When I first experienced Simon Halsey's work with the Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus in the Berlin Philharmonic's extraordinary 2014 production of the St. Matthew Passion, I never imagined that less than two years later, I'd be sitting in a Brooklyn rehearsal studio mere inches from him as he led the Orange strand through two complete run-throughs of the public domain on Friday night. But, far from being an imposing, remote podium presence, Simon - who is director of the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, and the Berlin Philharmonic’s Youth Choral Program, among other posts - went overboard to make himself accessible.
"Hi, I'm Simon," he said to us by means of introduction. "I'm the person who will be standing in the middle of the plaza playing traffic policeman. It's lovely to be here in Brooklyn!"
Before long, Simon, who wore shorts and a white polo shirt, was bouncing all around the rehearsal studio like a manic schoolboy. For the most part, he was deeply encouraging, telling us we were his "favorite group": a credit to our strand leader, Maria. Still, it soon became clear that hitting the right notes and following the tempi weren't going to be enough for Simon.
"Now, we can make it more daring. I have a feeling this group is going to be dangerously inventive."