Rare pieces and bad publishers….

I’m sorry that this blog has been so quiet of late. It turns out there is such a thing as “too busy,” something that I always thought of as more of a state of mind than a state of reality….

It is a quirk of this time of year that not only do I have a lot of concerts going on, but that, for a variety of reasons, rehearsals for different programs overlap with each other, which means one’s study time becomes incredibly tight. Since my last full post, I’ve had rehearsals for five different programs, with all the travel those sessions entail. Yesterday, I arrived in Pendleton, where for the next five days I have the luxury of focusing all my energy on one orchestra concert and one chamber music program with NO TRAVEL!!!! Happy days! (However, the travel did catch up with me to the extent that I have a mild but irritating cold)

This week’s Oregon East Symphony program is

Dvorak- Husitkska Overture

Bloch- Suite for Cello and Orchestra (originally for viola)

Parry Karp, cello

Tchaikowsky- Symphony no. 4 

The next day, we’re playing a chamber concert-

Beethoven- String Quartet no. 1 in F Major, op 18 no. 1

Tchaikowsky- Andante Cantabile for Cello and String Quartet

Schubert- Quintet in C major

Suzanne Casey and Adam LaMotte, violinsDavid Yang, viola

Kenneth Woods and Parry Karp, cellos


The Dvorak is a piece I’ve wanted to do for many years, ever since Rafael Kubelik tore my head off my shoulders with it at the Chicago Symphony. I still think that’s the best I’ve ever heard the orchestra, except possibly for Big Bad Bernie H’s Mahler 6 this month at the Proms.  I’ve never encountered another live performance of it, and nobody in this country seems to know it. I think this is because nobody can pronounce the title (including me). Fortunately, we have a Czech fiddle player in the band who I’m going to ask to give a masterclass on pronunciation of “Husitska” in rehearsal this week. After hearing the Kubelik/CSO performance, I searched high and low for a score, but it was out of print in the US. I finally found it in a shop in Prague where Janacek used to shop. It’s been sitting on my shelf now for about 14 years waiting for a performance. Now it’s easily found as a reprint- my assistant’s Kalmus score will last for decades, while my communist-era paper is already crumbling, but mine looks cooler. The piece is rare, but thrilling- more exciting (and better written) than Carnival or any of his other overtures. It might be the greatest overture ever written, in the history of music. I’m told Beethoven turned to Schumann in heaven and said “thank god Dvorak gave it an unpronounceable name so people will still think Manfred and Leonore 3 are the greatest overtures ever written…”

Speaking of rarities, on Saturday the 27th, the Surrey Mozart Players where joined by Alexandra Wood for the Schumann fiddle concerto. What a joy to finally do this piece after so many months and years of planning. Alexandra played beautifully- she “gets” Schumann, which is something many young soloists don’t do. It’s a pity so many teenagers are let loose on the first movement of the Piano Concerto when they have not the technique, culture or life experience to do the piece justice! Also on the program was Mozart 39, which went very well indeed- that’s a piece I’ve avoided for many years because I think it’s really hard to pull off. Less than 12 hours after finishing that performance in Guildford, I was rehearsing Mozart 40 in Lancashire, alongside the Gal Violin Concerto, before heading to London to fly here. The Gal is stunning music, but the parts are a little messy, which slows progress in rehearsal just a bit.

Speaking of publishers, just a quick rant- my Bloch Suite score, for which I paid a small fortune to the good folks at Schirmers, is already disintegrating. Not, in this case, because the guys in New York can only access communist-era Czech paper, but because it is not properly bound. Rather than binding it like a book, they’ve just a simple glue binding, but not used enough glue, so the pages are falling out faster than my hair. It’s 174 pages of music- what are the odds those will stay in order between now and Saturday? Yes, I can get it rebound, but if I’m going to spend all that time, why shouldn’t I have just made a copy of a library score for $5, which would have been on better paper, and the binding of which would have lasted forever??????? Then there’s my Schumann Vn Con score, which was only available as an eye-wrecking mini score which, no matter how many gazillions of hours I spent with it on my piano and desk, wouldn’t stay open. It just feels lame when Dover will sell you Gotterdammerung for $20 and it’s readble, it stays open and it will last forever, but Eulenberg want $50 for an unreadable mini score that won’t stay open of a 25 minute Schumann concerto….. Argh!!!

Rant over.

There’s a lot of admin stuff to sort out for the OES in the next 24 hours, but I also must find some time on my PDT cello, which is very different from my regular one at home, before we start rehearsing Schubert tomorrow…..

In other words, I’ll try to get back on track with the postings, especially as I think there will be much to report on here in the coming hours and days, but please be patient. I was actually too tired after rehearsal to go to the Rainbow- so the memories will have to sustain me for a while- read this for a flavor of the place. If only I could hire and assistant blogger. Maybe I can……

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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

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

5 comments on “Rare pieces and bad publishers….”

  1. ComposerBastard

    Needless to say Schirmer paper and bindings have always been known to be the worse on the planet – not to mention their horrible editing and fingering, I would probably head to a University and zerox the thing, or take that cheap copy and head over to Kinkos and have them copy and bind it, or just coil bind it

  2. David Preiser

    Your assistant’s Kalmus score will probably have a couple of wrong notes as well. But you probably found those over the last 14 years.

    No matter what happens, though, the Schubert ought to clear the cobwebs. Nice work if you can get it.

  3. Robert Berger

    I think the Husitska overture is a terrific piece too. I got to know it many years ago from LP in a performance by the LSO and the tragically short lived Hungarian conductor Istvan Kertesz, who was the first conductor to make a complete set of the 9 Dvorak symphonies. I believe this is still available, and any one looking for an inexpensive Dvorak symphonies set should get it. Kertesz (1929 – 1973 ) unfortunately drowned while swimming in the Mediterranean during a guest conducting stint with the Israel Philharmonic. What a tragic loss. In the early 70s, before Maazel succeeded Szell in Cleveland, the orchestra actually wanted Kertesz for the job.

  4. Lisa Hirsch

    And commenting on the chamber music program – how I wish I could be there to hear you in the Schubert!!

    The Tackacs is coming through in the spring, and Peter Wyrick from the SFS will play one of the cello parts. I am SO looking forward to that.

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