Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Wagner Bicentenary Concert

Last Saturday I took part in a concert organised to celebrate the bicentenary of Richard Wagner's birth. It wasn't with one of my usual orchestras - indeed Edinburgh Chamber Orchestra rehearse on the same night of the week as my main band, so it could never be - but I had been asked to play, and an evening of Wagner always sounds like fun to those of us who, you know, like evenings of Wagner. And as with most music, it's always more fun to be inside the orchestra making it than outside listening.

So last Wednesday night I went along to my first rehearsal. (The orchestra's regulars had been practising for some weeks: extra bods like me came in at the last minute.) Lawrence Dunn (the leader) had asked me to play, and sent me links to download music to practise. Now: I play in Edinburgh Light and Edinburgh Players with Lawrence, and in both I play second violin. I lead the seconds in Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra and play front desk second in EPOG's Wagner performances each year. Do you see a pattern developing there? I downloaded and practised - of course - the Violin II parts. On Wednesday I turned up to find a crescendo of surprises: (mf) I was playing first violin (f) Ii was sitting with Lawrence in the front desk (ff) Lawrence was going to be away for Friday's string sectional, making me leader for that night by default. It was like one of those dreams where you have to give a Nobel Prize acceptance speech without knowing what you won the prize for, and without your trousers.

Still, it wasn't too bad. If 12 years of EPOG Wagner weekends prepares you for anything, it's sight-reading Wagner for a couple of hours at a sitting. The string sectional went OK: I was surprised by how many of the notes I hit despite still being effectively sight-reading, and people seemed happy.

So on to Saturday, which was full of fun. OK, so the chorus got the concert date wrong and will presumably turn up to an empty church next Saturday (we sorted out their absence with a few judicious cuts in the orchestra's parts). OK, so both Lawrence and I got lost a couple of times (that it wasn't just me made me feel a lot better!) OK, so Alberto managed to knock over not only our stand but the front desk of seconds' as well with his dramatic baton sweeps towards the end of Lohengrin. And yes, I had had precisely one play-through each of the Rienzi and the Lohengrin Act 2 procession. (Though after Friday's sectional I felt as though no sight-reading would ever terrify me again.....) But the singers were undeterred by it all and performed magnificently. I've known Emily Mitchell (who sang Elsa) since she was a bump in her mother's profile, but had never actually heard her sing other than in a chorus. So it was marvellous to hear her up close and personal, as it were. Even if she was singing Wagner's most wimpish heroine, she stole the show, and stole it from some very talented colleagues. Janet de Vigne is always a safe pair of lungs, and was great as Venus (and gloated nicely as Ortrud). Ben Thapa was suitable noble as Lohengrin, and suitably conflicted as Tannhäuser. Richard Mein sang King Heinrich, who doesn't get to sing much but is expected to make a suitably regal noise - and did. The orchestra, despite the odd glitch referred to, played pretty well, and everyone enjoyed themselves, including - very obviously - the audience, who made up in enthusiasm for their relative slightness in numbers.

Oh, and just before the final rehearsal on Saturday afternoon we were filmed (well, Janet de Vigne was the one being filmed in fact) for part of a making-a-film-in-24-hours project being entered for a Eureopean film festival. Ms de V sang a few dozen bars of Ortrud's part in the church and would then seemingly be transported by spaceship to a hilltop in Edinburgh. Why do I get the impression this may be a somewhat eccentric film?

Here OTOH is a less eccentric film illustrating the Lohengrin Act 2 finale (the one I'd played once in rehearsal and then performed). I'd completely forgotten what wonderful music it is: it tends to be overshadowed by the more famous "Here Comes the Bride" Bridal Chorus in act 3 (or in our case the Bridal Orchestra-With-Cuts-To-Avoid-The-Chorus).

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