I have almost a week before we start rehearsing for our first Chamber concert of the season – and I am delighted to have that time. We are playing a piece I don’t know – Poulenc’s Sinfonietta – and it is interesting, unfamiliar, exposed, and tricky.
It is very important to be prepared for orchestral services, so as not to waste any of our valuable time. I will admit, however, that SOMETIMES my preparation for a concert cycle involves little more than glancing through the folder. If it is full of music I know I do a mental scan for solos or difficult passages – and then move on to something I actually want to work on. If there are less familiar works, I might pop them up on the stand and play a little bit, but once it becomes clear that the music is in a style I know I’ll just do a quick skim through for solos and trouble spots – and then move on to something I actually want to work on. I seldom get caught off guard any more, because most of the standard orchestral rep is already familiar to me or basically the same as other familiar pieces.
But if the piece is a 20th Century work, especially if it’s by a French composer, especially if it’s Francis Poulenc who is absolutely known for exposed, sensitive, technical wind writing – you had better believe that I’m putting in the time.
I am listening to the work on YouTube, and if I could find two or three different recordings (for free, without leaving my desk) I would listen to them all to compare tempos and interpretations. I am, in fact, listening while looking at my part, which is a significant step up in engagement from just letting the music waft through the room as I work on reeds. And I have spent two days so far practicing my part, with a metronome, trying not to let anything pass unnoticed.
Even in a tightly compressed Chamber cycle – in which the performance is a day and a half after the first rehearsal – there is enough time to learn a couple of unexpected licks and give a good show to the paying audience, but I am always more anxious for the first rehearsal than for the concert. When we read a piece for the first time, I never know exactly what my subjective experience will be, or how acoustically odd my solos will feel, or whether I’ll be able to catch the tempos and changes quickly enough to sound like I know what I’m doing. And that first read-through, with no one listening but the rest of the orchestra, is my moment to show off my preparedness. Anyone can be fabulous by the second rehearsal, I prefer to be ready before the first.
This is a piece that could catch me with my pants down and I hate it when that happens. Since I’m on it now, I have perfect confidence that the rehearsals and concerts next weekend will be fine for me – but I’m glad I started.
Oh, and the music is great. Zosia, our concertmaster, is doing a concerto which will be spectacular. You should come. Details HERE.