We had a very interesting moment tonight in rehearsal with the Surrey Mozart Players- I’m curious if anyone besides me even noticed it….
We were rehearsing the Saint-Saens 2nd Cello Concerto for the first time with our soloist, Parry Karp. Parry is a rare cellist who plays concertos like a full-time soloist (and has played a huge range of repertoire), but doesn’t look at the world through the eyes of many a soloist- he’s a quarter player, recitalist, teacher and chamber musician.
Tonight we were running through each movement with him and got to the coda of the last movement of the concerto, which sounds quite straightforward but is full of rather nasty syncopations. After crashing through to the end in the run-through I suggested we try it about half tempo with just the orchestra, which helped a bit. Then, Parry offered to play along at half-tempo.
That was the interesting moment!
Now this may sound like a simple and reasonable suggestion, but the sheer sanity of the idea astounded me, because this is something that just never happens in rehearsals. How many times in my life as a conductor, cover conductor or cellist have I been in situations where all the problems on stage could be solved by going through it slowly with the soloist? Hundreds! Thousands!
The thing is, it is almost never done. On the rare occasion I’ve seen it tried it has been socially awkward and has usually led to the soloist not playing very well, or looking rather put out, but that’s really only a couple of times I’ve ever seen it attempted. I can think of a rare incidents with soloists where I’ve said before a rehearsal (perhaps with a student orchestra or a community orchestra) something to the effect of “can we just run the 2nd movement a little tiny bit under tempo today because they can’t quite make that speed yet,” and that’s almost always been accepted with a look of pained tolerance rather than supportive enthusiasm, but that’s nothing like doing something at half speed.
Anyway- we did it slowly with him, and it really helped. How many concerti have I seen done with the greatest orchestras where something really could have been fixed by doing that?
I understand the mindset- the orchestra wishes to present the soloist with a perfect product and visa versa, so both sides sort out their problems separately. Parry comes in as a world-class quartet player- quartets play slowly in rehearsals together all the time. He sees the orchestra as colleagues. We do it slowly with him, it sounds great, we pick it up to tempo and it’s quite transformed….
I know this must sound silly to people who haven’t witnessed this themselves. You must be thinking “Woods is making this up. I’m sure soloists and orchestras rehearse together in all sorts of ways, or they’re just so good that they don’t do this because they don’t need to” I promise…. so many times…. where five minutes of this would have made all the difference, and……. well….. you know the rest…..
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods