I have two scores on my dining room table right now. Bach's Cantata #4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" and Handel's monumental Psalm setting "Dixit Dominus". My Chamber choir is performing, and therefore I am conducting, these works in early February with our local baroque orchestra. Soloists are mostly local, with the exception of the tenor, who is a former roommate making his living as a tenor and conductor in southern Ontario.
I've been spending a few hours each day prepping the scores, and planning the next six weeks of rehearsals. Normally, I'd say that six weeks of rehearsals would be plenty, and really, it should be enough. The Bach isn't that difficult, the choir is only involved in two contrapuntal choruses, and one chorale, and it sits nicely in the voice. The Handel on the other hand is one of the most difficult choral works from that era. A very young "Italian" inspired Handel was trying to outdo all his teachers and contemporaries with this one. It makes even the toughest choruses in Messiah look like a high school project, and rivals any of the fugue writing in Bach's B Minor Mass or the Motet "Singet Dem Herrn". However, none of this is beyond the ability of the choir.
It's the rehearsal process that makes this one a tough assignment. The Handel is written for SSATB, and the two soprano parts are in the HIGH Italian style, no less than six B-flats in the last movement alone. Baroque pitch is not an option for this show as the Bach would sit far too low for my Altos, and to have the orchestra tune down for the second half only would be a disaster. In typical solo/chorus works, there are no nice quite easy soft parts to rehearse between the more difficult high movements, as all choral movement fall under the later description, and there is only so much Bach we can do between Handel in rehearsal. I've scheduled a few sectionals (sigh - a topic for another day) along the way to ease some of the burden from the sopranos, but this will only work for about the first two weeks.
Any thoughts out there from you blogging choral conductors on how to effectively rehearse this work, or type of work, without draining the resources of my singers, but still managing to accomplish what needs to be done?
I'll keep updating the progress of these rehearsals and let you know how they are progressing. All I know is this - it's a great work, and I can't wait to conduct it - I just hope we are all still alive come the performance.