Monday, September 15, 2008

The importance of score studying!

On the table in front of me right now, I have the following:

  • Handel's Solomon
  • Monteverdi's Orfeo
  • Haydn's Harmoniemesse
  • RVW's Mass in G
  • various works of Bruckner
  • a mish-mash of works by Mendelssohn, Clemens non Papa, Knut Nystedt, Finzi, Britten, Koepke, Halloran and Whitacre.
  • One black cat, and one mostly white cat with siamese markings.

By November 21st, pretty much all of this music will have been performed by me in some capacity.  Actually, a good percentage of it will be performed between November 8th and November 21st!

Solomon is on the 21st, and I'm conducting it.  The Monteverdi I am singing in a staged production (reading into this - it's memorized, and needs to be memorized by early November), Haydn, RVW (hurray!) and Bruckner are making appearances on the next Pro Coro concert at the end of the Month of September, and the rest is Da Camera music for our November 8th concert.

(The cats are on the table, simply because they're always around, and we are not strong enough to tell them what not to do.  Not that they'd listen anyway)

Right now, the two projects which are most prevalent on my mind are the Handel and the Monteverdi - both of which will require a fair amount of prep work.  I've been elbow deep in the Handel this morning, marking up the choral score with breath marks, dynamics, articulation etc - and will have to tackle the orchestra score in the coming weeks, so I can have my assistant transfer it all into the individual parts before they are delivered to the orchestra (time is money - and I've learned from experience that the more you have written in their parts before the first rehearsal, the quicker that rehearsal goes!).

The Monteverdi is going to be a ton of fun - it is such great music, and the musicians involved are fantastic!  Memorizing, however, is going to be a challenge for me.  I think the last time I actually sat down and intentionally memorized a work was about 10 years ago.  This is not to say that I haven't memorized music since then.  To be honest, like most conductors, I bet I memorize everything I conduct, but the music is always there anyway.  If push came to shove and I had to conduct Messiah or St. John Passion from memory, I probably could.  But this is different, this is singing!  With text!  In a language that I don't sing enough for it to be natural to me.  So it's going to be a daily activity around here from now until the end of October (and I'm not just writing that because I know the director of this project is reading this ...)

I'll be writing about issues in both conducting score preparation, as well as memorizing music in the coming weeks, specifically related to these two major works.  I'm also going to spend a fair amount of time getting into the story behind Solomon, and the connection between this major oratorio and King George II, which I find most interesting!

First though, I have to get over the first cold of the season.  At least I have it now ... and not in November!

1 comment:

Richard said...

Nice post, John!

Marking score/parts is incredibly important and can save all sorts of expensive time in your orchestral rehearsals.

I think too many choral conductors don't realize how much time they can save. For example, I have a fairly good sense of bowing principles, but I find it worth every cent to pay for an extra service for your concertmaster (or I often have an extra service with concertmaster and principal cellist to set bowings, since bowing is often considerably different between violins and bass line parts--viola parts may pair with either violins or the bass line, so it's nice to have both perspectives).

There will always be adjustments in the rehearsal, but they will take much less time than fussing over how to bow a particular passage when there are no bowings in the parts to begin with.

And other markings (dynamics, articulations, breath marks, ritards and other tempo modifications, plus practical instructions such as "in 3" or "in 6") can save enormous amounts of time.

I'm jealous that you can turn over markings to an assistant--most of my scores are marked with my own shorthand (an articulation or dynamic marking, for example, extrapolated from the chorus; or a breath marking for one woodwind, when it will apply to all; or an articulation in one wind part which has to be transferred into other parts at other times)--so I usually need to do the marking.

As you know (since you're singing!), I'm currently doing Haydn's Harmoniemesse (first orchestral rehearsal tomorrow evening!) and in such a work there are markings in one part but not another (do you give all the same articulation, for example?), or at one point in the score, but not later. There are all sorts of interesting questions that come up with this kind of study. I won't pretend to solve all of them absolutely before the first rehearsal, but the more I've solved (or at least considered), the faster things will go and the orchestra will get much more quickly to a secure, musical performance.

It's a fun part of the process for me--at least if I'm not as pressured for time as I was last week!