Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sometimes, less is more

I had a thoroughly enjoyable concert last Friday with the Hillingdon Philharmonic Orchestra. As it was the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the orchestra, the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Hillingdon Choral Society and the conductor's 60th birthday, the choir and orchestra held a joint concert. it was a bit of a celebration all round, with the programme full of "lollipops". We had Walton's march  "Crown Imperial" and Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4", Parry's "Blest Pair of Sirens", Vaughan Williams' "Toward the Unknown Region", and the the second half, the overture Die Fledermaus and lots of favourite bits from the operas.

But for me, the most satisfying moment musically was during the quiet second theme of Pomp & Circumstance No. 4. Elgar starts the piece in typically bright and celebratory mood, but the second theme is a slow stately dignified march.

The first violins, all 4 horns, and the first clarinet share the tune, all marked piano. Wind players in an orchestra so rarely have the tune, that when it does appear the temptation is always to play the tune as if it is a solo. But it isn't necessarily so, and this is a case where it isn't. This particular theme is owned by the first violins, the horns and clarinet are there just warm the tone a little bit and smooth it out. So the horns (all 4 of them combined) need to be quieter than the violins.

In the final rehearsal, I realised that the balance wasn't right, that one or two of the horns were playing a solo piano. I briefly explained that we needed to be quieter as it wasn't our tune, we were just supporting the violins. In the concert, they got it exactly right, with just enough sound to support the violins, and it sounded wonderful!

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