As a Glee Clubber for 3 years and the co-Manager of the 1977 European Summer Tour, I spent a lot of time with Fenno. I treasure the memories and will always remember him with great affection.
One moment sticks in my mind, though. During my senior year the Glee Club’s major performance was J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. Fenno had a special way with Bach; at a time when choruses and orchestras around the world were reducing their forces in performances of Baroque music, he seemed to relish showing what he could do with 72 singers in Bach’s masterpieces.
No championship football team ever practiced harder than we did on the St. John Passion. At first, his insistence on precision, on phrasing, on repeating certain small bits of music over and over again until we had it right, seemed over-the-top, unnecessary. But Fenno knew better.
One night, maybe 3 weeks before the performance, everything came together in a rehearsal the memory of which still makes my skin tingle. All those hours of rehearsing, Fenno’s insistence on doing things right, suddenly came together in an extraordinary sound, the likes of which I had never heard.
We would be ready.
To this day, 30+ years later, I am as proud of that performance in Woolsey Hall as of any event in my life. It was not just good, it was extraordinary. I have listened to every commercially available recording of the St. John Passion, and I can say that no other chorus matches the sound, the intensity, that Fenno conjured forth.
At times it sounded like a choir of angels; at others it sounded like singers at war. In one short burst, when Bach’s chorus was mocking Jesus, we sounded so diabolical that you could easily envision the Biblical scene.
The piece ends on a quiet note. Many of us were almost in tears because of the emotion we felt, the joy and pride we took in the performance we had just completed. Fenno lowered his arm, and for a split second there was absolute silence in Woolsey Hall. And then pandemonium.
Although I have done many things since, I do not believe I have ever felt quite as proud, quite as fulfilled, as I did standing on the stage in Woolsey Hall that night. For that pride and sense of fulfillment, for those wonderful memories, I thank you, Fenno, and I give thanks that I had the opportunity to know you.
And now, Fenno, please remember one thing: Beethoven is sensitive about being told he is off-key.
Craig Alan Wilson ‘78