Tchaikovsky’s 4th with the Rapides Symphony

This weekend’s concert with the Rapides Symphony went quite well.  The horn section, and brass in general gave an excellent performance, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this season’s highlights (Dvorak 9 and Respighi’s Pines of Rome).  In this post I thought I’d share a few thoughts about this concert and playing third horn on Tchaikovsky’s symphonies in general. One thing I think that made our performance successful was that no one in the horn section tried to play too loudly, especially in the big tutti passages in the first movement.  As is the case with many regional orchestras, the equipment in our horn section varies quite widely: large bell, nickel silver Englebert Schmid triple (principal),  Lawson ambronze (second),  Yamaha 667V (third), Yamaha 667 (fourth), and Yamaha 861 (assistant).  Although it might be tempting to play full out on such great repertoire, the results really are better if everyone just lays back a notch and really focuses on blending tone quality and articulations. With diverse equipment in the section, playing at the max can cause a particular type of horn sound to stick out, making it more difficult for everyone to match what’s going on.  In addition, the hall where we normally play just had a full stage Wenger acoustical shell installed.  The shell looks and sounds great, but the brass and winds now project much more than previously.  As a result, we had to be careful not to bury the string section, especially during accompanimental passages.

Now a few words about playing third on Tchaikovsky.  As a student I remember hearing at least two horn players in major orchestras (one was a principal horn, and the other a third horn) share words of caution about Tchaikovsky’s third horn parts, and after playing third horn myself on the 4th, 5th, and 6th symphonies, I understand what they were talking about.  With the exception of the solos and some divided passages, the third horn plays pretty much everything the first horn does, except with no assistant.  Combine that with the numerous repeated fortissimo passages and you can have a painful combination.  My advice is actually pretty simple – you don’t have to play everything!  Take note of when the principal and assistant are playing together in the tutti passages – if you’re playing the same pitches, that is an excellent time to leave a few notes out to get some much needed rest. If you work it out correctly, you can take advantage of the assistant principal in much the same way that the principal does.  Also, reducing your loud dynamics by even a small fraction can do wonders for your endurance and recovery time, which will also leave you with more in reserve for the occasional triple forte passage.  Try some of these tips the next time you play Tchaikovsky – in my case they worked well, and resulted in a much more healthy (and fun) performing experience.

A Busy Month!

October brings with it a number of different horn-related activities for me, with something going on almost every single weekend. This will make for a busy – but also interesting and fun(!) – month.  Once the dust settles and I’ve had some time to reflect, I plan to blog in more detail about several of these events.  To kick things off, this weekend I’ll be judging horn and probably tuba as well at the Louisiana All-State Band and Orchestra auditions.  All-State auditions in Louisiana are held in two separate rounds, this one being the second, and final round.  The week after that we begin rehearsals for the Monroe Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert.  The program includes the Symphony No. 2 of Brahms, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, and Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.  The following week I’ll be playing two more concerts with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra on a special choral program; works include Howard Hanson’s Song of Democracy, “The Promise of Living” from Copland’s The Tender Land, and Bernstein’s “Make our Garden Grow” from Candide. For that concert I’ll be playing principal instead of third.  And the week after that…October will wrap up with another Rapides Symphony concert, this time featuring Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. I’ll be returning to my usual third horn part for that one.  I’m looking forward to all of these concerts, despite the busy schedule and full teaching load along with it.  Although there is sometimes the perception that college teachers don’t perform that much, this isn’t the case at all.  Many college music professors are extremely active performers, with experience in solo, orchestral, and chamber music.

Upcoming Orchestra Seasons

One of the many things I like about my job are the varied performance opportunities, including solo recitals, chamber music concerts, and performances with local and regional orchestras.  Two of the orchestras I play with, the Monroe Symphony (principal) and Rapides Symphony (third), have some great repertoire planned for their 2010-2011 seasons.  The Monroe Symphony’s season is of special note because it will be the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.  The orchestra has many special events planned to commemorate their “Ruby Anniversary,” including performances of Brahms’s Second Symphony and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Cappricio Espagnol. I’ve played principal on the Rimsky-Korsakov before, but not on the Brahms, and I’m very excited about those concerts.

The Rapides Symphony is based in Alexandria, LA, around 100 miles south of Monroe.  They have also programmed a very nice season, with plenty of work for the brass, including Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.

If you happen to be close to either of these areas try to check out a concert.  My section mates in both orchestras are very fine players, and playing together is a lot of fun!  Louisiana as a whole has some excellent orchestral playing going on, so if you live in Louisiana or close to it consider supporting one of the state’s many orchestras.  See the links below for a complete list of Louisiana orchestras.

Acadiana Symphony Orchestra

Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra

Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra

Monroe Symphony Orchestra

Rapides Symphony Orchestra

Shreveport Symphony Orchestra

%d bloggers like this: