This weekend is Orchestra Toronto’s second concert. They’ve started a tradition now that the December concert is kid-friendly. This time around, there will be a marionette performance to some of our pieces, and a performance by the violin concerto winner – 18-year-old Clarisse Schneider. This is our program:
- Hansel and Gretel, prelude (Humperdinck)
- Masquerade Suite (Khatchaturian)
- The Little Train, from Bachianas Brasileiras (Villa-Lobos)
- The March to the Scaffold, from Symphonie Fantastique (Berlioz)
- Violin Concerto [1 or 2???] (Wieniawski)
I’m excited for this concert. First – there’s lots for me to play. Second – there’s a second tuba in the Berlioz March. This will be my second time performing this piece, but the first time with a second tuba. Courtney Lambert, a fine Toronto tubist, is joining me/us for this piece. I wish we were also playing the final movement of that symphony, because the Tuba II part for mov. IV is kinda small. So, I’m doubly happy Courtney is taking time to join us.
The March has a few interesting spots that I’m watching for. The octave Bb’s are worth a mention – I remember when I first touched this piece years ago. Ouch, those octaves were ugly. It’s always nice to revisit a piece and see/hear my progress. Those octaves are clean and precise. The Gb arpeggio is also nice …
The Gb is really [enharmonically] an F# – the root of a diminished chord. It just feel great to stick it to the orchestra and listener with that arpeggio. Tuning can be funky though – F down to Gb. One doesn’t want to be that dissonant, normally.
The second tuba joins in on this arpeggio in unison:
For this one, the rest of the winds and brass sits on their respective notes. Berlioz gives us a little treat. It’s not an easy lick either. I’ve chosen to play this piece on my Eb tuba, mostly for the higher range, but alot for this arpeggio: it’s all on first valve. And, for me, it doesn’t ring as well on my C. The harmonics are better on the Eb.
I’ve works on this arpeggio many different ways in my practicing. First, there’s just getting it — slow quarter notes. Then slow, but in rhythm. The quicker and quicker. Then, the most important for a musician: in context.
So, we were going fortissimo on the main march theme (not shown here). Then the coda starts with a three D-to-G cadences. Then 5 bars rest and the Db arpeggio. It’s good to practice this on your own with all the rest counting. The Db 16th jump to the F on the second beat is what makes this a challenge – it’s off the beat and outside the key of the piece (a diminished 5th relation) and so you don’t expect it. My embouchure needs to know where that is Db – cold! If I practice the arpeggio over and over, it’s no problem because the Db is comfortable, but in context of G minor, it’s outta place.
Berlioz isn’t the end-all-and-be-all of the concert. The Hansel and Gretel prelude is beautiful. The “prayer” melody is one of the most beautiful bits of music ever written, if you ask me. The piece has a lot of wonderful choral playing with the trombones and the 3rd trombone part is mostly different from the tuba. Things can be a little boring when the tuba is just the trombone an octave down (Rimsky-Korsakov, anyone??). I played this piece before with Counterpoint Community Orchestra in Toronto – I’m more than happy to revisit this one and gain a new appreciation for it.
Finally, there’s the Masquerade Suite by Khachaturian. This is the first orchestral piece of his that I get to play. I’ve got some symphonies and Spartacus (etc) on CD and love his composing and orchestration. This suite, with a waltz, mazurka and galop, is kitchy, bombastic, creepy, touching, energetic, sarcastic and FUN! Tuba gets a lot of opportunity to lay the downbeat for the orchestra and I’m not shy about it. Hardly a “sssshhhhhh” from the conductor and some compliments from other musicians, so I’m taking that as a good sign. I don’t over-do it: I’m pianissimo when needed. I do my best to make sure it’s always musical and in the spirit of the piece.
I have to thank Nick Atkinson too. He was the conductor of the UofO wind ensemble when I was there. If it wasn’t for him pointing out over and over that I was behind, I wouldn’t survive piece like waltzes, galops and mazurkas today.