Surround Yourself in Song

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Q&A with Robert Porco


by Diana M. Lara


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May Festival Magazine: What qualities do you feel Juanjo will bring to the May Festival?
Robert Porco: He’s a terrific musician, first and foremost, as well as a wonderful conductor and a wonderful person. I love his conducting, his warmth and his musicality, in terms of expression, with the Orchestra and with the Chorus.

MFM: Who formulated the idea of having a community chorus join with the May Festival for Messiah?
RP: This was entirely Juanjo. It was more specific than just a community chorus; it was about Messiah and a community chorus, with a portion of the May Festival Chorus singing the more complicated parts and community singers singing from within the audience. This was one of the first things he mentioned to me when we met, because he had done it in Spain and it was very successful. I’m happy to report that it’s been a great experience for everybody!

MFM: For the seasoned May Festival goer, or a newcomer, what experience do you hope someone takes away from the Festival this year?
RP: Hopefully they’ll be inspired. Let’s say someone comes to every concert—if we can move a few people to think, move them to tears, or to laughter, per se, those are signs of success. Generally, I hope they’ll be impressed with the quality of what we do, and the sincerity and humanity we try to communicate with a chorus of volunteers. There are lots of things to be really impressed and inspired by in addition to the music.

MFM: You met Leonard Bernstein and conducted MASS during your years at Indiana University. How was that experience?
RP: It was maybe 30 years ago. We did some performances of the piece and Mr. Bernstein had developed a relationship with Indiana University over that period. He would rent a little place at a lake nearby, presumably to write a sequel to Trouble in Tahiti, and he came a couple of times to conduct students—he was the ultimate teacher. We took our production of MASS to Tanglewood for its celebration of Bernstein’s 70th birthday. We brought the entire production, including sets, performers and orchestra from Indiana.

MFM: While you prepare the community chorus, you are simultaneously working on the production of MASS. How is this production different from when you led MASS 30 years ago?
RP: There are 30 years of music making in between—the musical experience is the same; it’s still very invigorating and stimulating. I’m struck again by how complicated MASS is. I have a much greater respect for it now than I did before—not that I didn’t then, but, in retrospect, I’ve just thought about what the piece meant to Bernstein, that it was a piece of its time…. I lived through the 1970s and was Catholic. It was true back then, but it’s truer when you’ve lived more life. I see connections in it that I didn’t see earlier.