8 Jul 2011
Inside the Classics

No matter how busy I may get during our orchestra’s so-called “winter season,” even during Inside the Classics concert weeks, there’s just nothing that compares to the hectic pace of our Sommerfest schedule. I know I write about this pretty much every summer, but even after working at Orchestra Hall for 12 seasons, I still find myself lightly stunned every July by just how many notes I have to play, and how little time there is to prepare them.

Take this week, for example. On Sunday, we played back-to-back family concerts featuring Dvorak’s New World Symphony, several bits of Americana, and three hefty suites from famous film scores. Monday night, we were in Excelsior (pretty much all night, as it turned out.) Tuesday was officially a free day, but I and many other musicians spent a good chunk of it rehearsing for this Sunday night’s chamber music concert (which, by the way, you should totally be planning to come to. It’s one of the weirdest programs you’ll ever see, but it should be incredibly cool. Oh, and Judd’s music is involved.)

Wednesday morning, the barrage of Sommerfest repertoire began with Andrew Litton leading a 2-1/2 hour rehearsal for tonight’s festival-opening concert that he likes to call “Waltz und Schmaltz.” After a lunch break, we spent two hours rehearsing Saturday’s rep – not one, but two meaty Stravinsky ballet scores. On Thursday, we spent the morning with U of M conductor Mark Russell Smith and the finalists of the prestigious Piano e-Competition, preparing for this afternoon’s final round of concerto movements. (The winner, who will be announced a couple of hours before our Friday night concert, will then be added to tonight’s program for a victory lap.) Thursday afternoon, Andrew was back for our second shot at the waltzes.

This afternoon, we backed up the competition finalists (repertoire: three versions of Chopin 1, one Chopin 2, and one Saent-Saens) from noon to 2pm in front of a nice crowd at Orchestra Hall. My string quartet for this Sunday’s concert showed up a couple of hours earlier to grab what little stage time we could get before the performance, and continue to hack away at some of the trickier moments in Judd Greenstein’s Four on the Floor.

Tonight at 8, we’re live on Classical MPR with the waltzes, the e-Comp winner, and an honest-to-God hardanger fiddle concerto. Less than 12 hours after the concert ends, we’ll be back for a Saturday morning rehearsal of the two Stravinsky scores and the Mendelssohn violin concerto. My quartet is planning to squeeze in one last run-through during the orchestra’s official break in that rehearsal, so we’ll need to come plenty caffeinated beforehand.

The Saturday concert isn’t until 8pm, but five of us, who were recently told that we’ll be forming the offstage string quintet for the Sommerfest finale of Der Rosenkavalier two weeks from now, are trying to be proactive since the rehearsal schedule for the summer opera is always frantic, so we’re planning to show up a couple of hours early to put our offstage segments together. There’s nothing in our contracts that says we have to do this, but it’s just easier for everyone if Andrew doesn’t have to waste time two weeks from now dealing with a 5-person subgroup while the rest of the orchestra sits around doing nothing.

Sunday should be relatively leisurely, except that there’s that chamber concert at the end of it, so I’ll spend a good amount of time at my practice stand, and then head to the hall an hour in advance to get in one last mini-rehearsal with the quartet. (Oh, and somewhere during all this chaos, I really need to get around to arranging a bunch of music for my cousin’s wedding, which is next weekend in upstate New York.)

So far, the summer pace hasn’t started to affect me much, but if my usual cycle holds true, I’ll be a puddle of twitching muscles and sapped energy by the time Rosenkavalier rolls around. Pacing myself has never been my strong suit.

Still, as anyone who’s ever played an instrument can tell you, there’s exhilaration in being entirely too busy, and pride in pulling off a performance that you know in your heart is under-rehearsed, and I wish everyone, not just professional musicians, could have the chance to experience it. I mention this because, in case you missed it, we unveiled our new Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp program yesterday – two days of intense rehearsing, practicing, and performing alongside all of us, and anyone who can play an instrument is invited. Seriously, we’re not even having auditions. You want in, you can probably get in. (Up to a point, obviously – we can’t in good conscience field a 30-person trumpet section.)

The idea is based on a wildly popular program the Baltimore Symphony’s been doing for a couple of seasons now, and I think it’s a fantastic idea. After all, we regularly play “side-by-sides,” as they’re called, with student orchestras from around the region, so why not offer adult amateurs the same opportunity? I’ve always thought it utterly bizarre that we encourage kids to grow up playing instruments, and then expect them to just put the music away forever if they don’t decide to play for a living. I grew up playing duets and quartets with my cello-playing brother, Drew, but because he hasn’t played since college, I don’t get to connect with him that way anymore, and I still miss it. (He was really good, too. Probably could have made a living at it, but chose a different path.)

So whaddya say? I know at least one of our regular blog commenters is already signed up! (Nice interview on MPR, there, GML4.) What about the rest of you? I know there are plenty of closet violists out there, and I promise you’ll have a great time in our wacky little section…

(Sarah’s conducting, by the way, so if you were thinking of signing up but were afraid of whether you might wilt under Osmo’s withering glare, fear not!)

<February 2020>

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