At a symphony live performance or opera efficiency, the viewers witnesses skilled musicians taking part in top-quality devices. It’s a reassuring veneer that helps disguise the truth that every participant is coping with a mechanical beast that’s fueled by its particular idiosyncrasies and typically appears to have a thoughts of its personal.
Pasatiempo just lately spoke with 4 first-chair instrumentalists who play notably quirky devices — horn, oboe, bassoon, and percussion — to learn how they determined to play them, about their largest in-performance fears, and what their “dream piece” as a soloist could be.
Jeffrey Rogers, Santa Fe Symphony’s principal horn, benefitted from Texas’ well-funded music packages. “My household wasn’t notably musical, and I now not bear in mind why I picked the horn in sixth grade, however I did. You could possibly say my profession is a triumph of public training over genetics.”
The primary quirk Rogers described is anatomical. “The brass are the one devices the place the vibrations that make the sound are produced by a physique half: your lips. It means numerous self-care for them and for all of the small, delicate muscle groups round your mouth. It’s particularly necessary for horn gamers, since we play lots in virtually each type of music. You possibly can change a string or exchange a reed, however we don’t have that possibility.”
The horn can be the one orchestral instrument the place the sound factors away from the viewers as a result of the bell faces backward, which supplies it a extra rounded, mellow tone. Normally. “No matter is behind us impacts the sound of the horns,” Rogers says. “If it’s the timpani, it’s the worst, as a result of they will trigger what are known as break up tones, the place you’re unintentionally taking part in two notes directly on the horn. It’s extremely exhausting in your lips.”
The form of the horn additionally permits gamers to do one thing that no different instrument does — put a hand inside it whereas it’s being performed. Hand-stopping has two features: it makes the sound extra muted or raises and lowers the pitch.
A horn is nearly utterly steel, however Rogers’ largest concern about an in-performance mishap entails the fraction that isn’t: the brief strings that open and shut the valves when he presses on the levers. “They don’t break fairly often, however you’re screwed if one does. It takes a very long time to exchange. Luckily, I’ve by no means had that occur throughout a efficiency.”
Rogers additionally performs the Wagner tuba (it’s probably not a tuba in any respect however a deep-voiced horn invented at Richard Wagner’s request for his Ring Cycle.) Most gamers use an instrument that’s been rented by the orchestra for a particular live performance. “They arrive in two varieties,” Rogers says, “fabulous and terrible, in a couple of 50-50 ratio.”
His dream piece to play as a soloist? “Paul Hindemith’s horn concerto. He wrote it for the good British soloist Dennis Mind. It’s a terrific piece that’s infrequently performed nowadays, with a really distinctive construction — two brief, quick actions adopted by a for much longer, slower one.”
“Write this down,” Santa Fe Symphony principal oboist Elaine Heltman says. “A-r-u-n-d-o, d-o-n-a-x. That’s what you really want to learn about in the case of the oboe.”
Arundo donax is the organic title for a perennial cane that may develop as tall as 30 ft and is used to make the reeds for oboes and bassoons. Seen from the viewers, reeds appear small and inconsequential, but when there’s one factor all oboists and bassoonists agree on, it’s that reeds have an unlimited impression on sound high quality, as a lot because the instrument itself. (In contrast to the reeds in clarinets, that are a single reed instrument. The reed is way simpler to make and, consequently, they differ the sound lots much less. Most clarinetists simply purchase reeds, somewhat than making their very own.) Skilled gamers make their very own reeds, which is a surprisingly advanced course of involving many steps unfold over a number of days. (One 30-minute on-line tutorial breaks down into 16 sections.)
After such a time funding, you’d hope your new reed would final a very long time, however alas, no. “Many occasions a reed lasts for just one live performance,” Heltman defined. “It’s normally good for about 10 hours, however bear in mind, you’ve been working towards and adjusting it, taking part in it at a rehearsal or two after which the live performance. So that you’ve bought to have fairly a number of able to go.” In different phrases, it’s an meeting line course of that by no means ends.
Our lack of humidity additionally complicates an oboist’s life, typically drastically. Most oboes are produced from grenadilla wooden, which may be very exhausting and really dense. It’s immune to cracking however not impervious to it. Heltman has lived by her nightmare situation 3 times, with oboes that cracked onstage, together with as soon as when she needed to swap devices (however not reeds) with the second oboe mid-performance. Two of her cracked oboes have been repairable however one was totaled.
Her curiosity within the oboe goes again to a third-grade expertise — listening to the New York Philharmonic comply with the oboe in tuning earlier than a live performance at Lincoln Middle. “I cherished the sound of it and cherished the concept that the oboe was someway in command of all these gamers. A yr later, I had to decide on an instrument for the varsity band, and I picked the oboe due to the sound, and since fewer children have been enthusiastic about it. I used to be the youngest child within the household, so being distinctive appealed to me lots.”
