Heartbreaking rehearsal tricks of staggering genius

Real insights tend to be so simple and so blindingly obvious once they’re found….

Elgar Enigma Variations, Variation 2….

A nasty, highly chromatic little perpetual motion study.

Hardest movement in the piece…..

I’ve played it and conducted it many times, and covered it a few others….

Everyone (in my experience), including me, rehearses it the same way. Go slowly, beating in 3 and work it up to tempo, which is in one.

Because the notes are awkward, and they pass back and forth between the two violin sections there is a tendency for each section to rush. This means you get little gaps at the end of each phrase where one section has finished it before the other can beging.

The nasty moment in rehearsal is when you’ve done it slowly a few times and everyone is feeling confident and then you switch into one. Suddenly, everyone freaks out, especially in the first 9 bars, which are the most difficult for the violins.

INSIGHT! As you are reaching the realm of the fast-ish “three” you can simply slip into one maybe a quarter of the way through. That way, when you go back to the beginning for real in one, everyone is used to feeling the larger pulse unit and feels totally secure. No panics!

Okay, I know some of you out there claim that you already do this, but I’ve never seen this movement rehearsed this way- that is to say I’ve never seen that moment of truth handled that way, and I’ve seen a lot of people do it…. I’m  probably  the only person who was there tonight  who is excited about this!

It’s stupid little insights like this that make the long drive home tolerable….

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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 www.kennethwoods.net

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