Rehearsing the Symphony - First Night thoughts

The first rehearsal of the Symphony took place last night, whew!

Some observations:

  • I understand why composer's compositions get better the more they have works performed. There are a number of issues (particularly in the string parts) where my writing is possible to play, but difficult. Many of these sections can be re-written without having a huge effect on the overall sound.
    • Coming off of that previous topic, some of the nuances I have put into the score don't really matter in terms of a fully orchestrated section. When there aren't many instruments playing the subtle shift between a G sounded on the E string and the same G sounded on the A string gives a nice "shimmering" effect. But when the brass section is blaring away, a tremolo on the E string is much the same. Ok, there are probably electro-acoustic purists that will disagree, but I'm not sold on it.
    • Left hand pizzicato isn't really an option for a cello section. I love this technique in quartet writing and have used it with some effectiveness. However, it was apparent last night that the pizzicato should be divisi.
    • A very fast section of 2/4 should be written in cut time. Thirty some bars all beat in one get near impossible to keep track of where we are. Putting the same music into cut time gives the conductor a chance to differentiate between first and second beats so it is a bit easier keeping everyone together.
    • Reminder accidentals are important. I write in keys (for the most part) as my music tends to be pretty tonal. However, my music also tends to be fairly modal, with shifts between modes and keys, which means it can also be fairly chromatic. It's important to put a reminder accidental in a bar where the note is played within the key, rather than the altered one after a bar had an altered note. This sounds pretty standard and to some extent I did this, but not enough, as there were some questions about what notes should be when the reminders were not present.
  • However, on the same instance, a number of things happened last night that were spot on.
    • Phrasing in the wind section really does make a difference. Somewhat like what I mentioned above, when only one instrument (or small group) is doing an effect it doesn't really matter. However, I was fairly pedantic in some of the phrasing the wind section on a particular figure and it changes through a section, initially fairly legato, then paired and finally separated notes. When the entire section is following the same phrasing, the difference is pronounced.
    • Differing dynamics in instruments based on the instrument is also quite noticeable. French horns don't tend to be as loud as trumpets, but are louder than flutes when flutes are in their low register. So, writing the dynamics accordingly to ensure the voicing come out the way I want them worked really well last night, particularly considering this was basically a first read through.
  • I tend to write driving music. There are a number of different styles of music from slushy to shimmering, from laid back to driven. The symphony definitely has a preponderance of driving moments, sections where the orchestra needs to be directly on the beat if not just slightly before it. A lot of this feeling has to do with the syncopated and off beat rhythms I tend to use (much like Leonard Bernstein). This means I'm going to need to spend some of the future rehearsals on getting that feeling of pushing forward rather than relaxing back.
  • Overall, the music holds together better than I expected. As a new composer, I am still in the insecure age of my career when I doubt if I've done something (anything) right. Sure, I have a midi realisation, but those don't really reflect what live musicians actually sound like (not without a great deal of futzing - which I didn't do to the midi realisation). So, as the orchestra played last night, I was pleasantly surprised to actually hear the themes and layers I'd wanted coming out of the orchestra. There are some minor issues (some mentioned above) that will need to be re-worked before a final score is sent to other orchestras - but overall, it's a really good first symphony (if I may say so myself).

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