The Pine Mountain Music Festival is a long-time gig for us – Steve and I have been playing up here since 1998, but financial troubles had forced the festival to downsize and for the past two summers we have not been able to participate. This year, although the festival is not back to its former glory as an opera, symphony, chamber music and teaching extravaganza, we are delighted to be back here playing La Traviata and enjoying the spectacular weather and good company. We have friends in this orchestra and in this town that we can only see up here – colleagues from other states and our wonderful hosts.
I love playing opera! I don’t necessarily think I would be cut out for a full-time opera orchestra job – I really do like being on stage instead of under it and getting my solo bows every so often. The music written for opera is so great, though, and I adore listening to the singers and there are always significant challenges that come along with playing an accompanimental role all the time. It’s the same way that I feel about playing second oboe – you need an enormous amount of control over your instrument and a lot of awareness to support someone else’s musical choices instead of making your own. You can’t just plow ahead playing the notes you see on the page – the first player may want to turn the phrase another way or might want to play more quietly or with a different articulation. You have to match and there is no way around it.
Opera poses a similar challenge. The music is no easier than that of the symphonic repertoire, and often more technically difficult. Because the featured artists are the singers rather than the orchestra, we have to play very very softly much of the time, and even the conductor cannot always be in charge of the tempi if the performers on stage wish to change the time for a dramatic purpose or a physical one. So we in the pit have to be extremely alert for sudden changes in tempo and respond instantly to the directions we see. The music is not always terribly idiomatic to our instruments – we play in certain keys and ranges that are comfortable for the vocalists and we just have to make it work. BUT I still get to play principal and take solos every now and then. Even if the audience is more attuned to the singers, we in the pit can show off for each other, and it’s exciting to be a part of such a large production.
We had our first rehearsals yesterday, and will meet the singers today. I can’t wait for the performances this week, and would recommend this show to anyone in the neighborhoods. We perform in Marquette, Iron Mountain, and Houghton, Michigan. Click HERE for tickets and information.