Needs more cowbell!
Last weekend, for several weeks leading up to it, and for a few days thereafter, I was heavily involved in putting on a concert. Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra was doing Gustav Mahler's Seventh Symphony, and it proved to be something of a struggle. It's not just that the piece was absolutely at the limit of what we could play: I had all kinds of things to do, with several hats on. Obviously, as a member of the second violins I had my own notes to play, and as leader of the section I had to try to organise aout eight other players, making sure any changes to parts were copied in as well as any other important markings for bowing and the like. Then I had to write the programme notes for the concert. I'm not quite sure how or when that got to be my job, but actually it can be very good fun: one tries both to amuse and to inform. This time, as well as the Mahler we were playing Gluck's overture to Iphigenia in Aulis, and Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21. The soloist we'd originally arranged had had to pull out because of injury, and as it happened I was the committee member who succeeded in finding a replacement: Jill Morton, with whom we had worked before some years ago. So I ended up liaising with Jill over who she was staying with, when rehearsals were and so on.
Then there was my Orchestra Manager hat. Sounds very grand, but mainly it involves arranging for any harpists we need, getting them their music, arranging for extra percussionists (ideally without spending any of the orchestra's money), getting any weird instruments they need to play (again at minimal cost), and making sure everything gets to the right place at the right time. This time I had to supply two harps, a guitar, a mandolin, four extra percussionists, a keyboard glockenspiel, a set of tubular bells, a set of cowbells (not the samba band kind but the kind you hear on cows in the Alps), and a thing called a Rute which is properly a bundle of birch twigs which the bass drummer whacks on the drum case. Ours was a bundle of half a dozen thin garden canes taped together with their ends frayed: an hour or so spent in my kitchen with duct tape, a saw and a box cutter. The other percussion was all borrowed. Oh, and one of the percussiuonists was my son, who while an ace with a drum kit doesn't have much orchestral experience, especially in big orchestras. Mahler's drum parts are rather confusing (mostly they consist of telling you what's going on while you do nothing for half an hour, and it can be easy to miss the bits you're actually supposed to play) so I was helping Ruairidh out with practising. Plus the instructions are all in German rather than the usual Italian, which is disconcerting if you're not used to it.
So the day before the concert (oh, I forgot to mention that in among all this I was doing other committee-related things like decide on next season's programme and find some extra cellos to replace ones who'd dropped out through illness etc) - the day before the concert I hired a man with a van (very nice gay chap who has worked with us for years) and we moved all the instruments across town from the hall where the orchestra rehearses to the church where we perform. We just got everything into one vanload (though care was needed as a bass drum would fall out if you opened the van door incautiously).
The day of the concert arrived, and I got there early to set out chairs for the morning rehearsal. I was wondering why I was having trouble fitting all the wind seats onto the platform when someone else came along and pointed out that the extra risers (one on each side) which the church normally put up had not been erected. Cue much running around with janitorial types getting bits of staging put up. Also getting the percussion gear in all its glory sorted out, put onto stands, and arranged so it could be played. Meeting (and directing to their places) the harpists and some of the percussionists. Putting the piano where we wanted it. Checking the lighting was OK (this used to be a nightmare - orchestras like to work in light levels similar to those favoured by neurosurgeons - but now the church have installed new lighting it's trouble-free). Oh, and getting my own violin out and tuned, and parking myself in my seat ready to play on time, and only slightly sweaty and out of breath.
Rehearsal - check. Concert - check. Confirm that the guitar and mandolin who couldn't make the morning rehearsal knew where to sit, and confirm whether they needed amplification (they didn't, though we'd discussed it). Play Gluck and Mozart. Discuss programming with conductor and others at interval (a bit of lobbying there....) Play Mahler. Smile happily at applause. Help pack up percussion kit and confirm what I need to take back and what is being taken away immediately. Go home and have a large drink.
The concert itself was actually a great success. Jill Morton played brilliantly in the Mozart: probably rather better than we did in all honesty, as we'd spent most of our rehearsal time on the Mahler. The Gluck was exciting, and the Mahler - despite the odd slip - was both exciting and beautiful, and very Mahlerian. It's funny: just over a week earlier the outer movements had still sounded a real mess, and even three days before the concert it had been a bit scrappy. But fear lends an edge to performances, and on the day we pulled it off: I know I played bits I'd never got right before, and I wasn't alone.
Monday - reverse all the moving with van (not quite so much stuff to squash in). Home and collapse in heap of dissolved tension.
And now, a few days later, I'm well under way with planning for the next concert and the one after that (who's going to play xylophone? how hard is the part? what is a Chinese tenor drum? where can we get hold of one?) as well as booking the church for next season's concerts and still trying to sort out what we're going to play.
Here's what we were matching ourselves with (Mahler 7, not Leonard Bernstein). This is the end of the last movement, so remember that we'd been playing for well over an hour before we got to this bit. Good solid over-the-top Mahler, and extraordinarily hard both to conduct and to play.
And by way of winding down, I was taken aback when I arrived to sort out chairs on the Saturday to hear the following piece being played loudly over the church's sound system. I hadn't listened to it for years, and was charmed all over again.