As you may already know, the Portland Symphonic Choir is a giant vocal dynamo powered by 120 pairs of lungs. It is an absolute wonder to behold, and in anticipation of their upcoming program, this rodent wanted at least one of its members to tackle 10 queries. Therefore, gentle readers, I give you the indefatigable soprano Ms. Katherine Lefever:
Starting Saturday, you and your choral peeps are singing Beethoven’s monumental Ninth with the Oregon Symphony for 3 sold-out performances! Is it even possible to describe this music?
Beethoven’s music is at once both glorious and fearsome. It’s truly sublime in that romantic notion of the sublime being kind of terrifying. Or to put it in more contemporary terms, it’s pretty-ugly. It’s in your face and it’s unapologetic. Even Verdi thought the final movement was too much! Beethoven was the first modern composer, an Artist with a capital “A” who didn’t have to compose for the whims of a patron – that freedom produced the most influential work in the classical canon.
So do you have a favorite moment for the soprano section in that gloriously fearsome final movement?
The first full statement of the main theme in the choir. It’s about halfway through the movement (sometimes called the start of Part 2). Prior to that, the orchestra, the men of the choir and the soloists have all had the theme, but that full choir forte entrance gives me chills every time. Honestly the sopranos don’t sing much at all until that moment, which is merciful given how freakin’ high the rest of the piece is for us!
The hairs on the back of my tail are standing up. So stoked for this show! Um, can you please tell me more about the Portland Symphonic Choir?
PSC has a core of paid, professional singers but its ranks are mostly comprised of volunteers. Many of these volunteers, like myself, are trained musicians who make a living doing other things. I’ve been singing with the choir since the 2007-2008 season and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. It’s the masterworks that keep me coming back. There are lots of choirs in Portland, but PSC is the only group that performs with the Oregon Symphony and the only group that’s got a Brahms’ Requiem or a Carmina Burana on the program each season.
So what do you do when you’re not singing?
Professionally I’m a non-profit fundraiser and I’m privileged to be able to combine my interests in non-profits and in classical music by working at All Classical Portland, the greatest classical radio station in the world! I also volunteer my time for a handful of other performing arts non-profits in town. And I’ve been known to do some karaoke now and again. I guess that’s technically still singing… 😉
Technically. Hey – Benjamin Britten’s Ballad of Heroes is also on the program ~ Yay! What can you tell us about that work?
Ballad of Heroes is a relatively early Britten composition and it’s almost never performed. In fact, I don’t believe anyone in PSC has ever performed it before. (Collectively I’m sure my fellow choir members have performed Beethoven’s Ninth close to 1,000 times.) For those familiar with Britten’s choral works, there are moments reminiscent of the War Requiem or his Ceremony of Carols, which was composed only a few years later. The text by W. H. Auden is gorgeous! It’s a good compliment to the Ninth in that both are calls for unity, one in the face of horror and the other in anticipation of joy.
Rock on #Britten100! Okay, here we are in the midst of February… What’s your advice for surviving Portland winters?
Coffee, breakfast burrito, loud music. Repeat.
Got it. Speaking of burritos, if you could invite 3 composers to dinner, who would you choose?
Actually, I’d love to have met Britten. And I’d have a lot of questions for Shostakovich. Then maybe Haydn just to lighten the mood a bit!
Oh my, what a group! Alright, when you’re not listening to classical, what other music do you dig?
My taste runs the gamut—indie rock, R&B, jazz. I spend just as much time listening to Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, and Led Zeppelin as I do to classical music. I try to get out to see local bands as much as possible. The arts community in Portland is so interconnected and I’m lucky to count musicians of all stripes among my friends.
Sweet! Hey, if I could buy you a drink, what would you order?
I’m a classic cocktail person, so either a Sazerac or a *Corpse Reviver #2.
Bring on the Cointreau! Let’s see… whoa, is this the final question already?! Geez. Okay, help me out here: Why is the Portland Symphonic Choir so darn amazing?
I think it has a lot to do with the good fortune we have to live in Portland, a city with such a disproportionate pool of musical talent. The fact that we perform with the Oregon Symphony is part of it too, and we work together well. Plus the singers in PSC are talented but also responsive, which is a conductor’s dream. We are certainly a cleaner, more professional ensemble with *Steven Zopfi at the helm.
Amen to that! Katherine, thank you sooo much for the interview and for some brilliant responses. I’ll be sure to keep my beady lil’ eyes peeled for you Monday night! Freude! Freude!