Guest Blogger: Peeking into Durufle rehearsals

From time to time, we invite a guest blogger to share their insights. In this installment, Janet – a member of the Symphonic Choir alto section – sheds light on this weekend's Durufle Requiem.

As we enter the last stage of preparation for a concert, our conductor, Eric Stark, is fond of advising us “Be flexible with the conductor.”  Tuesday evening was the first Indianapolis Symphonic Choir rehearsal with charismatic guest conductor, Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero. Within minutes, he had enchanted us with his passion and clear expertise in the music of Durufle’s Requiem. Talk about getting inside the music! “This is not a requiem for the dead” M Guerrero exclaimed, “It is to comfort the living – those of us left behind. Don’t sing a dirge – sing of comfort.”

We heard the story of Durufle himself – a church organist used to improvising, never satisfied with his music, resisting publishing because he could never get the music perfected the way he wanted. And then World War 2 came. Desperate to preserve French music, the music publisher, Durand, asked the leading French composers of the day to continue to create the grand traditions of French music.  So Durufle created his marvelous Requiem – well, three versions of it – against a background of the terrors of the Nazi and Vichy governments, and defiance of the French Resistance movement. “Could we re-create that environment in our music?” asked M Guerrero of the choir and orchestra.

Probably, most of the choir knew the passages where Durufle wanted angel voices – but marches, Bossa Nova, sheer terror, mystery, mother-like, child-like, defiance?  You name the emotion, we got asked to sing it! Translating the Sanctus into Bossa Nova rhythm, and watching the conductor dance to it as he demonstrated how he wanted us singers to loosen up, were among my favorite moments. Singing as martyred Christians facing the lions and death was another – were we going to be resigned to our fate? Were we going to fight? Were we going to be terrified as we looked into the mouths of the lions? Would we be defiant? With these thoughts, the color and texture of our singing changed, and one could hear all these emotions enter our music. There were grand roars of defiance from the men that muted to terror. There were flowing high legato lines from the women, who were exhorted to be cherubs, child-like angels, then, in just a few bars, comforters, visionaries of a better place after death. The Maestro crouched lower and lower on the podium, as we sang into the stratosphere of the Hilbert Circle Theatre, gesticulating, grimacing, grinning.

M Guerrero told us how he interpreted the very last chord of the Requiem that is followed by a single questioning note from the harp – are we really going to Paradise? Is there a Paradise? “Dear Colleague,” he urged the harpist, “Louder, we need to hear that last questioning note.”

Despite the hard work, the evening felt more like entertainment as a steady stream of anecdotes, instructions, pleas, and orders in English, Italian and Spanish flowed from the conductor's podium. At the end, we straggled out, talking with each other, texting, calling, emailing – “what a great rehearsal,” “so interesting,” “so different,” “great singing tonight.” This is going to be a Durufle Requiem well worth singing.

The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir joins the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for two performances of the Durufle Requiem on Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21 at 8:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. respectively. Tickets and more information available by clicking here. Follow the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir on Facebook by clicking here.