Watching a Professional Rehearse: What I Learned

Last night I was afforded opportunity to watch a rehearsal of Nicola Benedetti and Christoph Koenig with the Pacific Symphony

I've see the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 performed lived a half dozen times. Nicola has performed it at least ten times that amount, recorded in and put in countless hours prior to that learning the piece. What all that time and effort has done is to internalize the music, to the point there is very little thought as to what's the next note. Watching Nicola go through the various passages, starting and stopping, repeating sections and moving on drove home how very familiar she is with the music.

Nicola had a music stand with the music, but this was only as a reference point so when Maestro Koenig asked for the orchestra to start 8 bars before rehearsal letter "A" she could find that point in the music. After a quick glance to determine what phrase she would start with, the rest of that portion of the rehearsal as introspective, Nicola connecting with her instrument and the music. It was obvious from watching her, she didn't need to focus on the printed music, so she was free to put more of herself into the "performance."

I liken Nicola's rehearsal with walking down a dirt path. Unless you two or three years of age, you don't really spend any time thinking about where you're placing your feet. Even if you're walking down a path you've never been before (rehearsing with an orchestra and possibly a conductor you've never played with before), you aren't think, place my foot here, move the next food forward, balance, step there! The process of walking is more internal than that. You are somewhat conscious of the vagaries in the path, so you don't just plod along willy-nilly. But the actual thinking of each and every step isn't something that occupies your brain. Your brain is free to take a look at the surroundings, enjoy the journey.

Nicola has achieved that same internal aspect with her performance of the Bruch. The importance of this kind of internalization is that it allows Nicola to focus on the orchestra --what are they doing, and the music she's playing --where should it go emotionally. This means every performance is slightly different, allowing the "path" of the music to wander where it will (even if you walk down the same path every day, your feet won't land in the same place every time). The technical aspects of the music are still virtuoso, and I don't want to say Nicola has become so complacent with the music, she's just going through the motions. It was obvious last night how very passionate she was even when starting with a phrase half way into it, or going over a section for the third or fourth time. Even in the rehearsal Nicola was putting more of herself into the music that just walking the path. She was truly enjoying the journey.

Maestro Christoph Koenig was in a much different position. I have no way of knowing how many times he has conducted this piece, or even if he's ever conducted with Nicola Benedetti. Still, his role as Maestro is to lead a rather large group down a path following Nicola's lead. He has to path attention to the path and all the little vagaries so to point them out during rehearsal to the various musicians. Second Violins, "that was the right intensity, now ten times softer." And when they went over that section again, the scenery of the music blossomed into a beautiful landscape. Like Nicola, Christoph needs to be familiar with the piece to the point he isn't having to worry about time changes and or tempo markings. He knows they're there; rather he is focused on the trouble spots in the path where he needs to guide the musicians through, adding emotional emphasis to the notes on the page.

These very different approaches to rehearsing the same piece of music helps me understand how important it is for a composer to detail each and every aspect into the music. The more detail we can provide allows the perform more information they can internalize. This way, during the performance they can add their own emotional response to the scenery I've provided allowing for a complete experience.

I am looking forward to Thursday and walking the path of the Bruch Violin Concerto with them!

Feb 2-4, 8pm

R&H Segerstrom Concert Hall


DEBUSSY: Petite Suite
BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4


This is a lovely post! I work a lot with actors and musicians in my job as an Alexander Technique teacher, and there is a common misconception that those who are at the top of their profession (such as Nicola Benedetti) are so brilliantly talented that they don't need to work hard.
Such a belief is, of course, nonsense. And what this post gives us is an appreciation of the creative freedom that is afforded a player who has truly lived and worked with their music.
Thank you. :-)
Chip Michael said…
Make no mistake - getting to where Nicola is takes a LOT of hard work. However, it's obvious by watching her play making music is so important to her I don't think she can imagine ever doing anything else. She didn't just sort of play her part during rehearsal; she was completely immersed in it.

Gave me a renewed look at my own passion for composition!

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