on the text. “She explained that many of the words have fallen out of use since Borodin's day, but she still helped us master the unique Russian vowel colors and guttural consonants that convey character so richly and allow the chorus to assert an energetic presence through the lush orchestral texture.”
Eric Townell

Eric Logan joined the chorus last year, and is enjoying preparing for the RPO season finale.

“Eric Townell models excellence in his own preparation and execution,” said Logan, who lives in the city’s South Wedge neighborhood and sings bass. “His expansive understanding of subtle differences in tonality, pronunciation, and dynamics across a wide range of composers and periods allows ROS to demonstrate a professional level of excellence and flexibility.”

As for Ravel’s Daphis and ChloĆ©, the composer may be French but the text is not nearly as complex as "Polovtsian Dances."

“It’s one word,” said Townell. “‘Ah!’ in French!”

Still, the piece comes with its own challenges.

“The challenge to Ravel's sweeping sounds is to know when to make entrances with our ‘Ah’ vocalizations, as an orchestral instrument,” said Bissell-Erway. “We look forward to Ward Stare leading the way as RPO and ROS crescendo in uplifting rapturous sound!”

If you go
Olga Kern plays Rachmaninoff
Thursday, June 2 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, May 28 at 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22
Visit for more details

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