Monday, December 19, 2011

The grand finale

I’m writing this from the Berlin airport on Monday morning as we wait for our short flight to Munich, where we connect to Boston.  Yesterday was such a full day, and it was just too late to blog the day by the time I got back to the hotel, so here is the chronicle of Sunday.

On Sunday morning, the Festival offered workshops on a variety of music topics led by the conductors of the various choruses.  Many Zamirniks attended, but I opted out in favor of sleeping a little later.  Once I got moving, I took another walk around the hotel neighborhood, went back to the Christmas market nearby, bought a few trinkets and ate some more native German food.  I have so enjoyed just walking around the various neighborhoods, watching the people, and soaking up the Berlin culture.

At 1:00 p.m. we were on yet another bus being taken to the Rykestrasse Synagogue, where the grand final concert of the Festival would be performed.  Again, this was an unbelievably beautiful building and the moment of walking through the door was breathtaking.  It is a very large, new structure, with amazing details and finishes and lots of light beaming in through beautiful glass and stained glass windows .  I found it just incredible to find such a beautiful Jewish structure in the middle of East Berlin.   Here are some photos:

The program involved short performances (two pieces) by each of the eight choruses, plus two pieces sung by the entire entourage.  The rehearsal might have been complete chaos, but in a nod to the organizers, this particular event (unlike some of the others) was run with efficiency and precision.  There was, however, a good deal of down time which gave us the opportunity to take some walks around the area of the synagogue.  The weather was cold and rainy, so many opted for a hot beverage in one of the small area cafes.  I walked a little, but finally ended up going upstairs to the balcony of the synagogue and taking a little catnap.  That, to me, was a perfect use of the down time.

We were the fourth of eight in the concert’s individual group lineup.  The first three choruses were men only groups (Zurich, Johannesburg and the Jerusalem Cantor’s choir) and in my view less polished and less impressive than the mixed groups.   Our performance was at our usual level of quality, and the audience loved us.  For me, one amazing moment was when we walked up onto the bimah (from where we were performing) and I looked up and out at the audience and the grandeur of the building around us.  It was breathtaking, and emotional, and put me in a very reflective mood for singing.  We finished our second piece to a rousing and lengthy round of applause.  I happened to be at the end of the first row, which means I led the group off the stage and back to our row of seats.  The Strasbourg chorus, which was seated in the row behind us, was applauding and cheering us so enthusiastically as we walked down that aisle that it actually brought me to tears.  All of the choruses were so supportive of one another, and it was incredible to be able to perform for one another at last.  The last three groups, the London, Strasbourg and Berlin choirs, were mixed groups and all made such a beautiful sound.  The Berlin group, the resident group at the Pestalozstrasse Synagogue, in particular was just stellar.  They are an eight-person, paid professional choir who make the most full and gorgeous sound.  Unfortunately (again just my opinion), the cantor of that synagogue with whom they sing does not have a very pleasing voice, and this detracted from the joy of listening to the choir.  Nevertheless, he seems quite beloved by his congregation and the locals.

The concert began and ended with all eight choirs together singing two Lewandowski pieces.  We were seated all around the room, so the sound literally surrounded the audience and filled every corner of the space.  From where I was standing, it was difficult to hear and appreciate the full effect, but I am told by audience members that it was a beautiful and overpowering sound.

Following the concert, the organizers held a reception for us in the lobby of the synagogue.  This was mass chaos—the space was too small for the number of people clamoring for the food and drink, kind of a like a synagogue kiddish run amok.  I commented that people pounced on the food with the same gusto as if they had been wandering the desert for 40 days and nights with nothing more than manna as sustenance.  But then again, I suppose this is not such an uncommon phenomenon when Jews and food are put in the same location!

And thus ended the Berlin Lewandowski Festival.  We returned to the hotel to enjoy our last night in Berlin and prepare for our return trip to Boston.

This entry was begun in Berlin, and is ending as I sit many hours later on the sofa in my home after a very long day of travel.  It’s good to be home, but I am sad that the trip is over.  I have so, so many thoughts about this experience, but will save my “wrap-up” post for tomorrow, after I have had some sleep.

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