Big news and big noise

7:05 and it is time to begin. Starting rehearsals at 7:05 has been a masterstroke of planning for us, as it has cut down late arrivals enormously, but finishing at 9:35 has been more problematic. Funny that the very musician who always remembers they have that extra five minutes for dinner always forgets that at 9:30 it’s still five minutes to Miller Time….

Tonight it is me who needs the five minutes to gather myself between board meeting and rehearsal. I knew this would be the night to tell the musicians about my departure- something I was dreading much more than informing the board. On the one hand, it seems strange to announce something like this then rehearse for 2 ½ hours before getting to talk to anyone about it, but on the other hand, especially after how distracted and disorganized I’d felt rehearsing in the afternoon rehearsing Schubert, I decided to rip the Band-Aid right off.

I don’t remember my exact words, but the main thing I wanted to get across was that I was going, that I was leaving of my own accord with a smile on my face, that the reason I hadn’t left a long time ago was because I loved working with them, and that I hoped we had a really fun final season together.

Then, it was off to work, and a race against the clock to assemble a difficult program. Tchaik 4 is a piece I feel like I know inside out, and one I’ve spent years thinking about. This is by far the best state to be in when preparing a piece- you are so comfortable with the music that many things just aren’t a problem. Likewise, this piece is in everyone’s ears and fingers, so that although it is huge and hugely difficult, we all know what the challenges are. One problem, however, is that because of the day’s cancellations, we’re starting without a full oboe or horn section, so I’ve got to pick how best to use my time. First off- skip the intro until we’ve got all four horns. Straight into the first movement and finale- bow strokes, articulations, sound. Minutes race by. Soon, we’re not only out of time, we’re behind….

Next on is the Dvorak Husitska Overuture. Is it just me, or is everyone also being rather eerily quiet tonight? The Dvorak is a workout, especially for the strings. However, even the horn part is 10 pages long, which is close to unheard of for an overture (maybe that’s why this is an unheard of overture). I seriously  love this piece- it is one of the few Dvorak pieces that has the kind of heat that makes the 7th Symphony one of my all-time favorite pieces. This is a piece that nobody in the orchestra has ever done before (including Lucia, our Czech first violinist, who obligingly explains the interested how to pronounce the title. Top tip- say “ska” as if you were throwing your arms in the air with joy.), and the writing is fierce, but everyone understands the language, and once we start to find a sound concept, it starts to get fun, but all too soon, we’ve got to move on.

After break, it’s time to start on the Bloch. Parry sounds amazing, but the sheer scale of the piece is daunting. The difficulties are primarily ones of listening and counting, and the publishers have not helped things in this regard. Rather than write out bars of rest, someone has simply written “tacet’ whenever there are long rests. There’s no way for the poor player to know if that tacet is 20 bars or 200. The score that came with the parts is being rapidly passed around the orchestra as people frantically write cues in their parts.

(excitement abounds as ken makes his way through the bloch for the first time. photo- steve bass) 


There are other problems too- there are lots of discrepancies between score and parts, but in this case, the score also is problematic. Not only have Schirmer sent me an $80 score with all the pages falling out because nobody wanted to spring for glue that week, there are many mistakes in that score. I’m quickly realizing that this piece needs some scholarly TLC- it is originally a piano piece, and we’re quickly turning to the piano score as the supreme authority, which is strange and disconcerting for an orchestral piece. What I’d really like to do is get the 2 autographs and put together a real critical edition, instead of this sloppy, error ridden, poorly printed, unbound mess.

Of course, where everyone knows Tchaik 4, and everyone knows Dvorak’s language, almost nobody knows much Bloch these days. With such a vast and episodic piece, it feels like every section has a problem to be solved, and as we finish the 2nd movement, it’s already 9:35…..

Tired as I am, I’m determined to find a bit of energy to join the band at the Rainbow- I usually gripe about background chat in rehearsals and meetings, but I’ve had enough silent reactions today, and am ready to catch up with old friends over cold beers. Joyous news- this venerable watering hole of Rodeo champions throughout the 20th c.  has uprgraded their beer selection, adding Inversion IPA, a vast improvement over the usually stale Fat Tire of past years (which was, in its day, a vast improvement on the canned Heineken which was once the best on offer). Sad news- I’m told that Randy, the musically mega-knowledgeable fry cook is apparently spending time on a non-volunteer getaway funded by the state (er, they tell us he’s in the slammer)…..I hope he’s okay- nicest guy ever, and knows music like few musicians.

(photo- steve bass)

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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

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