Interview with Philipp Schmidlin

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You have been the artistic director of the Audite Nova Zug choir for almost a year now. How did you experience taking on this new role?
It was a very rewarding start for me, both personally and musically. I immediately felt at home in the choir, as I was given a very warm welcome right from the start. This friendly atmosphere made it easy for me to quickly integrate into the ensemble.

You made your public debut as artistic director of the Audite Nova Zug choir on 9 and 10 December 2023, with the atmospheric Christmas concert “A Ceremony of Carols”. The extremely positive response to the concert shows that you have made a successful start. As a professional musician, do you also experience stage fright in such new situations?
I had some stage fright before the first concert, but it disappeared as soon as I immersed myself in the music. I generally feel most nervous when I have to make announcements. I prefer to let my hands do the talking.

The Audite Nova Zug choir will perform Antonín Dvořák’s great work “Stabat Mater” in the parish church of Unterägeri on 16th and 17th March 2024, together with the South Westphalia Philharmonic and the soloists Goar Badalian (soprano), Freya Apffelstaedt (alto), Luca Bernard (tenor), and Jonas Jud (bass). What can concertgoers look forward to?

Concertgoers can look forward to a deeply moving work. It was the composer’s first work of church music, and was characterised by his own personal tragedy. Three of his children died between 1875 to 1877, and this may have been his major motivation to study the “Stabat Mater” poem and ultimately complete one of his most important works.

The singers in the choir love this work, and will present it at a high artistic level. The Audite Nova choir will thereby be accompanied by a renowned German professional orchestra and outstanding young soloists (Jonas Jud, for example, was born in 1997) who already have outstanding international careers.

Being able to perform Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater” just three months after “A Ceremony of Carols” sounds like a challenge. How have the Audite Nova Zug choir managed to bring such a major work to concert level in such a short time?
It was an advantage that the choir already rehearsed the work in 2020.  But four years have passed since then. There have been changes in the composition of the choir, and some singers have to learn the work from new. There have also been other changes, such as using the Latin pronunciation and other tempos. The choir took some time to fully remember the music, which led to some amusing moments at the beginning.
I try to use the short rehearsal time as efficiently as possible. The rehearsals since January have been very intensive, but everyone is enjoying themselves, because the concerts are now almost upon us.

You have previously led smaller ensembles and choirs. With around 100 active singers, the Audite Nova Zug choir is one of the largest choirs in Central Switzerland. What was new for you in directing such a large choir?
My ear first had to get used to the larger registers. Otherwise, the work is essentially the same. A big challenge is learning all the names. I still don’t know all the singers by name;)

How does working with a professional choir differ from working with an amateur choir?
The preparation and methods for rehearsal are similar. However, the time frame for rehearsal varies considerably.
With professional ensembles, work usually begins (with the exception of staged performances) just a few days, or at most a few weeks before the performances. The rehearsal time is very expensive. In contrast, the annual planning for amateur choirs usually envisages a time frame of half a year, or to as much as two years.
As the choir members have other daytime jobs, amateur choir rehearsals usually take place on weekday evenings, whereas professionals can also rehearse in the morning and afternoon, which I personally really appreciate. With an amateur choir, you only have “free time” in the evenings, so to speak.
A professional works with his/her voice almost every day, which means you can go straight into the music without having to warm-up. A layperson (and I don’t particularly like the term) has vocal training at best once a week, and otherwise only at the weekly rehearsal. Warming up the voice before starting to sing. and providing vocal support during the rehearsal are therefore very important.
When working with professionals, with up to 6 hours of rehearsals every day, it’s important to me to work as efficiently as possible in order to protect their voices.
Both amateurs and professionals love music, and want to spend a good time together. Another similarity: you never have too much time to rehearse;)

Through your involvement at the Zug Singing School (Zuger Singschule), you work a lot with children and young people. Which experiences from working with children and young people are particularly valuable when working with adults?

For me, the work I carry out with children and young people and the knowledge obtained from studying school music are generally very valuable when conducting adult choirs. Adults also like entertaining and enjoyable rehearsals, and playful elements and movement are particularly valued.

Many, if not almost all, adult amateur choirs are always looking for young talent who will commit to the choir on a long-term basis. How would you like to help inspire young singers to join the Audite Nova Zug choir?
The choral world is changing very quickly, and, unfortunately, I don’t have any secret recipes. I can certainly help to increase the appeal to younger singers through the selection of the music. Specifically, I mean literature that is between avant-garde and kitsch in the concert programs, and the use of music from the pop genre as part of the repertoire at the weekly rehearsals.

When and how did you discover singing? What made you decide to study singing?
My first singing experiences was as a boy soprano in the children’s choirs of the Basel Music Academy. I became fascinated with choral music when I had the opportunity to sing under great school musicians and choir directors at high school.
In my opinion, my last master’s in singing was the only remaining course of study that could most usefully complement my curriculum as a conductor and choir director in a meaningful way.

A look into the future: with the performance of Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles” with the Ensemble Voxus, you fulfilled one of our dreams in the autumn of 2023. Is there a special wish, a work or a project that you would like to realise with the Audite Nova Zug choir and present to the concert-loving audience in Zug?
There are a few works I have in mind, but I don’t want to reveal any more details about them yet. It should also be a surprise for the choir;)

Thank you!

Iso Christl for the Audite Nova Zug choir
Translation Chris Lee

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