The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia’s season is going out, not with a bang, but with some urban rumble, random accompaniment by geese, and lots of song in a site-specific work at the Fairmount Water Works this weekend. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns caught Philadelphia’s most venerable choir at its most vulnerable.
David Patrick Stearns: How many arms does it take to conduct the Mendelssohn Club Choir? In the new work, TURBINE, for multiple choruses on the move, the answer from Artistic Director Alan Harler is...eight.
Alan Harler: One for each chorus, and one for each direction of activity.
DPS: Plus a few others to hold a flashlight in after-dark rehearsals at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and, at times, from a boat on the Schuylkill River. The chorus is collaborating with the Leah Stein Dance Company and Seattle-based composer Byron Au Yong, whose short, easily memorized melodies take into account not only the singers and audiences having a fair amount of mobility, but also distractions from passing motorcycles.
Byron Au Yong: It’s a loud space. Doing the historic research, which has a lot of paintings and photographs of this space, they look incredibly pastoral. But it’s not. It’s a space that’s in a city. There are contradictions.
DPS: The singers will move in groups, some in the gazebo, some in more open spaces, often determining how often they repeat the music according to how long it takes to lead audiences from point A to point…whatever. The singers weren’t always sure how they felt about it.
Alan Harler: They’re not used to that, because, you know, if you’re working on Beethoven’s 9th, you’re used to having the music on the page. The singers feel very comfortable with that. Here’s the music. Tell me how it’s done and I’ll do it. Don’t give me a choice.
DPS: How will it come out? Nobody knows specifically. In any case, TURBINE is something you may not believe until you see it. And along the way, feel free to hug a tree.