Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

15 November 2011

Having been practising Mahler’s 6th Symphony almost every day since early August, it feels very strange now that our performance has been and gone. In the last few days leading up to Saturday’s Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert I found myself increasingly paranoid that I was going to trip and bang my lip or fall prey to some other mishap that would prevent me from playing the 1st Horn part. In the event I made it to the concert intact and I think it all went incredibly well – though it’s very hard to judge when you are in the middle of it. I know there were no major disasters – we didn’t have to stop and start again and I don’t think I missed any of my solo passages. Having worked so hard on my stamina I was pleased to get through the 80 minutes of the symphony and still to be able to hit the high notes towards the end. But even though I had ensured I was physically capable of playing my part, it’s amazing what an effect nerves can have. As you approach a delicate solo you become more and more aware of how fleeting the opportunity is to get it right. You are thinking how many times you have played the phrase perfectly over the past few months and how awful it would be if something went wrong in the one brief chance you have to play it for real in the performance. These mind games are pernicious: even half-way through a solo there’s a danger that you think to yourself “actually this seems to be going okay”, only to distract yourself and fall apart. It’s an incredibly draining challenge of physical stamina, mental strength and concentration. I’m sure our performance was by no means perfect but Mahler 6 was a fantastically ambitious undertaking and I think we managed to present a very reasonable account of it, which included some truly exquisite moments. It was certainly incredibly loud, with an enlarged orchestra, including a massive brass section, creating a deafening climax. It was wonderful to have eight excellent horn players alongside me and I think we made quite an impressive section. The show was somewhat stolen, however, by the ‘Mahler box’ constructed specially for the occasion by Nick Bunker. The final movement of the symphony (which lasts a mammoth 30 minutes on its own) is punctuated by three massive hammer blows of fate. Mahler specified that these hammer blows should be "brief and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a non-metallic character (like the fall of an axe)”. For our performance Nick made a large wooden cube which was struck, by percussionist Keith Crompton, using a heavy log attached to a long broom handle. It created an amazing sound – and resulted in the violinists sitting immediately in front of it jumping several feet in the air each time it was struck! There is quite a good example of a similar realisation of the hammer blow at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwljE3HsfSM and you can see our Mahler box at http://culturaloutlook.blogspot.com/2011/11/our-mahler-box.html. The first half of our concert saw an excellent performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto by Charlotte Skinner who was confident, assured and lyrical. As I wasn’t playing in the concerto, sitting at the back of the audience to watch it was a relaxing way to prepare for the daunting challenge of the symphony. By the end of the concert I was exhilarated, proud, relieved and totally shattered. I’ve really enjoyed the experience of playing Mahler 6 but I’m pleased it’s now over and I’m looking forward to playing something slightly less demanding next!

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