Wrap-up on the first season of the Highlands Chamber Orchestra

I think the highlight of my last 6 months has been the Highlands Chamber Orchestra.  We performed in November to some great reviews.  The musicians were completely pumped! At the after-concert gathering, we were talking huge plans for concerts to come!

So, we took December off and I started planning rep for the Spring concert.  There was a lot of back-and-forth with board members about difficulty of parts, but we eventually settled on a draft list of pieces and started rehearsals in January.  The program included:

  • Julius Caesar Overture (Schumann)
  • Symphony 5, 2nd movement (Beethoven)
  • Symphony 39, 1st movement (Mozart)
  • March of the Three Kings, from ‘Christus’ (Liszt)
  • Il pastor fido, selections (Handel)
  • two Toréadors pieces from Carman (Bizet)
  • Rosamunde Overture (Schubert)
  • plus … ‘Nessun dorma’ by Puccini with Chris Chumbley as the soloist

We scratched and honked through the first month or two and things started to come together.  We eventually figured out that the program was too long and would likely have to cut something.  We reduced the number of selections from ‘Il pastor fido’ first – the high horn parts were a killer!  Liszt, Beethoven and Mozart were looking iffy come April.  I was really really hoping to not cut the Liszt because, first, we paid for it, and second, it was going to be a cornerstone of the first half.  Third, though, it’s a favourite piece of mine.  I really really love it.

Beethoven was looking rough though, because there were often key woodwind players missing from rehearsals – just luck of the draw with Winter vacations and random absences.  It sounded really thin and frail most of the time.  Mozart was so-so too — the string parts are tough.  “Too many notes!”, said someone in the movie Amadeus.  By the end, we shelved Mozart.  It just wasn’t working (but we’ll revive it for next Spring).

Come May, we doubled up the rehearsals – Fridays and Saturdays.  That was seriously fun!  Everyone was on board with it and we knew there would be some absences (Highlands Summer Festival rehearsals were starting up too), but at least we doubled our chances of getting people out – especially our oboist from Fenelon Falls.  She had a decent way to drive for rehearsals.

In mid-May, two weeks before the concert, I figured it was a good time to play through pieces non-stop.  At some point, you need to start doing that to make sure the pieces hold together.  You also get a good idea of the complete musical ‘thought’ of the piece hearing it from start to finish.  So we started that particular rehearsal with the ‘Julius Caesar Overture’ and we read the piece from top to bottom, no stopping.  At the end, we applauded ourselves.  No foolin’ — outright applause.  And then we rehearsed the Rosamunde – again, no stopping and with the tempo up some.  It sounded great.  I had goosebumps in the middle of it and smiled from ear to ear.  The orchestra had made a huge leap from the week before.  It was so obvious to my ears.

In performance, the orchestra played so well.  All those extra rehearsals paid off!  I think the only misses were the second half of the March of the Three Kings, and the chaconne from ‘Il pastor fido’.  Highlights for me where Julius Caesar, the Carmen pieces (I did a little ‘hell ya!’ at the end of them) and Rosamunde — PLUS ‘Nessun dorma’.  Chris was bang-on for it!  It was beautiful!

I have to say though, the first half of March of the Three Kings was a thing of beauty.  I was tearing up a little in the section where it goes into a cut-time pulse.  Tuning was good, balance was good … everything had come together for it.

Over the months, I can hear how particular people are improving in their playing – it’s sort of like they are my little family and I’m seeing them grow up.  And they are giving me great feedback too – sometimes specific and sometimes I just absorb commentary from our rehearsals and I adopt new techniques or evolve ones I already have.  And I get lots of great compliments from spouses and the general public at our concerts.  Everyone is loving this – and so am I!

So, like I said, HCO’s been the highlight of the first 6 months of my 2013.  Now to plan for music for the Fall session – we’re doing a Pops Concert!

Tchaik 4

I need to stop apologizing for late posts…. it’s been a weird 6 months for me, emotionally and spiritually.  But let me get to the subject at hand:  Tchaik 4.

Back in January and February earlier this year, Orchestra Toronto worked on Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony.  It was my first time performing it.  It was the ‘biggest’ piece of the performance season for me.  But, for a change vs. previous years, I had very little prep to do for it.  Why?  Because it was a piece for various auditions.

Back when I auditioned for the GGS in Toronto, I prep’d it as an option but ultimately didn’t use it.  I also prep’d it for the Montreal Symphony audition last year, but as you know, didn’t go.  So I was already well-prepared for it when it came time to rehearsing it with Orchestra Toronto.  We also had a brass sectional for it with trombonist Rupert Price (Windsor Symphony).  Finally, I had a lesson on it with Mark Tetreault (Toronto Symphony). This was my first time meeting Mark in person.  What a fantastic guy!  He was really encouraging and said some really nice things about my playing.  He gave me some great pointers about the bits I needed help on.  Darn it!  I wish I had taken notes right afterwards … like maybe blogging about it.  oy!  But I do remember playing too loudly.  I like to look at it as trying too hard.  Still I *KNOW* I play a lot louder when I get with the trombone.  Alex, on bass, produces a lot of source.  Seriously a lot.

Specifically though, I do remember working on this section with Mark:


I was heavily emphasizing the dotted 8th note – i.e. the syncopation.  Mark suggested letting the dotted 8th be the ‘rebound’ (my word) off the emphasis of the note before it – i.e. the on-beat.  This instant led me to not trying as hard (also with his suggestion) and the lick practically played itself.  He also suggested playing the dotted 8th’s shorter and let them ring on their own.  Again, less work, but also more time to breath.  What difference all that made!  There was also this lick:


… and this one …

tchaik-4-fourth-mvt-snippet1Both presented similar challenges for me – the leap to a high Db (on my C tuba).  I was naturally emphasizing the upper note, which put a lot of pressure on its accuracy, which I was worried about.  Mark suggested the opposite – emphasize the lower note.  The tessitura of the upper Db will make it shine on its own.  This improved the phrasing, but he also suggested practicing with a slur from the F to the Db.  I threw that into the category of “practice the long stuff short and the short stuff long”.  It really does work.  Such simple things made my part much easier to play.  Thank you Mark!

Come concert day, I was really relaxed.  I think we played it really well.  I was super happy with my own performance.  All that preparation over a few years made it cinch to play.

Next season:  Tchaik 5!  😀