As always, the morning begins with coffee. The Northwest is an area that takes beverages seriously- we have some of the best wine, beer and coffee in the world, and we’re very lucky in Pendleton to have a fantastic local coffee roaster. I’m very lucky that that coffee roaster is next door to the symphony office.
Suzanne and I chat and relax over java, then I head back to the office to look over the score and make some plans for the day’s rehearsals. Today is a long one– three separate sectionals for woodwinds, brass and strings followed by the dress rehearsal in the evening. The main topic of conversation throughout the day seems to be how I am going to cope with conducting four services of Mahler 2 in one day, and, of course, I expect it to be tiring, but I am quite excited about today.
In five years together we’ve come a long way in making the orchestra a more capable organization, and in finding ways to produce a better and better product. Still, there are always going to be two interrelated challenges for us because of the remoteness of our location. These are lack of sufficient rehearsal time and difficulty in finding first-rate musicians willing and able to travel the many hours needed to reach us. Out of town players can only come for a limited time, which means we only have two rehearsals with the full orchestra for most concerts. With that in mind, this day is very special for me- in each of the three sectionals I am working with the strongest group of players we’ve ever had here, and, for once, we have time to work in some detail, to refine, even to repeat things if needed. Throughout the day, the mood is wonderfully collaborative and constructive, and we’re able to not only cover many things that I wanted to look at, but to go over areas of concern to the players themselves. It is tiring, but deeply rewarding. At one point two different violinists bring me coffees within five minutes of each other (apparently the guy at the coffee shop just said to the second person- “my god, how much coffee can this guy drink”). Isolating the sections is not just technically helpful- it can’t help but inspire to see in even closer detail the genius of Mahler’s use of the orchestra.
We finish the string sectional at 6. My parents have just arrived in town for the concert, so we make a quick exit to grab a bite before the dress rehearsal at 7. I’m ready for some food, but quite sad that the long afternoon is over. For me, this day has been the happiest in my tenure with the band.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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