Disco Post-Mortem… Chopin

So… My Chopin adventure for Discovering Music has come to an end..


I have to say, I was a little concerned when I was offered the gig, as it could easily have been a poisoned chalice. Great band and soloist, of course, but boring orchestra part to play, which can mean bored players, and treacherous accompaniment.


In fact, I’ve seen many decent conductors really make a pig’s ear of the two Chopin concertos- so much so, that I was a bit concerned that maybe they were dangerously difficult.


As it turns out, I’m not displeased with what we accomplished on Friday. Yes, it is tricky to accompany, but if one learns the solo part really, really well and then just really pays attention, I don’t think it is actually that hard, although Piers may have been taking it easy on me.


I actually found that the players seemed to take to the piece just fine. I think it suffers a bit from low expectations all around. Players don’t expect to have much to do, and conductors expect to be so busy following the soloist that they won’t be able to do anything musical. In fact, although the orchestration is not fancy, and the parts are easy to play, it is still beautiful music.


I stand by what I wrote about the importance of balance, and I can say that achieving those balances is not easy. Also, really understanding the Chopin’s approach to harmony and knowing not just what tunes to bring out, but which chord tones makes a huge difference, and it really gives the musicians something to respond to.


I came away, as always with criticisms of my own work. Perhaps it’s from my chamber music background, but I’ve always been pretty facile at accompanying, which is a helpful skill to have. However, I came away wondering if the piece would have been a little stronger yet if I had not bent so easily to Piers’ every twist and turn. Was I too passive?  Especially in the Chopin, as there is little dramatic interplay between soloist and orchestra, I wonder if maybe more frisson between soloist and orchestra would give a fine performance even more spine and intensity…. Something to try next time? Imagine telling a soloist that its not that you can’t follow them, but that you won’t!


Stephen Johnson’s rap was almost entirely about Chopin’s piano writing, and was absolutely fascinating, with some great demos from Piers.


Good fun. I’ll post here when the broadcast comes out.


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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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1 comment on “Disco Post-Mortem… Chopin”

  1. Pingback: Kenneth Woods- a view from the podium » Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the IP Casino

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