The Instrumentalist-Singer Duos of "Coro"

12 June 2017

A performance of Luciano Berio’s Coro is always visually striking: instead of sitting on stage as two detached blocks, singers of the choir and instrumentalists of the orchestra are grouped into pairs, separated from their usual colleagues and stand partners.

This layout, which was defined by the composer himself, opens up a new sound world for all musicians on stage as they – both singers and instrumentalists – learn to hear and interact with each other and with the conductor on a whole new level. 

For the MCO’s second tour featuring Coro, a few instrumentalist-singer duos shared their experiences of working together as a duo, being placed in a different section of the stage, and approaching music from the perspective of someone who communicates through music in a very different way. 

Martijne van Dijk, saxophone & Elena Shestakova, mezzo-soprano

What is your part?

MvD: I play alto saxophone in Coro.
ES: I sing the part of alto #4 (I’m a mezzo-soprano) 

How closely do you work with your partner?

MvD: We are a real duo. There is a lot of counterpoint that goes on between our parts. It’s comfortable to sit next to someone who works so closely with you. 

ES: My partner in this piece is a saxophonist and we collaborate and communicate pretty well. She is sitting to my right, and that is very comfortable as nobody separates me from the other altos.

What is it like to sit next to a musician who doesn't play your instrument/sing your part?

MvD: It’s refreshing. There is such a strong musical connection between our parts. There is a lot of trust needed. It’s an incredible experience! 

Usually, we [saxophonists] sit next to the clarinets. This time, they are spread out everywhere. From where I sit, the orchestra sounds more transparent and less dense. This setup also accentuates the fact that there’s nowhere to hide. It’s like a theatrical play, and we musicians have individual roles.

ES: I remember that the first rehearsal of Coro was very unusual and quite difficult, but now I feel myself well in it.