Tuesday, 16 March 2010

You have to watch and listen!

At orchestra yesterday evening, we were rehearsing 3 pieces, all of which are very tricky in terms of rhythms and changes of speed.

In Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture, there are several places where there is a huge rallentando before the speed returns to what it is before.

In Elgar's Sea Pictures, we have been told about several passages marked colla parte, where the singer will be pulling the speed about. We've been warned that we cannot possibly know until the soloist arrives what speed these passages will go. So the conductor has been trying out various speeds to get us to practice following him.

Ravel's Piano Concerto In G has a number of places where the speed changes quite suddenly, and also a great meny places where things happen off the beat to varying degrees.

I'm not going to name the guilty parties, but there was a definite tendancy among a number of players to select a tempo for themselves, and then put their heads down and plough on regardless of what the conductor was doing.

In Romeo and Juliet, there was one point where the horns are playing triplet quavers during a huge rallentando. I could see how far the conductor was slowing down, it was a loud passage, so I decided very confidently, loudly and deliberately to follow him to the point where the final quaver was about a quarter the speed of the beginning of the bar - just to show the other players what needs to be done to keep with the conductor. There were several other passages where the horns aren't involved, where the orchestra came out of the end of the rall probably a beat or more ahead of the conductor. They just weren't looking.

During the coffee break, several people came up to me and said how nice it was to have an utterly solid horn player in the orchestra. The compliments of course are very nice, but the compliment would be greater if they would copy what I'm doing and coordinate their tempo with the conductor and the rest of the orchestra.

There are two aspects to this.

First, you must watch the conductor at all times. Your music must be positioned such that you can always see the beat out of the corner of your eye, and you have to be ready to react. It is only by watching the conductor that you get advance warning of changes of speed. If you don't look at the conductor and respond to his gestures, he loses all ability to shape the interpretation.

Second, you must listen, and make sure that you don't rush quavers, or get ahead of the beat that everybody else is playing. If you have a sudden single note to play, you have to listen and make sure it happens in the right place. For that you have to be able to hear what the rest of the orchestra is up to so that you come in right.

It's part of teamwork - the performance is scrappy if we don't all play together.

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