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The Makings of a Concert: Part 1

Congratulations to Mark Latham and the entire WSO for a fantastic concert on October 2nd - the first of our 2022-23 season! Rehearsals have already started for our November 6 concert - lots of new music to learn and enjoy.

So - what does it take, behind the curtains, to produce a concert? Lots of work performed by people dedicated to making the performance of glorious music possible! Here is a brief synopsis of the action that you don't see:

1. The music director - Mark - plans the program - the music that we will perform. Mark particularly likes to plan around a theme. Our first concert, Story and Myth in Music, clearly used stories and myth to unite the music. More from Mark below.

Our second concert is titled "In Memoriam", and it is a special program for me personally, as it is in memory of my parents, Madeleine and Karl Weiss. You will learn more about their story in a forthcoming post. Mark has chosen music that celebrates those people that we hold dear, and memories of times gone by. The main piece is Dvorak's 9th Symphony, "From the New World", which had special significance for my parents.

2. Once the music is selected, our orchestra manager, Richard Logothetis, sources the printed music. We need to have a score for the conductor and parts for every musician in the orchestra. The WSO owns some music, some music is found on a free online source, some is rented (especially contemporary music) and some is purchased.

Next, Richard sends the string parts out to the string section principals so that we can mark bowings, and sometimes fingerings, into the parts. We generally wait for our concertmaster, Emil Altschuler, to annotate the first violin part, and then we use that to inform what our sections should do.

Once the string parts are bowed, Richard scans every part for all of the instruments so that the music is accessible online. Our volunteer orchestra librarian, Liz Turi (who also runs the WSO website!) helps with photocopying the parts to put in folders for each musician.

Phew! Now we have the music so we can practice!

3. Another extremely important task performed by Richard is to ensure that each part is covered - that is, that we have a full orchestra. We need enough string players in each section to balance the woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments. And we need to have each wind, brass and percussion part covered. The WSO is a nearly 100% volunteer orchestra - and luckily, a lot of great musicians want to play with us. Kudos to Richard for doing a fantastic job of finding wonderful people to join us.

4. Other tasks -

- ticketing needs to be set up (thank you again to Richard)

- website needs updating (thank you to Liz)

- program booklet (a team effort)

- program notes for each concert (thank you to James Heazlewood-Dale)

- email notifications, Facebook posts (a team effort)

- mailings about concerts and to solicit donations (a team effort)

- ushers to help patrons find their seats (thank you, Wellesley Service League)

- flowers for the concert (thank you to Posies of Wellesley)

- refreshments for the receptions (thank you to orchestra and board members)

- vaccination cards, ticket checking and sales at the door (Richard and volunteers)

- stage set up and taken down (a team effort)

- managing lights and microphones (thanks to Tim Hill and Henry Platt, stage managers)

Clearly, it takes a village to produce each wonderful performance!

As mentioned above, I asked Mark to give us a behind the scenes glimpse into how conductors prepare for rehearsals and concerts. Here is his answer:

"It’s an interesting question, with a variety of answers. Here’s part 1 of my take:

The variety comes about due to some different factors: How well do I already know the work? How many times, or how recently have I conducted it in concert? Or is the piece completely new to me? Another consideration: What issues will the orchestra likely have to deal with regarding a certain piece? In rehearsal, how to carve sufficient time for each work?

Lera Auerbach’s amazing “Icarus” (which the WSO just performed) was, until August, a completely new work for me. Initially I’d asked our manager Richard to see if we might perform a newer work of hers, “Eve’s Lament”, but finding an ondes martinot (an early electronic instrument) and a player was going to be a difficult prospect in the short time we had. We settled on “Icarus”, which was enthusiastically recommended to me by my dear conductor friend and colleague Oriol Sans, who works at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Another friend, one of the librarians at Harvard, was able to get a score for me so I could begin to have a look. I’m a great believer in using whatever technology is available to us - thank you Youtube! There are quite a few recordings of Icarus, which is helpful if one’s in a bit of a hurry!

Still - in the end, learning a score takes a lot of time. (One conductor I knew tried to put a number on that: For every single minute of music, he claimed, a conductor spends at least 2 hours of score study…So, for a Mahler symphony, you might spend 100 hours of score study! That’s probably exaggerated as many bits of a work repeat themselves.) You try to figure out the general structure, the emotional content and projection of that content, the changing character. What has the composer herself said about the work? If recordings are available, how have different conductors interpreted the work differently - and why? What is their rationale? And what is mine.

My main teacher at the University of Michigan, Ken Kiesler, told us to constantly ask questions of the score: Why did Auerbach choose to do this here? Why did she choose this rhythm, or this instrumentation? What is the impact of the intense trills in the beginning of the second part? Why not just simple non-trilled notes? Often the questions are unanswerable, but they are enlightening… Or why did Beethoven choose to score the very beginning of his 5th Symphony in the way he did? (Hard to answer.) Why did he orchestrate the beginning of the "Joy" theme in the final movement of his 9th Symphony the way he did? (We can hazard a good answer to that!)

More about rehearsal and concert preparation in Part 2!"


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