With the turn of the calendar page to September, the new concert season is upon us with a vengeance!
The summer months are relatively light for me, by design. I use that time to recharge the batteries and learn new repertoire for the coming season. While I look forward this season to visiting with some familiar scores like Brahms 3rd Symphony, the Tchaikovsky Pathatique Symphony and Violin Concerto, there are many new pieces on the horizon as well.
October and the opening of the Springfield Symphony season bring my first Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto with pianist Spencer Meyer. While I have covered this piece a few times, I never have actually conducted the work, and it seems much more intricate than Rachmaninoff’s second concerto. For that reason, I intend to spend some time with the Orchestra alone on the piece, something I rarely do with a standard repertoire work. Usually, I wait until the soloist has arrived, and we have a chance to consult on the piece before we read it together with the orchestra. Luckily, Spencer’s schedule allows him to arrive in town a day before his primary rehearsal with us, so I can approach the piece with his thoughts in mind as I work on details of the orchestral accompaniment.
A new work, for me, requires six to eight months of study. I make at least 10 separate trips through the score, each time analyzing a different aspect (orchestration, form, harmony, melodic structure, etc.). Once I have formed an opinion about each of these ingredients, I consult as many recordings as I can get my hands on, and see what I have missed along the way. I also like to enjoy a period of time away from the score, as it tends to grow in my mind during that hibernation.
Accompaniment brings additional challenges, and I try to approach every assignment with care and attention to detail. Far too many conductors view the presence of a soloist as a necessary evil in the concert program, and tend to be somewhat flippant about their role. I suppose they assume that a brilliant performer will carry the piece and they can concentrate on the purely orchestral aspects of the program. Other conductors I have witnessed try to impose their own interpretive ideas, and in many instances, some direction may be warranted. My own feeling is that I have engaged the soloist to play a particular piece and expect the artist to know the piece “inside, out.” I hope to learn things about the piece from the artist, despite the fact that I have thoroughly learned the work as well, and may have done the work with other formidable performers. But I would never be so presumptuous as to insist on my own ideas over the wisdom of the soloist. I must be confident that they have significantly more experience with the work than I, although this is not always the case! I recall having to send a soloist packing when it became obvious he didn’t know the piece (Beethoven Emperor Piano Concerto of all things!!).
My own formula for a successful collaboration, given limited rehearsal time and my own artistic temperament , is to do whatever the soloist wants, and then to decide on Monday morning whether to ever engage that particular artist again!