Arizona Artbeat: Phoenix Chorale Grammy

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Phoenix Chorale conductor Charles Bruffy won a Grammy for best choral performance for a recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil,” which was performed with the Phoenix and Kansas City Chorales, both directed by Bruffy. Bruffy will discuss the award and the recording.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Art Beat looks at the Phoenix chorale which recently teamed with the Kansas city coral to win a best choral performance Grammy award for a recording of Rachmaninov's all night vigil. It was the third Grammy for conductor and artistic director, Charles Bruffy.

Charles Bruffy: I want to thank Dr. Olga Ackerley for teaching me how these Russian songs go. I want to thank Chandliss records and especially Ralph cousins, who took my hands in his and looked me in the eye and said -- I have faith in you. And to everyone out there that has the opportunity to say I have faith in you, and to every person who needs to hear I have faith in you, I so wish that for everyone.

Ted Simons: The recording was released last year on the 100th anniversary of the prestigious work's premier. [Singing]

Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the grammys, Rachmaninov and the challenges of working with two professional choirs is Charles Bruffy. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: It's awfully nice to be here.

Charles Bruffy: Would you like to have the envelope, please? That's the very one.

Ted Simons: I couldn't hope noticing you brought a friend over here as well.

Charles Bruffy: I hardly leave home without him.

Ted Simons: I bet you don't. Love the jacket as well. This is -- Grammy award. Best choral performance. Your thoughts.

Charles Bruffy: I must be dreaming.

Ted Simons: But this is your third one. Interesting. I always like to ask this in the process of artistic endeavors. When you were recording, rehearsing, when you were doing this, did you think in your mind, this is special, different than we normally do?

Charles Bruffy: The answer ordinarily would be no. But in this case everyone in the room knew that we were in the middle of something very momentous. You shouldn't have shown me that speech. Now I'm just like --

Ted Simons: It was a nice thing to say.

Charles Bruffy: Well, you know, when you speak from your heart then that's kind of what happens. But it was an incredible opportunity that we had when we brought the 24 professional singers from Kansas city and from Phoenix -- we did it with some additional voices, there were 56 all together. The mere magnitude and power greater, than the sea, the sound that was reverberating through the room and through your bones.

Ted Simons: Did you hear that Anderson sounds on the recording the first time you heard it?

Charles Bruffy: In fact, better than I did in the room where we were recording it. It was so much sound I could almost not hear it. Because there was so much sound I almost couldn't hear it.

Ted Simons: You are artistic director here. Are you same position with the Kansas City chorale?

Charles Bruffy: I have been with the Kansas City chorale since 1988. With the Phoenix chorale since 1999.

Ted Simons: How do you do that? Is that common place?

Charles Bruffy: It's very unusual. I think there are other conductors who do more than one choir, but I know of no one else who does it at the level that these choirs sing.

Ted Simons: You brought them together. The challenges. Just the logistics of having two obviously choirs close to you. You know them inside and out both of them, combining them together for this big piece of work. Did you think you could do it? Did you think you could not do it?

Charles Bruffy: Early on I thought I couldn't do T. that's why I talked about that with the -- I have faith in you thing in the speech. We were standing on the front steps of the record company near London, and I was going, but Rob, I don't think I could do this. He said, oh, shut up. We have faith in you. Not literally but -- [laughter] Because when we released this recording, it was the 35th recording of the same song. Now, 35 recordings later, what might I have to bring to it that has not already been said?

Ted Simons: What did you bring to it?

Charles Bruffy: What we tried to bring to it was the majority of the pieces are built on chant. And many of them are old Greek chants. Many are old Russian chants. Some were newly composed chants specific to this piece. What we tried to do was stick tight on the chant, the flow of the chant, the textual inflexions. From the get-go we tried to say it like we mean it.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Charles Bruffy: That there was never an element of performance. But there was only a reverence and genuine disclosure.

Ted Simons: Were there challenges in that this is -- this is Russian sacred music. These were folks from Kansas City and Phoenix. If you say it like you mean it you might have a little bit of an American accent, wouldn't you?

Charles Bruffy: You might. [laughter] We have sung a lot of Russian liturgical music. Olga Ackerley came in in the early years and we would sing Blogoslavian she would go, no, it's supposed to, BLOGOSLOVIAN. We said ok? But eventually that got into our DNA and we were able to move forward. Many of the singers are able to read the Cyrillic alphabet and we know the sounds, then you just have to sound like year Russian. How hard is it? [laughter]

Ted Simons: Grammy winning recording. I have seen the reviews. People that know far more about classical music than I could ever hope to know say this is the one to get. I have 10, 12 of these at home. I read all this stuff. But for someone who just either finds the music in whatever way, shape or form, what to listen for? How to get the most out of something you may not be all that familiar with?

Charles Bruffy: I would draw a nice, warm bath. [laughter] Then I would turn it up really loud. Always our hope is that after having heard our singing that people will feel something: There may be healing to be found. There may be stirring to be found. But you know, you know this, you're in television, we are in such a blip of society right now, and this recording is the longest playing of any of them. It takes some patience. It takes patience merely to just sit there that long. And to allow the harmonies and the phrases to germinate and evolve.

Ted Simons: Do you turn your mind off a little bit or turn your mind on?

Charles Bruffy: Oh, that I could.

Ted Simons: As far as the listeners, for someone not as familiar as you are, you know every nuance of this. I have listened to this. It sounds fantastic --

Charles Bruffy: I knew you were a changed person. I could tell. [laughter]

Ted Simons: Do you just quit trying so hard to understand it and let it wash over you when you first listen?

Charles Bruffy: Well for beginners it's in church Slavonic. You're not going to understand a single word we say. There's no reason to try. It's a nice tune. It's very impressive that the basses sing so low. There's a reason they call them profundo. It is profound to hear these low voices, and these angelic little trebles up high. I think if people come to the listening experience open of spirit and mind, it's going to hit them between the eyes.

Ted Simons: It certainly hit the academy between the eyes. Congratulations on this. Are you working on your next recording already?

Charles Bruffy: The very next day our record recording people said, okay, now what do we do? I said, I don't know, what do you want to do?

Ted Simons: Have you got something in mind?

Charles Bruffy: There's a long bucket list, a whole garbage can full, not just a bucket, of pieces. Another challenge and glory is that I get to conduct two really incredible ensembles. So we have the possibilities of doing individual recordings and then continuing to do joint recordings with both choirs.

Ted Simons: Well, it's great to have you on. Congratulations. You did the city proud. You've done the chorale proud. You're wearing that jacket with style too.

Charles Bruffy: This is the actual jacket I wore to the Grammy's.

Ted Simons: Credit for that too. Congratulations.

Charles Bruffy: Thank you very much for having me.

Charles Bruffy:Phoenix Chorale conductor

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