I UNDERESTIMATED what was on offer when I attended a performance of Brahms’s German Requiem in the Berlin Philharmonie. I was aware of a rather large chorus on and behind the platform, but it also occupied three and a half blocks of audience seating on either side of the stage. I decided I should read the programme notes!
The performance was a grand finale to the Choral Space Festival in Berlin. Choral Space is the creation of Gent Lazri, founder and project developer, and Simon Halsey, the renowned choral director and conductor. Some ten choirs from the United States and Europe networked, learned, and performed in the lead-up to this performance. Having rehearsed in their countries, they joined forces for three rehearsals with Halsey in Berlin. The performance was a revelation.
The orchestra, Ensemble Crescere, a youth chamber orchestra, held its own against the huge chorus. Halsey conducted without a baton and used a restricted range of gestures for clarity. The chorus created a wall of sound, a gracious wall of lush layers and clear diction. There were also occasional antiphonal effects: real natural surround sound. The soloists Iwona Sobotka (soprano) and Georg Streuber (baritone) sang well, with very clear conducting cues from Halsey. Everyone shone in this coherent and assured performance. It was beyond compare. There was nothing to compare it to: they had struck gold. Choral Space aims to facilitate learning, creating, and performing. In this performance, it succeeded.