The Classical Station’s interview with Benjamin Goodson for Preview!
Interview with Benjamin Goodson
by Bethany Tillerson (Photo credit: Eduardus Lee)
Benjamin Goodson, Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Choir, appears on Preview! this week. The Netherlands Radio Choir has recently released Rheinberger and Mendelssohn Choral Works, and Rob Kennedy discusses the composers and their works in this week’s interview.
KENNEDY: Benjamin, tell our listeners about the Netherlands Radio Choir and how you came to be its director.
GOODSON: The Netherlands Radio Choir is about 77 years old. It is a full time, professional, salaried group of 60 singers who sing together nearly every day. The job of this choir is to service the concert series of the Dutch public broadcaster in Holland. There are two weekly live concert series. The choir’s job is to provide live concert music for these two broadcast series. We sing everything from Early music to the newest contemporary music. We do a lot of commissioning, so there’s lots of contemporary music that we sing. I’ve known the choir for many years. I was first of all associated with them as a guest conductor about six years ago. We got on really well. When I was there as a guest conductor, the first thing I did with them was Mozart’s Requiem, and it was a really special project. I think that we felt already in that first production together that there was a really good chemistry. Sometimes you just feel that there’s something there that you would like to explore. I was looking for a new position and they were looking for a new chief conductor, and that’s exactly what came of it. I became the chief conductor of the choir in August 2020. This is my fourth season with the choir and we’re having a great time together.
KENNEDY: Rheinberger is one of those composers choral specialists such as you and I know something about. But tell our listeners where Rheinberger fits into the pantheon of classical music composers.
GOODSON: He’s an interesting guy. He was born, I think, in 1839, and he was from Liechtenstein. He wrote quite a lot. He wrote several Masses, over ten, lots of motets, two operas, a couple of symphonies, some chamber music. So he was relatively prolific. You hear the influence of his contemporaries, so you hear Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. But the interesting thing is, you really hear Bach. A bit like Mendelssohn, he went back and rediscovered and revitalized Bach’s music. You also hear it in Rheinberger’s obsession with technique, counterpoint, and polyphony, that real Bachian fundament to everything that he wrote. That also comes from the organ literature.
There’s a romantic take on really solid compositional techniques in the Mass that we’ve recorded, the Cantus Missae in E-flat Major. It’s an absolutely beautiful setting of the Mass text, especially the Kyrie, which overflows itself in this delicious counterpoint that opens out. It’s very warm, beautiful, vocal writing. I’m a big fan of the piece, and very happy to give it a new reading. It’s a relatively popular piece, but it’s not been recorded very much, and this seemed to be a great opportunity to visit the score anew.
KENNEDY: Now the other composer on the recording, Mendelssohn, wrote lots of music for voices. Can you tell us what you selected for this recording and why?
GOODSON: Mendelssohn is one of my favorite composers, and we’ve recorded a couple of pieces on this disc. The first of them is a setting of three psalms. These are amazing pieces. I said to you earlier that Mendelssohn was very interested in Bach and rediscovered some of Bach’s music. But you really hear in these psalm settings all the drama of a Bach Passion. The journey that these three psalms go on is absolutely extraordinary. So dramatic, so rhetorical. They’re quite different psalm texts, but they’re united by the same journey. Each of these three pieces takes you on the same journey. All three of them go from a place of doubt or trouble or questioning to a place of comfort, resolution, belief in God.
The other piece that we’ve recorded on this disc is Six Pieces, or Six Texts, if you like. These were written as liturgical miniatures. They would have been probably heard in a service originally. They were written for the Berlin Cathedral, which is a couple of hundred meters from where I live in Berlin. It’s great to think of this building being the original setting.
Each of these six pieces is only about a minute and a half long, but the power of these pieces is extraordinary. What he manages to pack into 2 minutes is mind blowing. We were imagining when we were rehearsing it what it must have been like hearing these pieces in a liturgical context for the first time. Going to a normal church service and being confronted with music of that power must have been a very amazing special thing.
KENNEDY: Benjamin Goodson, thank you so much for telling us about this marvelous new recording of Mendelssohn and Rheinberger.
Join us for the full Preview! interview on Sunday, November 19th, at 7 p.m. Listen on TheClassicalStation.org, 89.7 FM, or our app.