Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Accompanying in concertos

Hounslow Symphony Orchestra had their autumn concert last weekend. One of the pieces we played was the Hummel Trumpet Concerto, with Hilmar Hauer as the soloist. The Hummel is a very spectacular piece for the soloist, especially with all the cascades of notes produced in the last movement!

During the final rehearsal in the afternoon, our conductor John Andrews made a very good point in respect of how the orchestra should play when accompanying the soloist. He said that we shouldn't follow the soloist, because if we follow him, inevitably we will be behind him.

Instead, we have to accompany him, i.e. remain alongside. That involves anticipating to some extent what will happen next in order to make sure that we play at the same time. It is a very good point, and in fact can be extended more generally. When playing in a group, you don't just follow the conductor (if there is one). Instead, if you don't have the tune, you accompany whoever does, just as if they are a concerto soloist. You have to listen and anticipate.

It takes concentration, but if instead you rely solely on following the conductor, you are also hoping that everyone is following the conductor the same distance behind. That's not a safe bet. Conductor or no, you have to listen, and anticipate, and accompany.

Only when you have a solo can you stop accompanying, you take the lead and express yourself by deciding how to shape the phrase, in terms of speed, articulation, dynamics and style. And everybody else then has to accompany you! You want the other players to do that right, so they deserve the same courtesy from you when they have the tune.

And be aware that even when you have the tune, you are not necessarily solo. Another of the pieces we played was Haydn's 104th "London" Symphony. The horns have the tune in a few places, but only for 2 bars in the slow movement are they actually solo. In all other places in the piece, the horns are doubled by other instruments. If you have the tune but are not solo, then you still have to be thinking in a semi-accompanying sort of way to make sure that you are matching with the rest of the players sharing the tune.

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