Tag Archives: Fauré

Enjoyable concert: full rehearsal and concert day

I wrote the previous post after the first rehearsal. We had a second rehearsal on Friday night (with the choir and the full orchestra: Wednesday was just strings), and then a final rehearsal on Saturday afternoon, with the concert in the evening.

Friday rehearsal

The main thing that became apparent at the Friday rehearsal was that the orchestra seating was going to be very cramped. This is quite uncomfortable for a string player. The reason is probably quite obvious: you need to be able to move the bow freely without either jabbing somebody with the sharp end, poking them in the ribs with the blunt end, knocking anyone’s music over, or damaging the bow by hitting an immovable object such as a stone pillar with it. And you want to be able to sit at an angle which allows you to see the conductor, the leader and your music, and which also allows your “desk partner”–the person you share a music stand with–to do the same. And THEN you want to accomplish all this without getting a stiff back from sitting awkwardly.

Everything seemed fine until the cellos said they hadn’t got room to play. Obviously something had to be done about this, so we all moved a bit thereby sharing the discomfort out. Now we were all short of about an inch of space compared to what we needed, rather than the cellos each having a foot less than they needed. We shuffled around into carefully crafted positions which just about made playing possible. I remarked that an inch of movement in any direction would prevent me playing. Everyone else seemed to be in a similar situation. All the chairs were in exactly the right position and woe betide anyone who moved them…

Then the alarming announcement: during the first half of the concert, it would be necessary to completely dismantle the string section after the first piece, to make room for a piano. Then, after the piano had been finished with and trundled off again, we would have to restore the seating and play our string piece. Things like this add considerably to the stress of a concert! So I was rather apprehensive about how it would work out. (I once had the experience of playing the whole of Suk’s Serenade for Strings without being able to see the conductor at all, at a concert in which the wind players performed a piece on their own directly before ours, and moved all our seats around in the process.)

Dress rehearsal

The Saturday afternoon rehearsal was good. The choirs sang well, their improvement from the day before was quite noticeable, and they seemed likely to improve even more by the evening. The orchestra’s playing was good too. But the leader–remember I was sitting with her, at the front–had got a bad cold and a cough which was threatening to become uncontrollable. And she had lots of solo passages to play. So it was quite worrying that she had to leave the rehearsal several times in search of drinks, cough medicines and so on. What if the cough got out of control in the concert and stopped her playing at a crucial moment? Who would play the solos? Very possibly me, but whereas she’d spent time at home practising them to make them sound wonderful, I’d be sightreading them, during the concert…!

I’m sure people in audiences just go along and listen to the music, unaware that all this stuff is going on!


In the event it worked out fine. Katy was full enough of cough medicine and heaven-knows-what to be able to play without disruption, and somehow managed to be full of medication without her brain clouding over; the solos were absolutely beautiful, and our performance of the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis seemed to take off–and miraculously, we did in fact manage to get our seats close enough to the original arrangement for us to be able to play it. And it was interesting hearing the original Thomas Tallis hymn–the one used by Vaughan Williams as the basis of the Fantasia–sung by a small choir at the back of the church before we played the actual piece.

It was quite a varied concert: music for big choir and full orchestra, for strings alone (the Fantasia), for choir and organ, for small unaccompanied choir (the Tallis hymn), and for solo singer and piano. (The solo singers were the baritone and soprano who would be singing in the second half for Fauré’s Requiem.)

So I enjoyed the concert, but was also very relieved when the first half was over, with all its potential sources of unwanted excitement. And judging by their response, the audience did too. The prolonged silence after the end of the Requiem before the applause started was a good sign; if the piece is performed well the audience like to enjoy the closing silence for a while before clapping. That’s very unnerving for the performers: it feels as though actually, they may never start clapping. But the enthusiastic applause then started, and we knew it had gone well.

And then off home, exhausted.

Enjoyable concert: string rehearsal

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. 🙂