Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sibelius, Family Style

My son Stephen was home for Thanksgiving last week. He brought his orchestral score to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. He and I spent several hours studying it, mostly in the form of me playing the solo part as he followed the score, singing and conducting. We discussed how Stephen should conduct some parts where the meter of the piece is somewhat confusing, as the violas are in 4 while the rest of the orchestra is still in 6. We discussed tempos and how to make transitions.

Not only was he learning how to conduct this particular concerto, and how I want to perform it; I too was learning again what it is to play a big romantic violin concerto with an orchestra (in this case the Berkeley College Orchestra of Yale University, an undergraduate group.) Despite the fact that the soloist gets most of the audience's attention in any concerto, there is a lot of give and take between soloist, conductor and orchestra. It is one thing for a soloist to know his notes, and quite another for him to understand where he must play as loudly as possible because the horns are playing at the same time, to know where there can be rhythmic freedom, and where he must play strictly in tempo to avoid causing the orchestra to have a train wreck!

The last time I played a big solo concerto was 1993, so this is a reawakening of sorts for me. It truly is satisfying to practice one of the great masterpieces, to learn more and more about a piece that I have loved for decades. And the chance to perform it with my son conducting his orchestra makes it even more special than it would already be.

I go up to New Haven this Sunday to rehearse with the orchestra, then the concert is the evening of December 11.

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