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Carolina Master Chorale heads overseas

The Carolina Master Chorale likes carrying its voice around the world to finish a season of concerts.

For its seventh world tour since first performing in Austria in 1997, the Grand Strand band of singers has embarked on a tour of the Baltic states, covering Finland, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, in nine days.

Tim Koch, concluding his 12th season as the chorale’s music director and conductor, said last week, two days after a Sunday afternoon concert in Myrtle Beach to rehearse the tour’s repertoire, this marks his fifth tour abroad with the group. About 30 to 40 of the 80 singers found time and funds in their budgets to make this excursion.

Question | With the chorale’s branching out into eastern Europe, such a central cultural birthplace for musical and visual arts for the world, how does this three-part destination of stops coming together excite you?

Answer | Those are places I’ve always wanted to go in recent years. Estonia, of all places, has gotten a lot of attention. … A couple of famous composers have gotten known around the world, because of the dissolution of the Eastern bloc. We’re going to perform a piece by one of those composers, Veljo Tormis. He’s particularly well known for artists’ rendering of Estonian folk music. And that’s why I asked about Estonia when talking with the tour coordinator.

Q. | What other sites meshed with this itinerary, with Tallinn, Estonia?

A. | The tour company, which we’ve worked with on other tours, paired it with Helsinki and St. Petersburg, … so we said, “Let’s do both.” … We’ll be touring these places and performing for audiences in each.

Q. | Just how far ahead are these agendas for such tours laid out?

A. | We’ve had this itinerary for about a year, … and we send our repertoire ahead so people over in the places where we’ll perform had time to look it over. We mostly sing sacred music, mostly singing in churches.

Q. | What’s on the wish list for future tours?

A. | I like to go places I haven’t gone to yet. … I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil; there’s a great love for choral music there. … I also would like to go to Asia, New Zealand … or Australia.

Q. | How do such global gigs make the chorale experience and appreciation of the music performed more special, internal and intimate?

A. | Having done it several times, I think we know the concerts do have a kind of magical quality that’s unique to the touring unlike what we experience here at home. Over there, they love American music, and it’s … fresh and unique to them. And we always try to do something native to the country where we’re touring. It’s a gesture we’re making to each country to show we understand your language and your music and appreciate your music.

Q. | What has made this resonance with audiences worldwide convince you of the special communication a song can provide?

A. | We’re doing a Russian set of “The Lord’s Prayer,” in a church. ... In about 1995, when I took it on tour with my college class … we sang it … in a church … and a tiny woman, about 4-foot-8, came out from where she was selling trinkets, and she walked out alongside the rope, the barricade … . Huge tears came streaming down her face. It was a powerful moment for the people to see kids from the United States to see they’re singing in Russian. … That’s always been one of the most powerful musical experiences I’ve ever had, an important reward.

Q. | What other homework has the chorale undertaken in preparation for this tour?

A. | We also crossed paths with a Finnish woman who sings with a barbershop choir. … She has been teaching us how to pronounce the words in this Finnish song. We previewed it on Sunday afternoon at a concert of our tour music. She said that we got the language down just perfectly. She feels the audience will be floored by the effort we’ll make to bring something special from their music to them. … We take a little bit of the music we’ve had success with … to sing them music from our own country, too.

Q. | How much time is spent sightseeing for fun and to absorb more of each locale to add to your own performance?

A. | If someone would like to go, we’ll … hit all the major sites for three to four hours, even on days with concerts in the evening.

Q. | On travels abroad, do you also hope to see other vacationers in the seats?

A. | We see a lot of tourists, because it’s in touristy churches. Sometimes, we’ll do a concert at the end of a whole service; you have a captive audience there.

Q. | How energizing is the sight of foreign youth enjoying the chorale’s work?

A. | On one trip, to Italy, we did a concert, and it was supposed to be a 9 o’clock concert, and a couple of the first people in line looked like high school-age girls. We did some opera excerpts, … and in a whole act of “La Traviata,” the girls mouthed all the words; they knew all the words.

Q. | With the chorale rendering such numbers by historic musicians in their homelands, do extra memories fill your heart for a lifetime?

A. | Quite. It’s certain songs always attached to this moment or that place. … That’s what making music is all about. Although the music is important, the music is always a means, a vehicle, the coming out of the moment, the events and the people. … The sound was phenomenal in the Granada Cathedral in Spain. There was an eight-second reverb in that place – That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

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