Orchestra Season Preview

As I’ve mentioned several times in this blog, one of the great things about my job is the variety of musical activities I get to participate in, one of my favorites being regular performances with the Monroe and Rapides symphony orchestras, and occasional work with the Shreveport and South Arkansas symphonies.  This year is shaping up to be very exciting in terms of repertoire, with several masterpieces as well as some new and less known works being programmed.  I’ll write more about the individual concerts and repertoire in the future, but for now here’s a month by month summary (so far) of my orchestral playing for this year.

September

  • Pops concerts with the South Arkansas Symphony (Beatles Tribute Band) and Rapides Symphony (Cajun music group BeauSoleil).  For better or worse, pops concerts are a reality in orchestral music, and I actually think they’re a great way to start a season.  In Rapides the first pops concert is usually outdoors, and free to the public, which can really help build audiences for future concerts.

October

  • Rapides Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana International Piano Competition Finals.  This competition is held every other year, and brings artists from around the globe to Alexandria, LA.  The RSO accompanies three finalists in performances of complete concertos for the final round, and I am always impressed with the quality of the soloists.  The big name works – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Liszt, etc. – almost always make an appearance, and it’s really fun getting to accompany these outstanding soloists.  On a side note, the last time the competition was held we played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 twice in one night because two of the finalists had chosen it for the competition.
  • Monroe Symphony Orchestra, The MSO opens its 41st season with En Saga, by Sibelius, The Moldau, by Smetana, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  The concerto will feature Minjeong Kim, winner of the MSO’s Emerging Artists Competition.

December

  • Rapides Symphony Orchestra, Holiday Concert
  • Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Sounds of the Season

March

  • Rapides Symphony Orchestra, Strauss, Death and Transfiguration, Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Wagner, Siegfried Idyll.
  • Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Respighi, Pines of Rome, Glazunov, Violin Concerto in A minor, Shostakovich, Festive Overture, Roger Jones, Live Oak (premier performance)

April

  • Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Spring Pops

May

  • Rapides Symphony Orchestra, Leoncavallo, I Pagliacci

As always, I’m looking forward to working with great colleagues on great repertoire, and taking what I learn from these experiences into the teaching studio. There will also be numerous chamber performances with our faculty brass trio and other groups, as well as some performances and presentations at conferences – more on those later!

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Season Finales

With the end of the academic term in most U.S. colleges and universities quickly approaching, both students and faculty are gearing up for some very busy weeks ahead.  In schools of music, this usually means preparing for juries, large ensemble performances, and degree recitals. I like this time of the semester, but it has admittedly been difficult for me to carve out some time to write blog posts. I’ll do my best to keep my head above water for the next couple of weeks, and try to keep the posts coming.  Adding to the excitement are two orchestral concerts featuring the Rapides Symphony Orchestra (April 30) and the Monroe Symphony Orchestra (May 7).  I’m actually writing this blog post on the same day as the RSO concert, so by the time you read it the concert will have come and gone.  However, if you live locally you still have time to get your tickets for the MSO concert.  Both programs are season finales, and will feature some great repertoire highlighting all of the sections in each orchestra.  In Rapides we’ll be playing William Walton’s Crown Imperial march, which was an inspired bit of programming considering the recent royal wedding, as well as Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and a relatively new work by  Christopher Lee called Interiors.   Since the rest of the program consists of well known orchestral standards, I’ll confine my remarks to Interiors. Written in 2007, Interiors is an orchestral showpiece which explores a number of different colors and sound effects.  The piece calls for quarter tones in several instruments, as well as some intricate rhythms and technical passages throughout the orchestra.  Overall it’s a very exciting piece and should go over well with the audience.  Follow this link to listen to a recording of the piece: http://amc.net/library/composition.aspx?CompositionID=346139 One other interesting note about the performance is that the composer will be giving a virtual lecture on his work to the entire audience via Skype, utilizing the hall’s speaker system and large projection screen.

Jumping ahead to the following week, the MSO will close out its season with Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Listz’s Totentanz (featuring the winner of the MSO’s Young Artist Competition), and Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem The Rock.
I wasn’t familiar with the Rachmaninov, but it (along with the rest of the program) promises to be exciting for both the audience and the orchestra.  If you have played the Wagner, you know that it alone is quite a long blow, so I’ll be making sure to pace myself throughout rehearsals and the performance.

There are I’m sure a number of other regional and smaller orchestras throughout the country who are preparing their season closers, and if you perform with one or more of them I wish you good luck and great performances!

Brahms Symphony No. 2 Horn Solos

For those interested in hearing some excerpts from the Monroe Symphony Orchestra’s performance on October 16, 2010, I’ve included a couple of highlights from the second symphony of Brahms.  I believe the recording was made with a minidisc recorder, and the only editing I have done is to pull out the excerpts from the context of the entire symphony and add a touch of reverb (our hall is incredibly dry).  Enjoy!

Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Clay Couturiaux, conductor

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jack Howard Theatre, Monroe, LA

Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 2

Movement 1 (James Boldin, horn solo)

Movement 2 (James Boldin, horn solo)

This Weekend’s Concert

In this post I already mentioned this weekend’s 40th anniversary season opener with the Monroe Symphony Orchestra, but I thought I’d share a few more thoughts now that the concert is over.  Overall the program went very well, with some great playing from everyone in the orchestra.  Special congrats go to the rest of the horn section for some fantastic tutti and solo playing all around!  The brass section in general is quite strong this year, and I’m looking forward to future concerts together.  When you are fortunate to play in a good horn (and brass) section it makes everything easier, especially when intonation and style are basically taken care of through listening and adjustment.  Though there were some extra-musical difficulties in putting the program together, the orchestra rose to the challenge and pulled off a very fine opening concert.

For anyone interested in some horn-specific details, I’ll give a bit of a run-down on the program.  Beethoven’s Egmont Overture is well known, which makes it all that more important that the orchestra get things “right.”  Audiences know this piece, and will definitely notice if things do not go according to plan. The horn writing isn’t that spectacular, although there are some nice section solis and of course the brass section fanfares near the end.  It is especially important in the section solis to make sure that the “quarter-note, quarter-note, eighth-rest, eighth-note” rhythms are played precisely together, with good balance and intonation.  At the end accuracy and intonation benefit greatly by resisting the temptation to play full out.  Play loudly, but not at the maximum.  Prior to preparing for this program I was unfamiliar with Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for solo violin and orchestra, but the piece is really quite nice, with some fun brass writing and a couple of short lyrical solos for the first horn.  The soloist for this concert was first-rate, easy to work with, and of course a brilliant player.  And now, on to the second half, Brahms 2.  Brahms’s writing for the horn is really something special – idiomatic, musically satisfying, and fun to play.  That being said, there are some challenges with this piece, not least of which is pacing, especially without an assistant.  I would also offer this one piece of advice concerning the solo at the end of the first movement: practice it much slower than you feel comfortable, paying careful attention to phrasing and breath control.  It is of course the conductor’s prerogative to go at a more leisurely pace, and you must be ready to accommodate.  Also note that the written high A-flat is only marked “forte,” not “fortissimo.”  Simply taking note of this marking did wonders for my approach to the solo, and made for much smoother going.

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