The second KCYO rehearsal of our 2008 course presented a formidable set of challenges, primarily because of the diversity of those challenges. Each work has not only its own stylistic language, but its own sound world, from the quintissential French perfumed nightscapes of Debussy, to the lush, very German Wagner.
After a rather grim tasting dinner, the tutors and I had discussed the results of the afternoon’s sectional which had followed our run-through of the Sibelius. Most of them had spent the time looking at the rest of the repertoire.
Many of them expressed some concern at the sheer technical difficulty of the first piece on the program- Philip Sawyers’ Gale of Life Overture. I wrote yesterday that my goal on day one is always to make sure that we’ve played everything on the program. Hopefully, we come out of that experience with at least two bits of insight- we know what we have to work on, but just as importantly, we know that what we are attempting is possible.
Having spent a fair bit of time with Philip’s piece at home, I was quite sure it was possible- he writes idiomatically and beautifully for the entire orchestra. However, would this be apparent to a young orchestra reading the piece for the first time? It was written as a virtuoso show piece, after all.
I decided to start the evening’s rehearsal with Gale of Life, and the reading was really exciting- we made it to the end with a good bit of style, which left us 20 minutes to rehearse. So- how did they manage a successful reading of a piece their tutors were fretting about their ability to play at the end of the week? In my opinion, it comes down to the strengths of British training, which seems to emphasize listening, ear training a rhythmic fundamentals. A group like KCYO may not have as many violinists on board who can play the Paganini Caprices as a big city youth orchestra in America, but none of those major US youth orchestras could have managed a read through of a new piece like that. Fingers or no fingers, the unfamiliarity and listening challenges would have probably done them in. It’s this very training that’s behind UK orchestra’s legendary sight reading skills and their abilities to prepare whole concerts on a single rehearsal at the professional level.
Otherwise, the session went fine. Fetes probably gave me the most trouble- when orchestras sight read fast music, they tend to slow down and drag. I told one of the tutors afterwards that by the end of the session, my 2 ounce baton felt like a 20 pound sledgehammer, but one knows this feeling will soon pass….