Last night I went to the first rehearsal for a concert I’m playing in on Saturday. This is another nice event: it’s a mainly-choral concert which happens once a year. There is a small orchestra consisting of invited players, and a very good choir which I think consists of invited singers. (Well I’m assuming they’ll be good; last night was a strings-only rehearsal, but this will be the third year I’ve played and they were excellent the first two times.)
The music (for us) is
- Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
- Fauré, Requiem
- Vaughan Williams, Towards the Unknown Region
though probably not in that order.
I’m not sure how well-known Vaughan Williams is outside the UK, so perhaps I should say a little about the Fantasia (and then give you a Wikipedia link or similar when I’ve looked it up). In this country it’s regarded as the string piece of all time, really (unless that place belongs to Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro). It was originally written to be performed in, I think, Gloucester Cathedral and it is written for string orchestra, a second, smaller string orchestra of about 8 players (seated well away from the main one), and string quartet. Just strings. In the original performance the string quartet was again seated separately, but we’re playing it the usual way: the leaders of the string sections stay in their normal seats and play solo for the quartet bits. We’re not playing it in a cathedral but we are playing it in a large parish church which isn’t much different from a cathedral and has just the right acoustics.
It’s a lyrical and very English piece, which uses everything from the sound of a quartet on its own to the lushly orchestrated sound of the whole string orchestra playing as loud as they can… Actually, around 18 months ago I had the opportunity to play it at an orchestral study day (just for strings) where we had an orchestra of about 60 string players; now that was quite something.) The second orchestra typically feature as an ethereal sound in the far distance, which continues after a climax from the full orchestra or which precedes a dramatic entry by everyone. The piece is based on a hymn setting by the Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis, and a small choir will sing the original from the back of the church before we then play the Fantasia.
For this concert I’m sitting at the front of the first violins, next to the leader. I hadn’t known this or maybe I’d have looked at the music a bit more, because it means that I have to lead the orchestra in the sections where she’s playing solo as part of the string quartet. But I’ve played the piece before, so that’s OK. Anyway I digress. Her comment about playing the Fantasia after a summer of non-playing was “It’s like a nice hot bath”–which it is, really.
Towards the Unknown Region was a new piece to me. As I feared from the title, it did, towards the end, ascend speedily to heights on the violin which are unknown to many players… I ought to have a look a that section before Saturday. There’s about half a page of it.
And yes, the Fauré is the same piece as in the conducting course (see Opening the Envelope and How the conducting course went), but in a different version: this one has a full violin section. But it’s still a viola extravaganza really; we only play for a few of the movements, and then when we do play we often feel as though we should try to sound like violas. 😉
There’s another rehearsal tomorrow, then the concert is on Saturday. I wasn’t really in the mood for rehearsals and concerts yet, but this should be good. 🙂