Saturday, November 18, 2006

Vance George upon his retirement.

I have worked with some pretty terrific people, and I definitely count Vance George among them. I was in the chorus of the San Francisco Symphony for a couple of years at about the time Vance began leading it.

His approach to choral tone was perhaps his biggest talent and a crucial one for someone who coaches a chorus for someone else to conduct. Robert Shaw approached this problem from the point of view of intonation. He didn’t much care how you formed the tone as long as you were strictly in tune. One would not wish to argue with Robert Shaw on this subject, but Vance went one step further and coached for vowel sounds that created the specific color he wanted to hear. Language coaches would criticize. “It’s not [her], it’s more [h3r].” He wanted the color of [her] whether it was the correct pronunciation or not, and he was right. [Forgive my lack of phonetic alphabet. There’s probably a font for that.]

He created some of the most spectacular choral performances I’ve ever witnessed. My personal favorite was the performance where he prepared the chorus for Robert Shaw to conduct the Brahms German Requiem. This is the best of all possible worlds.

The chorus consistently received louder and longer ovations than the soloists, conductor or indeed the symphony itself. They were worth shouting about. His shoes will be hard to fill.

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