Freude! A-Z of the CBSO: C is for CBSO Chorus

Part of the A-Z of the CBSO Series.

As we reach C in the A-Z of the CBSO, Chorus Soprano Eluned Mansell writes about performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the BBC Proms with the CBSO, in the last performance the Orchestra and Chorus gave with Andris Nelsons as Music Director.

Freude (joy in German), is both the word and the sentiment that brings the choir into Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. And joy (tinged with some sadness) probably best describes the mood of the CBSO Chorus as we took to the stage at the opening weekend of the Proms this year.

The Chorus ended the 2014-15 season as it began, with a performance of the work that, despite being only a few minutes long for the singers, is still somewhat of a marathon to perform. But what a concert to perform it at. I was lucky enough when I was growing up to be taken to Proms concerts by my parents, so it’s a genuine thrill to be able to sing in one. The Royal Albert Hall may become so hot you think you might melt, but the exclamations from those walking onto the stage for the first time said it all about how special it is to perform there.

Eluned Mansell performs with CBSO Chorus.
Eluned Mansell performs with CBSO Chorus.

"Beethoven 9 is exhilarating, particularly with the right orchestra and conductor."

Beethoven 9 is exhilarating, particularly with the right orchestra and conductor. It is a piece we perform frequently but I have to admit that it is not exactly my favourite piece to rehearse. It is, quite frankly, a bit high. For long periods of time.

This is fine when you only have to sing it once, but multiple times required for rehearsal is challenging. It also involves significant work on our German language skills, honed over many hours by our long-suffering German coach. Singing in a choir has actually made me regret not paying more attention to languages at school (although who knew that a Latin GCSE would actually come in handy?). And be assured it’s not just amateur choristers who have to practise this, there have been plenty of occasions where our professional soloists have also received some help with pronunciation.

Once you’ve mastered these challenges though, the performances are great fun.

CBSO and CBSO Chorus perform Beethoven 9 at the BBC Proms. Credit: Eve Smith.
CBSO and CBSO Chorus perform Beethoven 9 at the BBC Proms. Credit: Eve Smith.

The main perk of sitting on the front row for this concert (aside from the possibility of being on TV) was the interrupted line of sight to Andris Nelsons. It is obviously useful to be able to see what he’s doing (we did a concert a couple of years ago in Europe where at least half of us couldn’t see him at all, it’s not recommended if you like your singers to be in time with each other), but it was also a genuine pleasure to watch him as he conducted his final concert as Musical Director of the CBSO.

Andris rarely does anything as mundane as mark the beat, but instead he shapes every note of the music with each gesture. He is so expressive that you understand exactly what he means as he flicks his wrist, twirls his baton or sometimes just jumps up and down in excitement.
And this is where the sadness comes in. No more will we experience his passion for music on a regular basis, as he takes up his role with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The roar of 6000 people applauding marked the end of an amazing partnership with the CBSO, one which it has been a privilege to be a part of. It truly has been a joyous experience.

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