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A New York State of mind

March 15, 2009 – Troy, NY

Many singers didn’t know what to expect arriving for our rehearsal in the Troy Savings Music Hall, but we’d heard about the history. You know, overwhelming facts like its one of the most acoustically beautiful halls in the world and that it has over a one hundred years of amazing and historic concerts including such greats as Arthur Rubenstein and Sergei Rachmaninoff!!

Kira Rugen singing from the organ loft at the Troy Savings Music Hall in Troy, NY.
Kira Rugen singing from the organ loft at the Troy Savings Music Hall in Troy, NY.

We all had a sense of awe and respect as we sang our first notes which rang in the hall with brilliance and clarity. Meanwhile, I was given a special “backstage pass,” through locked doors, up several rickety staircases, high above the stage and even above the highest box seats, to the organ loft. It was from the sky-high loft that I sang the opening notes of our concert in Canticum Calimitatis Maritimae. This piece is about the Estonia, a ship that sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994. Written by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, we started the piece with the original mayday distress call from the ship.

My solo takes on the character of the lone wife of the captain, mourning over her lost husband and his crew. I sang the folk-like hymn over the choirs as they chanted the prayers of the dead. Singing that song in that hall was surreal. From the loft, I felt like I was singing out to sea with the tumultuous waves (the choir with their dense chords) coursing beneath me.

March 16, 2009 – Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center

Kira Rugen, Laura Inman, Carol Platt Proudfoot and Stephanie Stickford on their way to rehearsal.
Kira Rugen, Laura Inman, Carol Platt Proudfoot and Stephanie Stickford on their way to rehearsal.

Ever felt like royalty? Me neither — until we reached Alice Tully Hall! Every care and concern was taken care of with the utmost professionalism and respect. The hall sang with a velvet touch allowing our choral sound to be crisp and pure, picking up dynamic warmth. While it didn’t have as much ring time as the Troy Savings Music Hall, it was still a great acoustic room to sing in. It was such a pleasure to sing for New York audiences. They know what to expect, and know how to appreciate a concert to its fullest. It was really an honor to be on that stage with such appreciation and gratitude in the room and truly giving the concert of our lives.

Kira Rugen and composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Kira Rugen and composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

The highlight of my evening was having the great opportunity of meeting Mr. Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, the composer of the Canticum Calimitatis Maritimae. His personality is very much like his music: serious, stoic, intelligent and complex. It takes a while to get to know him, and not a small amount of patience and persistence! However, when he opens up there really is a lot to gain by hearing his thoughts. He has a philosophy on life – that “…you can never state absolutes because they are bound to eventually be wrong.” He then carefully told me that our performance was one of the three best he’d heard of that piece. Diplomatic, yet honest! How can one disagree with the man.

Last but not least, every musician knows that by putting their talent out into the public realm, we open ourselves up to praise and appreciation but also criticism and dislike. Yet there we were in one of the most musically critical cities in the world, singing the way we do best and… they liked it! Not only did they like it, and offer up standing ovation after standing ovation but we were given rave reviews from some very fine news organizations including The New York Times!

I can’t think of a finer way to complete our first concert tour to New York. I can’t think of an organization I would be more proud and appreciative to be a part of.

– Kira Rugen, singer with the Phoenix Chorale

See more photos from Kira’s trip here.