Hopefully this question is not in bad form, and if it is please let me know: after noticing your blog online, I wondered if you could provide some insight/advice on a piece I will be playing soon?
I play with a symphony, and we are doing Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. This is the first time playing Dvorak for me, and I wondered if you had any recommendations for me – things you looked for as a conductor in your principal trumpet.
I must admit that I am fairly new to the realm of being a principal, but I want to try as much new material (to myself that is) as I can. Thanks for any info you can spare!
I’m flattered by your question. I think all conductors have a desire to tell brass players way more about how we think they should be playing than they generally want to hear from us. Also, this is one of my favourite pieces, and I do have some strong ideas, so I’ll take the bait. Apologies to any trumpet colleagues and friends who think this is all bullshit!
Just remember, as a principal, the playing is supposed to be a given, and your job in the rehearsal is leadership and listening so you can bring up the level of everyone around you. I’m sure you’ve already listened to the piece, but it’s one worth listening to a few recordings of, as tempi and styles can vary a lot.
In all the brass choir stuff, you’ll want to have a clear sense of what kind of an articulation and shape of note you want, and be prepared for different approaches if the conductor surprises you. A spot like letter C in the first movement is one where you need to not only be able to play your part, but also have a sense of whether the whole brass section is matching each other, and playing in balance and in tune with the strings and woodwinds.
The great trumpet moment at the climax of the first movement, 16 before L shows a lot about your overall musicianship as well as your playing. The conductor should be able to tell you were listening when he or she rehearsed the cellos on this same melody at the beginning of the entire piece. They’re mostly soft and you’re mostly very loud, but it’s the same tune and should have the same quality of lyricism. Make sure you’re aware of the D pedal through the whole thing, and are playing in tune with that, and let the 2nd player be the louder voice. The lower octave should always be the loudest when two players are playing in parallel.
At letter O in the first movement, make sure to get out of the way of the strings on all your half-notes. Your doted rhythm on the first half of the bar is under-scored and will always sound too soft, but the long note really gets in the way. 8 bars from the end, make sure the triplets are really going somewhere- it’s the only interesting thing in those two bars.
In the 2nd movement, the passage around E can be humbling. You’ve got to be 100% confident in your rhythmic precision while making it all sound very natural. Making your sound work all the way from the low g in the second bar of E to the high g at the top of the phrase is a challenge- few players sound equally robust and polished all the way through it. The last five notes before F are the hardest thing in the piece for you because the conductor is likely to be doing all sorts of convoluted stuff at that moment. You need supreme confidence in how it’s supposed to sound- practice with a recording a few times.
The main issue in the 3rd movement is rhythm. The tempo of the movement puts it uncomfortably between feeling in 3 and in 1, so there are likely to be places where the conductor is beating something that doesn’t fit your part as well as it fits the melody. The hemiolas in the trio, say 14 before E, have got to be effortlessly rhythmically precise- many players end up playing the 16ths way too late and fast. Your little tune in the Coda is tricky to count- note it’s a 9 bar tune, not an 8 bar tune. Take the ff with a grain of salt- it’s light stuff (a quote from one of his operas, in fact, that is sort of a joke about married life).
Feel free to tell the conductor you would like 2 beats before the beginning of the last movement, and don’t play the quarters too short the ^ accents are emphasis, they don’t shorten the note! At letter L, you might see if the conductor wants all 4 horns on the tune (ask your principal horn first!). The famous scale in the 8th bar of S is one of those things that can kill you in an audition, but isn’t worth sweating too much in the orchestra as you’re comfortably doubled by other players. The last four bars before the Piu animato at the very end are dangerous- you’re playing a triplet on beat two when the rest of the band is playing a duple. The conductor is likely to be indicating that duple, so you have to be able to shape your ritard to fit effortlessly with everyone else while slightly ignoring his conflicting signals.
The triplets in the last four bars are hard to make work- the tempo drives to the end, but they have to feel slightly held back. Watch the stick and keep up, but use every mili-second you have, and make sure they’re quite evenly strong so they have some friction in them.
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods