It’s been a quiet couple of days here at Vftp- these silences are sometimes the result of not having anything to say and being wise enough to recognize it, sometimes the result of having something I need to say and not knowing how to say it or having too much to say and not knowing when to say it. I’m sure all three are in play right now.
For the moment, I just wanted to share a couple of thoughts as I get ready for my 2nd rehearsal with the UW Symphony for our concert this weekend. The orchestra is off to a fine start, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be a fantastic concert. Nonetheless, there are a lot of tricky little issues that have come up with this program that I thought it might interesting to mention.
I have 3 rehearsals and a dress with the orchestra, and they had a few with student conductors (both very good) before I arrived. That’s not a lot of time to work with, so I’m keen to maximize every second. The longest of the Mahler songs, Um Mitternacht, is unusual in that it uses no strings, and Ich atmet einen linden Duft only uses first violins and violas. Rather than waste the time, I thought it would be good to do a short string sectional today. Where it got complicated was in how to maximize the time of our sectional coaches- in the end, I decided for a longish session on those songs today, then doing the other 3 songs on Thursday so that we can have as much sectional time as possible. The only negative of this approach is that we only have one session for each of the songs before the dress, which means I’ve really got to trust the players to not let anything backslide between now and Saturday. The Mahler is not technically too hard, but it is incredibly detailed, exposed and refined and demands extraordinary concentration.
This is the first time the Elgar 1st has been done in Madison- it only took 101 years to get it here. Most of these very-gifted players know little, if any, of his music- maybe Enigma, Pomp and Circumstance and the Cello Concerto (did he write anything else, I hear my American friends asking?).
I’ve got two jobs here- first to prepare a good concert, but second to provide a good educational experience for the students. The second can’t happen without the first, but it is probably the more important goal nonetheless. One hopes that with great, great music like this, that if you get the musicians playing it really well, they will warm to and come to understand the language, but I mustn’t take that for granted. When to talk about Elgar- his personality, his sound world, his world view and his sublime melancholia is going to be an interesting question throughout the week.
In the end, a conductor telling an orchestra “this is one of the great works in the literature” ain’t gonna count for much (conductors have been able to make musicians doubt the greatness of Brahms symphonies when we’re off our game), but we can use the rehearsals to let them come to that conclusion on their own. That work really begins in earnest today.