Here’s to staring my conducting blog! Yesterday was one of the evenings that I came home being so extremely thankful for my job. It was an absolute joy to conduct the Apeldoorns Symphonic Orchestra yesterday. My brief (2 year) history with this orchestra was a worrisome time of losing members to illness, death, and covid-fears and lockdowns. And yet, we came through stronger than ever. We have witnessed an astounding growth of new members, the addition of a professional young principal oboe player, and a new energy to tackle the music in a thankful and enjoyable way. I’ve come to know the orchestra a bit better, be more attentive to their individual personalities, and yet have been able to keep (re-find) my at times intense manner of rehearsing.
I’ve also decided on a new tactic. I have started to video record every rehearsal in order to analyse my own techniek while also being able to listen more intently to the overal sound and how the musicians react to my conducting. I should have done this much earlier. You are your best teacher. Should have known before.
Yesterday was just a blast. We started out with Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance op 46 #5, and while the orchestra still has some technical difficulties to overcome, the energy and tempo was already adequate. We moved on to Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture (original version) during the second half hour of the rehearsal, and it was there that the real fun began.
I have sung quite of bit of Rossini’s mezzo arias, including Nacqui all’affanno and Una voce poco fa, and I was assistant conductor of Cenerentola at IU Bloomington, and conducted the Stabat Mater a few years ago. Rossini is a brilliantly fun composer, and my some of my favourite passages include his opera storms. Usually a time for the decor to be switched, the storm passages include audible lightning flashes, thunder, and huge waves of sound that finally dissipate into clear skies. Perhaps not always meant as a visual or literal storm, you can hear an example of this in the overture at rehearsal number 5. My person predilection is to have the cellos and basses really thunder through the 8th notes so as to make the first violins really play fortissimo in order to get the lightning flashes out on the ascending arpeggio. The horns and trumpets should not be too careful and should play the 16th notes rather sharply and in an anticipatory fashion. Lastly, to really get the enormous waves going, the winds play the long notes as Fp with an recurring crescendo during the last two beats of each sequence. At four bars before rehearsal 7, an incredible effect can ensue if the forte PIANO is really taken quite literally, as the crescendo happening a measure later Is simply overwhelming. Of course, the storm begins to dissipate after rehearsal number 7, which is unfortunately the technical nightmare of every first violin in existence. Exposed and fragile, it necessitates calm and a high level of good practice.
A good way to approach the intro (Andante sostenuto) is to bring back to memory all of the Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and other cartoons from the 1980s. It needs to have this ridiculous, over the top, flamboyant (but not overly), and childish approach to really succeed. If the first 16th note is played as a literal 16th note, as many conductors (with the exception of Levine) do, the entire comedy of the opera is lost. I feel that to succeed, it simply should sound like “TaDAAA.” I also chose to take the battute passages quite seriously. The strings should not play the bow back and forth, but should bounce the bow (closer to the tip) off of the string. It costs very little energy, as the bow just bounces right back, and is recoiled into the fingers easily. I also do this at measure 6 during the oboe solo! It really brings the strings to the correct dynamic of a percussive and rhythmic pianissimo, as not much sound is produced by doing battute.
Another eye-opener was that the clarinettist decided to play the rhythms in the solo at rehearsal number 14 in a more legato fashion than I had my own mind, which gave the passage just the right amount of laid-back swag that it needed. It was a welcome idea that I gratefully took over for the other soloists.
This evening I’m off to Leiden to conduct my choir there. We’re singing a beautiful new work by Bob Chilcott, former member of the Kings Singers and wonderful arranger and composer of choral music. This piece, the Shepherds Carol, is an exercise in patience as the piece meanders through various time signatures in a hushed pianissimo with a slow and flexible 8th note pulse. The climax comes to a grandiose volume in measure 26 following the sung text “Larger than Venus it was, and bright, so bright.”
We’re also doing the incredibly fun White Winter Hymnal arranged for Pentatonix, including the body percussion accompaniment. I was able to demonstrate each individual percussion part just a month ago when I performed the piece in Buitenkunst, but I’m afraid that 2 of the parts have slipped my memory. It’s time to re-learn Mitch and Kevin’s percussion parts I’m afraid.