Tag Archive: Rossini


Class today has some distinct ups and downs, but I have learned something important. My nerves are definitely in relation to things that I feel aren’t solid, such as repertoire I’ve prepared quickly. When I’m confident in my abilities, I can overcome the nerves and actually use them to my advantage.

Warm-ups went well in terms of memory, but I struggled with a rather simple tune that Trevor played and then immediately wanted me to copy “with expression”. I panicked over the notes, and so didn’t do a crescendo as he wanted. Once he started berating my for failing to produce the crescendo, I got progressively more flustered.

Fast forward to orchestral excerpts, and I played both the Thieving Magpie and St John Passion excerpts expressively and without any mistakes. The only comment was that I needed to start my crescendos softer in Thieving Magpie. As I said in yesterday’s post, I worked a lot on both excerpts. But I can’t do that volume of work on everything.

The Godard Suite de Trois Morceaux was a similarly mixed bag. While I played the first two movements expressively and with a good memory for what Trevor had told others before me, I also played too many wrong notes and got flustered about relatively minor things. I didn’t play the movements one after the other, as several of us played each and then we moved on. After the Allegretto, I tried to calm down a bit before the Idylle, which was somewhat successful, but I still didn’t play it brilliantly. Neither movement is terribly hard, and by lunch time I was feeling rather frustrated with myself.

In the afternoon, I wasn’t expecting to play the Valse as well, but when few others volunteered I got up again. I’ve played the movement a few times before, but hadn’t done a huge amount of practice on it this week. So, as with Madrigal last week, I just played with my heart and tried to embrace the nerves. And the result was quite good!

So I think the question for contemplation this weekend is how to practice in a way that makes things feel more solid in a shorter time.

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I feel like I spent most of the day practising articulation! Both the excerpts for tomorrow are quite heavy on the tonguing, and then we’ve arrived at a patch of Moyse studies that are all about tonguing as well. On the one hand, I’m quite pleased that my articulation has come on in the past months, particularly in the realm of double and triple-tonguing. On the other, tonguing fasted dotted and double-dotted rhythms is still something of a minefield.

My approach with the excerpts today was not to spend ages on them but to play through them just once a couple of times per practice session. Since Trevor has been critical of my wrong notes of late, the goal was to get rid of them at all costs.

The St John Passion excerpt is mostly about getting through the passage without making any mistakes, and so this approach worked quite well. The goal was to play it perfectly the first time through, without any restarting or fumbling around. By the final practice hour of the day, I made it through several times without error, though it earlier sessions I noticed that I tend to make a mistake in the bar directly following a breath. My solution was then to mark in each and every breath (allowing for nerves in class) and really make sure that I learned them in as well. It seemed to work.

By contrast, the Thieving Magpie excerpt is about just getting through it all triple-tonguing, with a preference for dynamic contrast as well! I found that once I’d got through the first bar or so, that the tonguing wasn’t so bad, but that I often made mistakes when starting because I was still getting comfortable. So then I played just the first bar every ten minutes or so to get it really nice and clear. While the final build-up is still a little bit hairy (my tongue gets tired), I’m happy with the expression in the rest of the excerpt. I played Thieving Magpie with an orchestra only last year, and still am having conniptions about it!

I also went for a run this morning, the first in a while. It wasn’t amazing, and I’ve definitely got out of the habit over the last month. Hopefully Friday will feel a bit better!

Sunday 25th November

There is no denying it, community orchestras are tricky. Tricky because they are at once one of the most important ways of nurturing classical music in the community, and one of the most varied groups of musical individuals one will ever meet. And while Lynette Bridglands is doing a lot of great things with the South Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as shown by their final concert for 2012, choosing an appropriate program for such an ensemble is challenging.

