Described by critics as ‘brilliant’ and ‘stylish’, the SCO Chorus makes a rare appearance away from the Orchestra on Sunday March 18, when SCO Chorusmaster Greg Batsleer conducts in concert for the first time. We caught up with Greg to discover more about his approach to this upcoming a capella performance.
What do you enjoy most about Bach’s Jesu meine Freude and Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence? What can the audience expect from the upcoming concert at the Queen’s Hall?
One of the immediate and most obvious differences between the two works is the periods in which they were written: they are from opposite ends of the music time line. However, what Poulenc and Bach share is a love of harmony and how harmony can really enhance the meaning of the text. Poulenc's harmony is hugely influenced by jazz and there are some amazing jazz chords and progressions within the work, which really bring an edge to the music.
Both works were written for church choirs to sing in the liturgical season of Lent and their respective texts are reflections on this theme. However, their use of poetry and representation of this is different. The text of Jesu meine Freude is written in the first person and is an individual’s reflection on their relationship with God and the theme of Lent. Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence is set at the time of the crucifixion and the composer reflects on this with much more reference to the events as outlined in the Bible.
This performance will feature the SCO Chorus away from the Orchestra. How does this affect your approach?
It's the first time I will be conducting the Chorus in concert, which is very exciting for me. What is different is that in an a cappella concert such as this we are the sole focus for the audience. Without the Orchestra, there is a greater need to provide variations in colour and texture and to really communicate. We have to be aware that we will be the audience’s sole source of music for the performance therefore energy levels are different. We have been working at ways of engaging the audience and not feeling too naked or exposed without the comfort or protection of the Orchestra. I personally can't wait for the concert and for audiences to hear the SCO Chorus perform in this way. This is a real opportunity for the SCO Chorus to demonstrate how brilliant it is.
What do you enjoy most about working with the SCO Chorus and Orchestra?
It's far too hard to outline one highlight. It is a real privilege to be part of the SCO and Chorus, and every week I leave the rehearsal wanting more. Having the day-to-day task of preparing a choir for one of the world’s greatest chamber orchestras and for incredible conductors is utterly thrilling (and scary).
What I admire is the commitment and dedication that the members of SCOC show to the music. Many of the members have performed some of the repertoire many times before, but what blows me away is how we are able to challenge ourselves and discover new things that we can bring to the music. There is such an incredible wealth of backgrounds in SCOC and the fact we all come together on a Monday evening to rehearse under one name with the same aim, to sing and sing well, is something very special.
Aside from being Chorusmaster of the SCO Chorus, your current posts also include Conductor of Choirs at Manchester University, Principal Conductor of the Manchester Consort and Musical Director of Dorking Choral Society. What is it you enjoy about working with so many different groups?
What is fantastic about working with such a diverse set of groups is the variety of music-making in which I am able to take part. At Manchester University I am working with some of the brightest young musicians in the UK and it’s such a challenge to find ways to engage and push them, which is why it is so stimulating working a repertoire with them.
The Dorking Choral Society is one of the UK's longest running choral societies, dating back to the mid 19th century. The tradition that this group maintains is very special and being part of that is amazing. The Dorking Choral Society is completely non-auditioned, yet we have a very high standard. What is fascinating about this is that I have to find ways to ensure all members feel part of the music and what is taking place.
The Manchester Consort is very dear to me. They have been part of my music-making the longest and are an ensemble like no other. The Manchester Consort is a very special group of like-minded musicians aspiring to perform music at high standards outside the confines of an educational institution. This brings many challenges and problems but the atmosphere is completely unique.
See Greg and the SCO Chorus perform on Sunday 18 March at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh.