Friday, October 25, 2013

'An Alpine Symphony' by Richard Strauss

25 October 2013

It feels somewhat indiscreet to start by revealing a lady’s age, but my good friend Catherine Rose has hardly made any secret about achieving her first half-century. Rather than hiding away and pretending it wasn’t happening, Catherine chose to celebrate her fiftieth birthday by realising her ambition to conduct ‘An Alpine Symphony’ by Richard Strauss. Last Sunday I was part of an orchestra of 125 players which assembled in the hall of Bedford School to spend an incredibly enjoyable day tackling the Alpine peaks of this rarely performed work. The musicians were mainly drawn from three local amateur orchestras (Bedford, Milton Keynes and Northampton) together with professional orchestral players from across the country. The Alpine Symphony requires massive forces, including a wind machine, pipe organ, four Wagner tubas, cow bells and a heckelphone. Perhaps someone should have advised Strauss that this is not a recipe to get your work performed regularly. Nonetheless the Alpine Symphony is a piece held in great affection, particularly by horn players (including Catherine and myself). Instead of the usual four French horns, Strauss asks for eight on-stage players plus twelve offstage horns. On Sunday we managed to assemble a total of fifteen horn players and it was a fantastic experience to play as part of such a huge section. The Alpine Symphony is a glorious piece with some stunning, joyful climaxes. It must be amazing to be commanding such enormous forces by wielding the conductor’s baton – though it must also be completely terrifying. We ended the day with a performance of the symphony to an audience of family and friends. I think it was a pretty impressive rendition – particularly on a single day of rehearsals. It was a wonderful day – which also raised a significant amount of money for Catherine’s three chosen charities. A great way to celebrate a landmark birthday.

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