When we think of rehearsals, we tend to think in terms of two main goals- improving our technical standards, and developing our shared vision of the music.
There’s another less obvious process that can take place in rehearsals, which, when it happens, can be more illuminating and helpful than either of the others. Rehearsals can give you the opportunity to hear parts of the piece in different contexts, and sometimes what you hear when you do that can completely blow your mind. In other words, sometimes the point of doing something slower, or separating out parts is not just to technically simplify a difficult passage, but to give everyone a chance to hear an aspect of the music that is not necessarily obvious when you listen to the whole thing at tempo.
I remember one time in my quartet rehearsing the first page of the Bartok 2nd Quartet very, very, very slowly. When we finished we were all a bit speechless- to hear each and every note and to really savor every chord in that passage is quite overwhelming.
More recently, I remember marveling at the horn writing in the last movement of the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony when heard in isolation during a horn sectional. To hear those four equal voices dancing around each other, unencumbered by 90 other musicians… magical.
Maybe we should be allowed to take a minute in concerts to say to the audience- “We did this bit with the second violins and violas really slowly in rehearsal and it was really cool- check it out.”
Okay, maybe not… What do audience members think?
Anyway, for whatever reason, I thought we had a lot of those moments in Sibelius 3 today. That’s when it’s worth six hours in the car to get to and from a rehearsal.