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!

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