Bless Maxine Kwok-Adams!
For those of you who are not aware, Maxine is our resident fashionista of the 1st violin section.
If column inches on a well known social networking site were the only measure of a person’s popularity then MK-A would surely rival John Lennon in those stakes…and we all know who HE compared himself and three of his mates to. Max was one of the first to pass judgement on my inaugural blog entry (and thank you Max for your kind words) but not before announcing on unsaid website that –
(she), “Has gone all red, amateur error!! Mind you, I did spend all day floating on a lilo in the hotel pool, bliss! Cold shower, then rehearsal!”
You will recall the idea of the colour comparison chart from the last blog.
It is reassuring to know that, having mentioned in print what I thought would be certain inevitabilities, there is always someone there just to back you up. Maxine, I salute you!
There can only be one piece of advice for poor Max, and yes, “I will say zis only once……Aloe, Aloe.”
Yesterday’s rehearsals, back in the Studio in Venelles brought the first signs of the reality of working in a climate such as that of Provence. The large aircraft hanger like rehearsal room is a fairly anonymous space in which to prepare an opera but it served it’s purpose well enough. The rehearsal of the previous day had not started until 7.00pm so the evening had already cooled down to a very pleasant mid to late 20’s Celsius. A huge air-conditioning unit outside the hall was whirring away pumping cool air into the building through a tube of such diameter that it resembled one of those enclosed flume slides that you find at water theme parks. Surely such a machine could refrigerate an entire orchestra and it’s entourage with little fuss or bother. That evening, yes.
The morning after; a resounding no.
The fans of the LSO were out in force at the 11am rehearsal…and no, I’m not referring to hordes of screaming women..or men who may or may not hurl themselves in the orchestra’s direction. Anything flat that could be waved in front of one’s face was utilised in order to cool down. Papers, magazines…even sheet music all doubled as air-wafters whilst the air-con system struggled to lower the heat with limited success.
It’s hard to concentrate in such an environment, but there was work to be done and Monsieur Langrée forged ahead finishing the initial play through of the opera. The principal cast had been with us for day one of rehearsals but today we were joined for the first time by the chorus for the production, The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Numbering only 36 ladies and gentleman, they pack a real vocal punch. It was back to the top of the score to begin cherry-picking the tutti numbers, this time properly tutti with all the constituent elements in place.
Well, I say all. There was something missing. A certain je-ne-sais-quoi.
Percussion parts for operas are notoriously thin on the ground when it comes to information on where and indeed sometimes what to play. There are often long periods, as I alluded to in my first entry, where one just sits and listens to the music going on around you waiting to hear an elusive vocal cue from from the stage signposting you into the 4 bars of gran cassa e piatti (that’s bass drum and cymbals to non polyglots) which you may have been waiting 20 minutes or so to play. In the symphonic repertoire, I have a small amount of pride in the fact that these days, there is little or no need to count many bars rest in order to be certain of the next entry.
So when M. Langrée looked over at Messers Thud et Blunder in the second number of Act 2, shrugging his shoulders in that manner that only a true Frenchman can do and calling out “Tambourine! Tambour de Basque! You play ‘ere!”, we were quite prepared to accept that he knew his score better than we did.
I stared at the part – clearly 32 bars rest – and gave him an apologetic, quintessentially English version of a shrug back. If it were possible that gestures could be assigned words and an accent it would have probably equated to, “Jer ner say parr.”
Play is halted.
“Do we have a tambourine? You do not have tambourine at this point? It is here in the score.”
“No. We don’t have a tambourine part at all. Just bars rests to count.”
“No, no! It is here at this point in the score. Tambourine, I assure you!”
Confused, of the back of the Orchestra.
“We will investigate, Maestro”
I think we’re on pretty firm ground here. Check both parts. No. Both stands…no. Spare music in the folder…..no. Safe.
Play is resumed.
The dimensions of the pit in which we are to play dictate a certain layout of the orchestra. The strings will be in a long lateral formation with all the wind and brass way off to the conductor’s right. Though there was plenty of room in the Studio to seat the orchestra in a more conventional set up there was a nod at this point to the revised seating plan. Consequently, the timpani and Nigel were miles away from Neil and myself in the percussion section.
Only at the point when the orchestra had resumed the chorus number, still sans tambourine, did I notice Nigel, way over at the other side of the orchestra gesticulating wildly, as though in training to guide a 747 onto it’s parking stand at Heathrow and mouthing in fortissimo T A M B O U R I NE…….I T ‘ S O N T H E T I M P A N I P A R T !
This unfolding pantomime had been clocked by most of the chorus who were seated directly behind Neil and I in the rehearsal. To add insult to injury, some of them were now miming the tambourine part on their knees, clearly having a more detailed knowledge of the score than us.
With a tambourine hurriedly retrieved from the percussion cases, the temptation to frisbee it across the orchestra over to Nigel was almost too much to bear. Instead, decorum at all times, we did what good musicians should do in a situation like this…improvise…and not only in the literal sense.
Nigel began visually telegraphing the part to me, allowing me to follow his movements and play the part correctly…well, almost. His direction was done with such gusto and intent that it caught the eye of M. Langrée whose attention had moved on from the missing tambourine part. The brief look of confusion on his face was something behold – Nigel, far right, clearly playing the errant part with no instrument. Sound of tambourine, far left, played by slightly red faced Bay City Roller wanabee.
Conductor’s brief confusion over. A wry smile. Percussion section’s realisation of situation. An apologetic grin.
Game, set and match, Langrée.
We had been scheduled for three three hour rehearsals in The Studio on that day. M. Langrée had demonstrated that he not only knows his score well but also how to gain the respect and trust of the players in front of him. By the end of the second 3 hour stint he looked around the orchestra, seeing red flushed faces in all directions. With several more days of rehearsal ahead, he put down his baton,
“Ladies and gentleman, it is hot. You work very hard and very fast. I think we will continue tomorrow.”
With jet/train/car lag still very much a factor, the evening off is a real bonus.
Merci Louis Langrée…..
a straight sets winner.