Heltman’s dream concerto: Down a River of Time by Eric Ewazen. “It deeply moved me the primary time I heard it, particularly after studying it was commissioned by oboist Linda Strommen in reminiscence of her father. The writing for oboe is beautiful, fantastically expressing reflection, grief, and a future enriched by cherished recollections.”
Symphony Principal Bassoon Stefanie Przybylska confessed to a horrible secret. “I used to be an sad clarinet participant in seventh-grade band, and I wished out! The director handed me a bassoon and stated, ‘Right here, do this,’ and I cherished it. Getting one was actually some type of divine intervention for me.”
Her instrument of selection is taken into account one of many hardest to grasp. “The bassoon has defied enchancment regardless of many makes an attempt during the last two centuries,” Przybylska says. “It’s very counterintuitive to play, particularly a few of the fingerings. You employ each thumbs to play numerous the keys, which makes fast passages very exhausting.”
Bach and Vivaldi wrote for bassoons that had 4 keys; fashionable devices have between 22 and 28. Apart from the expansion within the variety of keys, it’s just about unchanged over 250 years, with musical dictionaries describing its mechanism as “primitive” and “archaic.” The bassoon can be each surprisingly heavy, at about eight kilos, and distressingly fragile. Przybylska’s bassoon consists of seven completely different items, plus a strap that wraps across the seat of the chair to maintain the bassoon from dropping onto the ground.
Like many instrumentalists who carry out in Santa Fe, she lives in Albuquerque, which provides one other layer of challenges. “I’ve bought ‘Albuquerque reeds,’ which don’t work nicely in Santa Fe, and ‘Santa Fe reeds’ that don’t like Albuquerque. The change in elevation is sufficient to make an enormous distinction in them. A reed solely works nicely in a spot that has the identical temperature, humidity, and barometric strain because the place the place it was made.”
Przybylska’s largest worry entails Igor Stravinsky’s hair-raising ballet The Ceremony of Spring, which opens with a stratospherically excessive bassoon solo. “It’s not that I gained’t be capable to play it nicely. It’s that, simply earlier than the efficiency begins, I’ll drop the proper reed I’ve spent hours making, and it rolls beneath the riser in entrance of me the place I can’t get it.”
Her selection for a showpiece is John Williams’ five-movement bassoon concerto. “He’s like a chameleon in how he can shift from movie scores to live performance music and provides them completely completely different qualities,” she says. “The bassoon concerto is known as The 5 Sacred Timber, and it describes timber that have been necessary in Celtic mythology. It’s an ideal selection for a woodwind participant.”
In grade faculty, Rob Klieger knew he wished to play percussion within the faculty band. Now he’s the principal percussionist for the Santa Fe Opera orchestra through the summer season and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra through the fall, winter, and spring.
“A percussionist can be a logistics supervisor,” he says, “and a tinkerer and a mechanic, to maintain the devices in good restore. As soon as all that’s taken care of, we get to be a musician for some time.” For Klieger, the oddity of percussion comes from the character of the job itself. “We play lots of and lots of of various devices, and it’s a must to know the completely different qualities and taking part in methods for every of them,” he says. “Percussionists love challenges, and plenty of modern composers love to supply them. I as soon as performed in a bit the place I needed to play the slide whistle. Usually, that will be no large deal however, right here, I needed to play in unison with the primary violins, which was insanely exhausting.”
Klieger’s craziest-ever musical equipment? A 12-gauge shotgun, which he fired onstage on the finish of a John Corigliano piece known as Circus Maximus.
Corigliano’s Lord of Cries premieres on the Santa Fe Opera later this summer season. There shall be 5 percussionists within the orchestra pit (an unusually massive quantity) taking part in 35 completely different devices (an especially massive quantity). Determining the place all of it goes takes nice logistics administration.
A number of the devices are standard-issue objects (a bass drum, xylophone, and chimes); some are sound results tools that hasn’t modified in centuries (a thunder sheet and a wind machine); and a few are uncommon (a lion’s roar and a cellophane cymbal).
Klieger’s dream piece to carry out? “Andy Akiho’s Ping-Pong Concerto, which was carried out by the New York Philharmonic in 2018. The rating requires 4 soloists — two good ping-pong gamers, a violinist, and a percussionist, however I’m fairly positive I may determine the way to play percussion and ping-pong on the identical time. I’d like to attempt!” ◀
Each musical instrument has a minimum of a number of quirks, however some have been one hundred pc quirky from the get-go. Listed here are 5 of the best.