A long march to the starting line

Friday Schedule-

10AM Rehearse Schubert and Tchaikovsky with Suzanne, Adam, David and Parry

12 Noon Rehearse Beethoven op 18 no 1 with Adam, Suzanne and David

1 PM Lunch

2 PM Meet with Christina to finalize press release announcing my departure

3-5 PM String Sectional

5 PM- meetings and chats

7-10 PM Dress rehearsal

Yes- the sole purpose of outlining my Friday schedule and for the entire detailed description of my week’s activities is to try to make you see why it is that I was unable to return your email last week, whoever you are…. Of course, it will also be clear to you, whoever you may be, why David Yang, Parry Karp, Suzanne Casey or Adam Lamotte didn’t return your email either.

The days activities begin in the auditorium of the Pendleton Center for the Arts, where we will be performing the chamber music concert on Sunday. The contrasts from yesterday’s reading are quickly apparent- my head is back in the music, David and Adam didn’t just jump out of the car after a 200 mile dash, David hadn’t flown 4 hours to get to said 200 mile dash, but most of all, we can HEAR each other. I love playing at the PCA- it’s intimate, it sounds good and you can hear what is going on. On the other hand, the Vert is a (I can say this out loud now that I am leaving) a lousy acoustic space for orchestral music, but an  impossible one for chamber music- you really can’t hear your colleagues there.

So with 2 hours to rehearse Tchaik and Schubert (all told, about 85 minutes of music) that gives us about 1.7 minutes of rehearsal time for every minute of music to be performed. Still, it’s encouraging how fast it starts to come together. Parry and I play together pretty easily- students and teachers usually do (I always enjoy playing with my students). Suzanne and I had worked a little bit on the big F minor duet for 1st violin and 1st cello in the slow movement- enough to decide it was really, really, really hard. However, with the rest of the band chugging away, it feels less scary. Everyone seems to agree that we played the Scherzo too fast yesterday, but I think the Scherzo is easy-ish at any tempo- it’s the Trio that turns your hair grey (not least because it is so emotionally harrowing). By the time we get to the Finale, we’re not only running out of time, we’ve not left any time for the Tchaik- oops…..

After a short break, it’s on the Beethoven. For most string players this is one of the first 4 or 5 quartets we played (other likely candidate include the Dvorak American, also hard and also in F major, and a couple of choice Mozarts). The reason for this is compelling- it is the first piece in the book of Beethoven quartets. It is NOT and easy piece- hard as hell is more like it. In the end, we only have a few minutes to look at it, so we start by reading the movements we didn’t get to on day one. No worries that we’ll be stale and over-rehearsed on this one.

Thank goodness we have a string sectional on this concert- it wasn’t easy to save it given budget pressures in a lousy economy. However, it’s not necessarily obvious how we can best use the time. It’s clear to me that the Bloch is the biggest challenge of the week, but as I go through the score at lunch, I can’t find much in the string parts that would benefit from the kind of technical drilling we can do in sectionals, nor are there pesky questions of what bow stroke or note lengths to use.

(intense concertration in rehearsal- photo steve bass) 

However, the Dvorak gives us LOTS to work on- almost the whole piece is worthy of looking at in string sectionals, and the result of that work is easy to hear. Tchaik needs a bit of targeted work as well- we go through the pizzicato scherzo, which we have yet to read with the full orchestra since it only uses strings, do the middle of the 2nd mvt, look at some passage work in the finale, and generally try to make a nice sound. There are lots of high points, as it all starts to sound much better quickly, but only one low point. The parts of the Tchaik are almost as bad as those for the Bloch- 8va’s in the violins for notes in the staff, a completely confusing layout of the 3rd movement with a confusing da capo al segno layout when the score is through composed (much better, since turning back and forward in fast music can be disastrous), and inconsistencies in who has what letters. The Dvorak, on the other had, has only one flaw- the measure numbers have been excised from the parts of the critical edition as reprinted by Kalmus (take out the bar numbers, and apparently you can avoid copyright issues), but that’s a smallish problem.

(workin’ it in the viola section)

 There’s a fair bit of housekeeping between rehearsals, so dinner is out, but Christina brings me a strong coffee before the rehearsal, thereby saving the concert from complete catastrophe.

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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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