Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stuart & Friends

Rehearsals for this weekend’s concert performance of Puccini’s Tosca begin this afternoon as this month’s “Symphony Camp” gets underway with members of the orchestra gathering for the first of four rehearsals, then two performances on Saturday and Sunday at the Forum.

Stuart Malina and four of those musicians have already been working on another program that takes place next Tuesday, just two days after the Sunday concert – the annual chamber music concert known as “Stuart and Friends.”

He’ll be joined by principal flutist David DiGiacobbe for the Flute Sonata by Francis Poulenc to open the program. Then they’ll be joined by principal cellist Fiona Thompson for one of the Trios for Flute, Cello and Piano by Franz Josef Haydn. After intermission, concertmaster Odin Rathnam and principal violist Julius Wirth will join Stuart and Fiona for the Piano Quartet by Antonín Dvořák.

Usually, a conductor is only ever seen from the back, conducting the orchestra, just waving a stick. Not just any stick, of course: one that controls every player in the orchestra (or so conductors like to think). Not very often do you get to hear a conductor performing as an instrumentalist, making music on their own account. Most often this is because conductors have become so focused on conducting, their “performing chops” fall by the wayside – too much to maintain in the face of a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule with the orchestra.

A few conductors, though, like to play. It becomes an extension of what they do but it often becomes a reconnection for them with the very process of creating music in the first place.

In playing chamber music, the performer’s ability to fit into the single entity of the group is the key difference between playing a solo and playing in a small group, even with just one other musician. Given the number of players in an orchestra, it is the conductor who shapes the performance – the tempos, the phrasing, the overall interpretation. But with a few players, there’s more give-and-take in the preparation, more opportunities to try different approaches to the interpretation and a greater chance for some spontaneity (it is, after all, easier to get a handful of players to adapt suddenly than to get a hundred of them to follow an unexpected turn-of-phrase).

This “preparation,” if not always practicing – a conductor learning his scores, a pianist learning his part – is an on-going thing and often one with several strands moving simultaneously. Rare is the conductor who has the luxury of working on one program, performing it, then going on to the next one.

Stuart was telling me, last week as we were recording the Podcast for Tosca, how he has “Stuart and Friends” coming up a couple of days later, then a pops concert the first weekend in May, then the last of the Masterworks Concerts May 16th-17th which will include the world premiere of Jeremy Gill's Symphony No. 1, a work where you have no past history with it, you’ve never heard it before and you don’t have a recording of it to turn to for reference. In between all of that, on May 8th & 9th, he’ll be conducting Debussy, Shostakovich and Mozart with the Naples Philharmonic in Naples, Florida! Meanwhile, on the piano’s music rack was the conductor’s full score for Tosca and Poulenc’s Flute Sonata.

In the few days since then, he played through the Beethoven Romance and Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy with Odin Rathnam which they’ll be performing on the May Concert. Last night was a rehearsal for the Dvořák Piano Quartet for Tuesday. And then this afternoon begins the rehearsals for Tosca.

It’s one way to keep conductors off the street.

- - - - -

TOSCA – Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm at the Forum, sponsored by the Glatfelter Family Foundation .
STUART & FRIENDS - Tuesday at 7:30 at Whitaker Center, underwritten by Marilynn R. Kanenson in memory of Dr. William Kanenson.
The 3 DIVAS - Pops Concert, Saturday May 2nd at 8pm, Sunday May 3rd at 3pm at the Forum.

- Dr. Dick

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