May 3: Frankfurt

Scheduling rehearsals on tour is a balancing act. Some of the factors that are taken into consideration are orchestra fatigue; whether and how often a piece was recently performed; the difficulty of the music; and extra-musical considerations like positioning of offstage musicians; and the acoustics of each concert hall.

Limits on the number and length of rehearsals, including rehearsals on tour, are laid out in detail in the collective bargaining agreement (also called the CBA, or contract, or as the BSO calls it, the Trade Agreement). Some tour rehearsals may be 2½ hours, others 1 or 1½. Still others, called “acoustic rehearsals” can last 15 minutes—yes, that’s not a typo—and usually take place an hour or so before the actual concert. Acoustic rehearsals are intended only to get a sense of what the hall sounds like and, if there’s time, tweak a few spots in the music. The musicians can usually tell within minutes what particular challenges a new hall holds—the degree of reverberation or lack thereof, individual adjustments in projecting the sound, whether we’ll have to sustain notes longer than usual or play them shorter, whether the instruments against the back wall (brass and percussion) need to be reined in, etc.

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Andris Nelsons putting the BSO through its paces.


Today’s rehearsal at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, our first on the tour, was a full-blown 2 1/2 hour one. After not performing any of the tour repertoire for well over a week it was necessary to dust of some of the cobwebs. Not surprisingly, there were some. That would have made a lot of conductors uptight, but one of the nice things about Maestro Nelsons is that he takes everything in stride, which ultimately makes the performances better. In fact, when we rehearsed the Tchaikovsky “Letter Scene” from Eugene Onegin without the soprano soloist (she arrives tomorrow; it’s not on tonight’s program), he gleefully belted out her part in a full-throttled falsetto in imitation of the soloist. And, by the way, the soloist is his wife, Kristine Opolais.

Another of the pieces on tomorrow’s program is a suite from the theater production of Hamlet, composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. The BSO performed it earlier this year, but don’t tell anyone…I’ve never played it. I’d never even heard of it until I saw it on the program. We glanced at it for five minutes today, but I don’t think we’re going to rehearse again before the performance. Wish me luck! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog to find out if I’m still part of the orchestra.

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Alte Oper, Frankfurt

The acoustics at the Alte Oper presented no major challenges. The quality of sound is really good, at least from where was sitting. In addition, the stage is roomy. It was nice not having the piccolo player sitting in my lap (though that would have been nice, too). Mahler Ninth presents some serious balance issues even in the best of halls, so it was good to start our tour somewhere that didn’t make it more difficult than it already is.

Any American orchestra that performs Mahler in Germany or Austria wants to be at the top of its game. We must have created a good impression because the applause at the end of the concert continued until Maestro led us off the stage. Back in the dressing room, some of the wind players jokingly quoted a colleague they all knew from another orchestra: “I nailed the intonation! I nailed the rhythm! I nailed the sound! And I nailed the sensitivity! Right into the wall!

Correction: In yesterday’s post, I mistakenly captioned a photo: The BSO in St. Petersburg, 1956. I was corrected by my colleague, violinist Valeria Kuchment, as being the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. This is what she wrote: “I can even see myself in the Hall. That’s when I was so impressed (as a child, of course) by the orchestra sound, so I decided that I have to go to US to become a member of the BSO.”

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