Thursday, January 8, 2015

Upcoming Concert: Practice Your Parts!

This weekend the South Bend Symphony has a chamber concert.  We’ll be in the lovely DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at Notre Dame, and we’ll play a great Haydn Symphony - 103, one of the famous late ones - and a very neat concerto by Darius Milhaud, featuring our principal percussionist.  I was looking over my music yesterday and I’m delighted to be working with real non-Christmas repertoire, and to have to sweat a little bit over the notes.  It’s pleasant and fun to learn challenging music.

We’re also performing Rossini’s Italian Girl in Algiers Overture, and as I opened my folder I remembered the first time I ever played it. I was in high school. Junior year, or maybe sophomore. I don't recall whether we were sitting in the school orchestra or the youth orchestra - it could even have been an all-county or all-state kind of group. I know I was sitting second oboe, and the outstanding Johanna Cox was first. 

The piece opens with an eight bar setup to an slow, operatic oboe solo. The solo is not difficult to play - but it has 16th notes, 16th note triplets, turns which are marked but not written out, 6-tuplets, and dotted rhythms. I was utterly floored. My sophomore or junior self could not in a million years have sightread those complex rhythms and ornaments correctly the first time, much less sounded beautiful while doing it. Johanna played it effortlessly. 

In hindsight, I suspect strongly that Johanna had practiced the part in advance. In the moment, since practicing before the rehearsal would never have occurred to me (recall that I was 14) I assumed that she was magical. I suddenly understood why she ALWAYS got to sit first while I sat second. It’s because she was just plain better than me.

In the moment, the lesson I learned (remember that I was very young) was that I should practice that solo until I could play it as well as Johanna.  So I learned it by ear and practiced it at home and to this day I can play almost the entire overture without ever counting or even looking at the page. 

But the lesson I should have taken away is that you ALWAYS prepare your music before the first rehearsal.  There’s no need to waste every one else’s time with what (in my case) would have been a disastrous game of guess-and-hope-for-the-best.  There’s no need to expose your poor sight-reading skills to general scrutiny.  And it’s unprofessional to make avoidable mistakes.

All that said - come on out to our concert Sunday at 2:30.  It’s a neat program.  We’ll have fun.  And I will NAIL the Rossini solo.

Details HERE.

4 comments:

  1. We are playing Italian Girl, too! When I went on imslp to check orchestration (I play 3rd/picc, and definitely have no intention of opening MY (non-existent)sight-reading skills to general scrutiny) I noticed that picc. is supposed to double 1st flute, and was surprised to not see any music for it in my folder, so I am curious about what your Orchestra's take on it is? My principal said that it might still appear in my folder, and I do not like surprises, especially considering this is going to be my first orchestral experience. Oh, and the oboe part in it is gorgeous!

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    1. I've seen it a lot of different ways. This weekend our principal is playing the part on flute. I've had the pic player do it, and the principal play it on pic, too. I've never heard the two double, I don't think, but it seems to be pretty flexible.

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  2. Si, si!!! L’Italiana in Algeri! As soon as I read your post I went to Utube and listened to the first two recordings of the overture. The first is titled the Italian Woman in, and the second the Italian Girl in Algiers. I don’t think I noticed the orchestra and the conductor. The two oboe performers were quite different (you probably checked them out already).The second oboist sounded a little darker and less, well, enthusiastic. But what a delightful part it is. They say that Rossini wrote opera in order to attract sopranos.( And harpists and oboists).Or, maybe sopranos were clustering around him and he had to oblige. Anyway, we are lucky we got half of this equation. And lucky we’ll hear you Sunday. I am sure Rossini will be smiling in heaven, and we, along with Maestro Tsung Yeh, will be smiling at the DeBartolo.
    Music make.
    Dimitri

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  3. Thanks. I really don't see a point in playing the same thing 1st is playing, even if it is technically a register higher, but composers usually don't ask players :) :)

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