Rossini’s Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers got the concert off to a good start, with oboist Sophie Johnson playing the opening solos expressively and with a stunning tone. She just needed to do it louder! Woodwinds lines were well-played, with good intonation and sense of ensemble, but the strings – in particular the first violins – were somewhat lacking in both dynamics and conviction. This, I feel, is one of the first golden rules of community orchestra playing: the concertmaster really must be a charismatic and musical leader capable of injecting some umph into their fellow musicians. Concertmaster David Chan, while clearly very capable technically, didn’t give this, and as a result many of the string players erred on the side of playing a little quietly and with a little less enthusiasm so that they wouldn’t be caught making a dreaded mistake. As a result, upper strings melodies were rather lost, and the sections that were played somewhat under tempo really felt like it.

Elgar’s Sea Pictures was without a doubt the highlight of the concert. Mezzo-contralto (though with an impressive high register too) Helen Hill was splendid both in her interpretation of the music and her presence on stage. The orchestra handled Elgar’s writing well despite any technical difficulties, as they were able to take the lead from both conductor and soloist in terms of colour and musical intention. An encore of Land of Hope and Glory was fitting and fun, leading all buoyantly into the interval with a tune to hum.

The second half presented two very challenging works, though each for its own reasons. Here, I wonder whether it would have been prudent to reduce the program length a little (or maybe even adding a slightly easier second Pomp and Circumstance March to the first half) than attempt to tackle the weight of both Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier Concert Suite and a Mozart Symphony.

It was clear here that most members of the orchestra are at a high technical standard on their instrument. However, I think that one of the most important considerations of community orchestra programming (and also for youth orchestras, but for slightly different reasons) is recognising the difference between what the ensemble can play in terms of notes, and what they are capable of playing well in concert. Der Rosenkavalier, in particular, was challenging in this respect, and the resulting impression was that most players were still getting to grips with their own parts and not listening terribly much to the ensemble as a whole. Lines were muddy, and at times a central melody was difficult to pick, although the piece picked up momentum as it moved into the waltz.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, the Haffner, is challenging for another reason – it needs incredible finesse. Here, the orchestra were clearly enjoying themselves, and the result was a light, buoyant reading, though a little under-tempo. It felt that this would have been just that bit more polished – especially in terms of the strings’ commitment to some of their more challenging lines – had the group spent just a little more time on each of the movements.

Conductor Lynette Bridgland is an enthusiastic and skilled musician, and has clearly put a lot of work into the South Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. However, if community orchestras are to continue to attract audiences and players, I feel that they need to balance their programs a little better. Pick a handful of pieces that are that bit easier, and play them with real conviction and umph, adding a single challenging work that really has a lot of time spent on it. Maybe this will upset a few of the more highly skilled players in the ensemble, but orchestras are a team, and the greatest skill of being an orchestral musician is that of being a team player.

Possibly the best-known of Rossini’s operas, The Barber of Seville is nothing if not tongue in cheek. Luckily, for the opening night of Opera Australia’s season on the April 30th, it was clear that in this respect all were speaking exactly the same language.

The delightful leading cast eagerly embracing the eccentric personalities of their characters, with the male leads particularly impressive. Every time Jose Carbo took the stage as Figaro, his swagger, cheek and sheer enjoyment of the role lifted the already high energy levels. His and Count Almaviva’s (John Longmuir) duet in the opening scene was a highlight, as were Dr. Bartolo’s (Andrew Moran) constant imitations of the voice and gesture of other characters. While Rosina’s (Sian Pendry) two solo arias sounded somewhat breathy, her voice rang out wonderfully in duets and trios, and her fandango dancing was a show-stealer.

Another clear star of the production was the set, employing puppetry and false perspective to great effect in the opening scene. Dr. Bartolo’s house, the centre of the action for the remainder of the narrative, was decked out in the colourful style of the 1930s, and provided enough doors, rooms and confined spaces to emphasise the sheer absurdity of cramming the cast into them!

Mention must also be made of the excellent chorus, some of whom had the audience in fits of laughter as Dr. Bartolo’s comic patients. While the closing chorus of Act 1 needs a little tidying up rhythmically, the overall effect was polished and guaranteed to tickle the humours of the audience.

Get in quickly, this year’s Barber of Seville deserves to be a full house every night!