Sunday afternoon included a release party for a book honoring our beloved conductor for his 30 years of leadership. We gathered following the concert and The Choir’s president, David Beckwith, had some eloquent words to mark the occasion. Greg then signed books for anyone present who would like them, and a lovely spread of refreshments was on offer.
The book was a labor of love on the part of our Executive Director, Bridget George, who compiled volumes of quotes and photography from The Choir’s extensive archives, and solicited introductions from some key figures. She collaborated with Anne Schauer, the incredibly gifted designer who works closely with the organization on our print materials. The two assembled an absolutely beautiful book that captures so much of the essence of our organization and its wonderful artistic leader. Congratulations to the both of them.
I’d like to offer a few words about the subject of their labors, though I cannot claim any objectivity on the matter. Greg Funfgeld is a close friend, and his work with The Choir has been deeply inspiring to me for most of my life. I wrote in my post about the Christmas Concerts about the Funfgeldian stamp that marks all of his performances, and that is the combination of unimaginable musical depth, intellectual and spiritual rigor, and an unfailing sense of excitement and enthusiasm. I’ve never known him to lead a pedestrian performance or ever phone-it-in, in any sense. The sort of wide-eyed awe that permeates the quotes and observations of the immense Bach Choir family in the book is completely justified, and I remain awed, myself, by the seemingly endless reserves of intellect, spirituality, musicality, humility, and basic human decency from which Greg draws daily.
To illustrate, one anecdote: At the Festival a few years ago, we sang Zelenka’s Miserere, an interesting baroque curiosity. The Choir had to make do with just vocal parts in our score, and, toward the end of the piece, the bass section has a prominent entrance after an extended section of John Adamsesque c-minor churning from the orchestra. In rehearsal, my colleagues and I became hopelessly lost, and missed the entrance. Our fearless leader was looking down at his score at the moment, and we stopped and he looked up with one question, “Basses?” On behalf of my colleagues, all of whom were probably thinking the same thing, I squeaked, “Perhaps if we could have a…better…cue…there?” The moment I said it, my years of experience singing for temperamental conductors (today’s subject cheerfully excluded) had me bracing for a reply. Instead, Greg marked the spot in his score with a knowing smile, and what could’ve been an awkward moment was averted. The next time through the section, a clear preparation was given, and all was well.
Fast forward to the first performance. The c-minor churning commenced. Basses stood at the ready, and, a couple of bars out, the Maestro looked up. It started with a grin, then a beaming smile, then the most precise, elegant preparation, followed by a perfectly executed entrance, followed by another smile of great whimsy.
I once had a long conversation with one of my college professors about how so many of our musical icons were actually somewhat deplorable people, given to fits of antisocial behavior, egotism, cruelty – a sort of dark side to their undeniable artistry. In Greg, I believe we have a peerless evangelist for the alternative: someone who makes music in the most generous, kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, and human way. You don’t have to take my word for it – Dear Mr. Funfgeld is filled with quotes from those deeply touched by Greg’s artistry and humanity, from the preeminent Bach scholar of our time, to performers of great reputation and accomplishment, to those whose lives are changed by listening to the beautiful music led by our Kapellmeister. Certainly, the reader is filled with admiration for Greg’s gifts and accomplishments, but, even more so, one is reminded of the possibility of living a life of passion, generosity, courage, curiosity, and artistry. Buy the book by completing this form, and be inspired.