Friday, March 19, 2010

LSO on tour blog - Petrouchka's street musicians

Dear Flutists,
If any of the flutists reading have played Petrouchka, or ever had to move from a live, echoey hall to a dead hall, or vis versa, where you feel you have to force the sound to make it lively, or in this case, pull the sound back to allow it to resonate without forcing, then you'll find that this is very interesting reading from Gareth Davies, co-principal flutist of the LSO.

I relate very much to these comments from the conductor about this ballet's flute solo; it's how I wish this flute solo would be played every time! Like a street musician! Fabulous! Best and enjoy this excerpt from:
London Symphony Orchestra on tour: The BLOG

Excerpt from "It means nothing to me; Oh Vienna

However, we are not here as tourists, we are here to work. This time Valery is at the controls and vibrato has been switched back on again and the full throaty roar of the orchestra has once again been shouting out from the Barbican. This is one of the reasons that playing in Vienna is so difficult; our home at the Barbican is not as reverberant and consequently we have to work very hard to make a good sound. Of course, when you go and play the Musikverein and its famously luxuriant acoustic, we can sound overwhelming.

Ein Heldenleben is an incredibly detailed and complex score which demands clarity if it is not to turn into a soup, something which we can do at the home ground, but in Vienna it requires a different approach. Of course as Richard Strauss himself used to conduct this piece in this very hall, there is no excuse not to get it right, in fact it is vitally important that we get it right.

Valery spends much of the balance rehearsal doing what its says, balancing the score. In many ways, the Musikverein has such a character of its own that it almost becomes another instrument in the orchestra that needs to be played in the right way so as to bring the best out of it. The long chord at the end in which the wind and brass have to diminuendo is made much easier in the acoustic, however the rich opening of multiple lines and rhythms can be a messy sludge.

By the time the concert arrives, Valery is a more contained version of himself in terms of movement and urges restraint in dynamics from the heavy artillery of the orchestra. Once we do this the sound is fabulous, there is one moment in particular near the end of the piece where the strings soar up to a high phrase – it is simply one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard and I can’t help but smile.

Petrouska is also on the programme. I love playing this with Valery. I don’t know any other conductor who can conjure up images from the ballet like he does. Of course his background and other job are perfect for this. In rehearsal we reached the flute cadenza which is where the ballerina begins to dance, I played it as I thought it should go. Valery stopped,

“Gareth, that level of virtuosity is not needed here, he is a street magician who picks up a flute. Take your time.”

And sure enough, the bit immediately preceding the cadenza takes on a different form as he conducts it and suddenly the cadenza (something which I’ve always wondered how to play) makes sense.

The famous episode when the bear comes to market (played by the tuba) and the clarinets screech away in my ear to call the crowds in. It’s a very difficult bit to play as the two clarinets have to play very high in unison – it is usually – but today it sounds very good indeed. Valery stops.

“Clarinetti. It sounds too good. I want more like a glissando instead of hearing all the notes. Don’t forget, he is holding his clarinet in one hand playing, and in the other hand he is holding a chain with a bear on it. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be concentrating on playing it evenly!”

Fair point.

It is the attention to detail that he brings to this ballet music that makes it such a joy to play with him and why, at the end of the concert where we play the ballet’s downbeat ending the audience in Vienna is stunned into silence before clapping for a very long time.

Leaving the stage, I see posters for all of the great artists playing at the Musikverein, past and present. I walk past a bust of Gustav Mahler and feel the weight of musical history and feel relieved and pleased that the performance went well.

It means nothing to me?

It means everything.

--------Gareth Davies