Diary of an Orchestrator, April 11: 3rd and Final Harp Concerto Rehearsal

10:55 a.m. I’m listening to the recording of Tuesday night’s rehearsal and taking more notes as I go. Here’s the complete list:

Movement I

  • bars 7 & 74 trombone solos need to be played with more projection
  • bar 14 horn I solo ditto
  • winds need to back off a bit at the intro
  • fine-tune bars 39 to figure B
  • basses are a little uncertain between figs. B and C
  • also would like to fine-tune first three bars of fig. D for basses – the half-note in bar 62 is still pizz.
  • bars 97-99 Christina seems to be ending her gliss. a trifle early – maybe she could gliss a little further down to fill in the time?
  • bars 99-104 horns should be much louder – the hairpin down is from f to mf, not mp to pp – then back and forth, rising again to f before dropping to p at bar 104.
  • fine-tune J to K for basses and cellos?
  • bar 163 horns are soli, and should play out a bit more – and at fig. L, they are still soli
  • ditto for bar 175
  • fine-tune 268 to fig. O, for the decrescendo and to give the cellos a little more time on bar 272

Movement 2

• wondering if the timpani and bass drum from A could be a little tighter

  • cue basses at bar 16? They keep falling a bar behind here.
  • a tighter downbeat at bar 57
  • bar 88 – here is an example of flute I playing far too loudly. There are a couple other places.
  • fine-tune bars 96-97, so that the harp, bass, and percussion sync more precisely

Movement 3

  • fine-tune decrescendo from bar 19, then rhythm of strings after fig. B leading to harp entrance at bar 29
  • bar 142 – bass clarinet needs to tone it way down
  • fine-tune L, esp. Christina’s lead-in bar from 147 (and flutes need to back off)
  • fine-tune dynamics at fig. O, so the supporting instruments drop down a bit further during the bit of harp solo

Whew! that took a solid hour. I call up the conductor, and we go through it together. He agrees with most or all of the notes, and we divide up the task of communicating them to the orchestra. I’ll talk to the horns, flutes, and basses during the break before the harp concerto run-through, and he’ll sort the rest. I won’t have to show up tonight until 8:30, which is great because I have so many things to sort out this afternoon about the next leg of my trip up to the San Francisco area.

8:28 p.m. I’m sitting in the back of the cello section, as LADSO rehearses the Enigma XII. Their cellist plays the final solo, and does a pretty damn decent job. As I’m typing these words out and counting the numbers (clarinets and bassoons are at 1/2 strength, and there’s only one horn tonight), Christina shows up with her harp and harp roadie. I know that this is an orchestral of doctors, because her music folder says “Systemic Physiology” on the cover.

Very shortly the orchestra breaks, and I mix it up a bit with the players. Very nice bunch. The principal trumpet player asks me what I’ve got against trumpets? I tell him, “This is a harp concerto!” We kid around a bit, and I tell my growing circle that if this rehearsal gives me a heart attack, I couldn’t be in a better place. To my surprise, my lame joke gets a genuine laugh. I also get a chance to meet some of the board members, and learn about the reception (which I’d completely forgotten all about). Apparently the New Zealand consul is going to be there, along with a case of NZ wines, and toast my little concerto’s premiere. Gulp. I think I’m going to have to get a new pair o’ shoes tomorrow. At least I brought a suit…

The orchestra regroups and runs through Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture – and I’m thinking to myself, “That takes guts!” It’s definitely one of the most difficult of the overtures to put together convincingly, but the LADSO players go to it with a great level of commitment and enthusiasm. I’m really enjoying listening to it, actually.

I’m not bothering setting up my recording equipment, as there’s no point to it at this juncture. The orchestra will play as well as it can, with what we can fix tonight and what it can pull out of its hat tomorrow. Christina is as ready as a soloist can be, sounding brilliant and confident in her part.

And so we finally come to the last rehearsal of the concerto. Things actually go pretty well despite the absences. What’s best is the growing sense of unity amongst the players – all smiles when they catch my eye, and real effort all round to get things as clean as they can.   Christina makes a few offhand mistakes – a couple of speedups and missed cues – but overall she’s impressive as all get-out. As the conductor cues the end of the cadenza, a few string players miss it because they’ve been listening to Christina in rapture. That’s a good sign for tomorrow night.

So in conclusion, the soloist is happy, the orchestra is giving it their best, and that makes me feel that whether we get a recording worth sharing, it will still be a very positive event. As I get to a certain age as a composer, the question of “what do I get out of this?” starts to have a more long-ranging, subtle answer. The immediate satisfaction of the players counts for something, and casts threads forward into the web of interactions that guide my way. There’s a fabric of increased knowledge, developing instincts, and serendipities I can weave from these threads. And most of all, to hear that inner voice speaking back to me through several dozen instruments, resonating distantly with the perfect mental picture of a work, and yet showing new possibilities and tempered realities; that also is an outcome that I’m content with.

Tomorrow: showtime.

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