27 August, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Derek Calder

Festival Chorus Member Derek Calder, talks his thirtieth Festival, his loss of Tuesday evenings and his all time favourite memories...

It’s hard to believe, but this is my Thirtieth Festival! Just think, for the past 30 years, I’ve rarely had a Tuesday evening free … after all, that’s when the Festival Chorus rehearse!

‘How did I get into it?’ is a question that’s often asked. I started all those years ago when I was a student, and the opportunity to spend a three weeks singing in America was not to be turned down. So my introduction to choral music at this high standard was with the SNO Chorus, performing Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky” at the Hollywood Bowl! That was closely followed by Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces, conducted by Maestro Guilini at the same venue, with an audience of 12,000! After experiences like that how could I not fall in love with choral singing!

Following those experiences I auditioned for the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Why the Festival Chorus? Well, at the time, I was a student in Aberdeen and in those days there was an Aberdeen section of the Festival Chorus which was rehearsed by my singing tutor, John Hearne. I had to audition again for the then Chorus Master of both the EFC and the SNO Chorus, John Currie and thankfully was successful; every re-audition is a nerve-wracking experience, even after 30 years!

Looking back fondly over my past 30 years with Festival Chorus I have many great memories, too many to list here.

However I have to mention performances such as:
  • Verdi Requiem in 1982, Claudio Abbado conducting, Jessye Norman and Jose Carreras amongst the soloists.
  • Filming Handel’s Israel In Egypt on the shores of the Red Sea.
  • A Proms performance of Beethoven Missa Solemnis at the Royal Albert Hall with Sir Georg Solti conducting.
  • The first time I ever performed Britten’s “War Requiem” – an unbelievable experience!
  • Recording Mozart’s Idomeno with Sir Charles Mackerras.
  • Surviving and enjoying Schoenberg’s Moses Und Aaron!.
  • The amazing experience of performing Messiaen’s St Francis of Assisi.
  • The personal discovery of the music of John Adams, such as this year’s opening concert ‘El Nino’ and ‘Harmonium’ which we performed as a late night concert several years ago.
Plus more trivial memories, such as:
  • chatting with Bryn Terfl about his round of golf at St Andrews during a break in a recording session.
  • sharing Polo Mints with Dame Janet Baker.
  • having coffee with Dame Cleo Laine.
And finally:
  • all the great friends I’ve made over my years in the chorus.
Not to mention all that I’ve learned from the Chorus Masters we’ve worked with: John Currie, Arthur Oldham, David Jones, Christopher Bell, plus visiting chorus masters – each different in their own way.

After Thirty years how can experiences like these be beaten? I’m not sure, but I’m certain that Jonathan Mills and Christopher Bell will no doubt try!

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