That was the week that

It’s been a strange week here at VFtP headquarters.

I spent way too many hours on Monday (and Tues early hours) at the computer helping a colleague assemble a grant proposal for a recording project. We all know that this is the future for everyone who wants to record, as record companies top footing the bill for recordings foundations, sponsors and patrons will be our only hope. Thank goodness they’re out there, but who needs this….

“Research/creation refers to any research activity or approach to research that forms an essential part of a creative process or artistic discipline and that directly fosters the creation of literary/artistic works. The research must address clear research questions, offer theoretical contextualization within the relevant field or fields of literary/artistic inquiry, and present a well considered methodological approach.”

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but my eyes go out of focus just after “Research/.”

All in all, the instructions for this application were nearly 50 pages. Bearing in mind that I was just helping, and that all our actual content was ready to go, this cut-and-paste/fill-out-the-form job was one I worked at from about 9 AM to the following 3 AM. Tuesday proper began as more of the same as we went through each others corrections and modifications, emailing documents back and forth at a furious pace. Finally, at about 2 PM, I sent off the last batch of stuff and took a proper lunch break and a quick shower. Thirty minutes later I looked at the computer screen and had a frantic email saying the last bunch of attachments had not gone through successfully. I re-sent them, the broadband went out, I got the broadband back up, resent them again, and then about four minutes later the power went out and stayed out for the next six hours. Talk about close calls!

Moments later, I was in the car, late, on my way to a Nottingham Philharmonic rehearsal. There’s really nothing like a three hour drive to get you mentally ready for a rehearsal, especially when you’re completely exhausted when you put the key in the ignition. The voyage was not bad, just long, but I really hate just pulling up and getting out of the car and starting a rehearsal. It’s so hard to really be on best form. I did get to rehearsal early enough to have a snack and a flip through the music, but then the phone rang again with more questions about the grant and an update from VFtP headquarters with an update on our electricity situation (still out). Alas, no flipping time. Does James Levine have to help write grants, I ask myself (probably not)… Does the electricity cut out at the Barbican? (probably does).

I had grand plans for how I wanted to start the rehearsal, lovingly taking apart the opening of Sibelius Five into its constituent parts, sorting out the blend between the woodwinds and horns and all that. It wasn’t meant to be- there was an accident on the road and most of the players I needed for this exercise were on their mobiles making apologies as the oboist gave the “A.”

Funnily, I rarely make a plan for rehearsals, other than setting a rehearsal schedule that hopefully saves players waiting around and helps me be sure we cover everything. It’s not like me at all to say “I’m going to do this and this, then work on that, make a joke, do this slowly, tell a story, scold the slackers, tune that chord, tell the horns they’re late, make the timpanist change sticks, then have a break, run it and go home.” I like to start somewhere and see what happens.
So why did I have a complete momentary panic when I couldn’t use my plan? God knows. After about thirty long seconds I managed to get a message through to my brain that we could just start somewhere else. Genius! It’s a wonder I’m not running the BPO with problem solving skills like that.

In any case, we started with the scherzo, then went back to the opening later once everyone arrived. It’s great music, and I think it’s a great piece for an orchestra and a conductor to get to know each other through. First rehearsals can often create false impressions- sometimes good orchestras read poorly and sometimes it works the other way around, but what is really important is how quickly you can move on from the level of reading, and Tuesday was great fun from that point of view.

Even though I was that much more tired going home, I, for once, didn’t struggle to stay awake on the drive back, arriving home bright-eyed and chipper at 1 AM, to a house with LIGHTS.  Post rehearsal, and full of driving adrenaline, and elation at the restoration of electricity- this all meant I didn’t get to sleep until about four, but that’s fine- all the best TV is on after midnight.

I’m not sure what happened to Wednesday morning, but it went away quickly with a couple of emails and a look through the Nielsen Flute Concerto, and shortly after lunch I was back in the car for another three hour journey to the first Surrey Mozart Players rehearsal of the season, with more Sibelius (the Third, and Spring Song) and the Nielsen. Once again, I pulled into the parking lot all too close to the rehearsal start time, and was instantly pulled into about five conversations at once, and as I started the first movement of the symphony I found myself wishing and wishing I’d had an hour of peace and quiet in my office/green room/car to forget about roundabouts and traffic jams (no adrenaline rush to help the drive home this time- just more coffee and a long hard slog to get back, all the way feeling like death). Nonetheless, we got down to it and the orchestra is on good form, especially the horns. It’s a funny piece (Sibelius 3) in that the first four minutes of the third movement are exponentially more difficult than anything else in the work.

Ah well, that’s why we have rehearsals. In fact, on Sunday I’m going to start the rehearsal with the third movement of Sibelius 3- go straight for the jugular. 

I will present a well considered methodological approach.

I’m going to do this and this, then work on that, make a joke, do this slowly, tell a story, scold the slackers, tune that chord, tell the horns they’re late, make the timpanist change sticks, then have a break, run it and go home.

C. 2006 Kenneth Woods

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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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