Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bach Story

Funny story.  The third movement of the Bach Concerto for Oboe and Violin is four pages long, but in my part there is a lovely 3 bar rest at the page turn so it is never a problem for me.  The unfortunate violinist, though, plays throughout the entire movement and can’t easily get the page over, so there’s always a little issue there.  Some players just rip the page over while playing - somehow - or have someone else turn for them, but most work out some sort of photocopy arrangement, which still requires two stands, or one expanded stand, or at least a perfectly situated part.  AND that third movement comes almost immediately after the second, so everything really has to be in place well in advance. 

I performed the Double Concerto a number of years ago, with an orchestra that I will not name here. The violin soloist was VERY anxious about this page situation, and the performance in general.  She spent quite a bit of time pre-concert setting up her stand, JUST SO, and making sure that it was angled exactly as she wanted, and that the third movement was all spread out so as to be readable.  There may have been stand lights involved as well - she really wanted to make sure that every note on all four pages was clear.  Perhaps I didn’t mention that the part is also significantly difficult. 

Finally the concert started, and she and I came on from backstage.  We bowed to the audience, smiled at each other, and raised our instruments.  We cued.  Did I mention that we were performing without a conductor?  Well, the orchestra and I swept away into the first movement, and the poor violin soloist bounced straight into the THIRD!  She hadn’t turned her pages back to the beginning before the concert started! 

What was I to do?  Should we start again?  We had no conductor and we had never rehearsed the possibility that we might need to STOP playing in the concert.   I didn’t know if I could cut the group off and have them all notice in time to be suave.  I kept going.  Meanwhile, my colleague recognized her mistake instantly, and flipped back one page, two, three, four pages to the beginning of the book,and was able to join in before the end of the first tutti.  Before her first solo passage, in other words.  We carried on, and cruised successfully through the rest of the piece. 

At the end we took our bows.  We smiled.  We retreated backstage.   And I apologized profusely.  “Friend, I’m so sorry- I didn’t know what to do or how to stop - I’m so glad you got back in but we should have done it over…”
And she said, smiling, “Oh, it’s really OK - it’s a good thing the piece begins Tutti.  I don’t even think anyone noticed!”

I love that.  I don’t know if her statement was founded more in optimism or delusion, but it’s something I always keep in mind when I make mistakes in performance.  Probably some people didn’t notice, and at least I started on the right page!

That’s not going to happen this week.  Maybe something else, but certainly not that.  I’ll be performing the Bach Double Concerto (and two other gorgeous Cantatas) with violinist EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks and the Peoria Bach Festival this Friday night.  It will be a beautiful concert.  You should come.

Details HERE.

5 comments:

  1. Great story and a great lesson for all of us. Thanks for sharing. With your permission I will print it out for a friend I recently played with in a studio recital. She is older and only started learning the flute a couple of years ago. This recital was her very first one. We were playing a duet where she had a lead part. It was difficult for her level and she spent months learning it and practicing coming in just right. She was so disappointed when she couldn't get a sound out on the first notes. I had to stop and wait for her to try again (because she'd never have found me if I kept going) She said afterwards that she will never play in a studio recital again. We tried reassuring her, and I really, really hope she changes her mind. I wonder if this story might help.

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  2. Good luck in boosting her confidence - tell all the silly stories on me that you can muster up! No permission needed...

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  3. There are many similar stories. One still in my memory, involving a friend who was invited to an afternoon tea by a hopeful young lady. When she brought the freshly baked cookies they contained chopped parsley! He got excited thinking she had put the very common at the time ,grass in the cookies and mentioned it enthusiastically. Well, she matter-of -factly said the recipe called for chopped parsley. It seems the pages in the cook book had been turned somehow farther than intended.(Pity ,parsley was innocuous.)
    I have also heard this misadventure occur in similar circumstances- in musical performance. I am not sure a conductor would have helped. He might have signaled da capo.(Can they do that?)
    And a question. Why under certain conditions soloists thoroughly and accurately memorize the score and sometimes they don’t?

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  4. Dimitri, the memorization question is definitely one for another post - but I will say that you rarely see anyone memorizing double or triple concertos. It's one thing to rely on your own knowledge of the piece, and quite another to have to trust in someone else's.
    And that said, I have pitched playing from memory to every violinist I've ever worked with on this piece (not this time, to be fair - short notice) and every one of them has turned me down.
    For the record, violinists of the world, I'm still game!
    Jennet

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