I love the kind of gigs that inspire. They don’t even have to be good gigs, particularly - I don’t have to enjoy myself (though I almost always do) or make a lot of money to be encouraged by what I hear or see.
Yesterday I played in the backing orchestra for Jackie Evancho at Symphony Center in Chicago, and I had almost nothing to do - page after page of tacet numbers and an occasional harmony line or English horn solo. Although I didn’t really feel like I was earning my keep, I love having the chance to play second oboe. It’s a treat to be able to really pay attention to another player’s approach and see what I can learn - a little voyeuristic, maybe, but we are, after all, in a performance profession. The oboist expects to be heard, and hopes to be paid attention to, and I am glad to oblige. And it’s no burden when the oboist in question is such a consummate professional as Jelena Dirks. Her playing was lovely, perfectly pitched, and effortlessly controlled throughout the rehearsal and concert we played, and I resolved to work for more beautiful consistency in my own playing - in the absence of a dramatic need to allow my sound out of the box, it might as well stay there, and do so as attractively as hers. That lesson would alone have been enough, but I was able to draw inspiration from our featured artist as well.
Jackie Evancho sounded great - much more mature than her twelve years would indicate. A lovely voice and a smooth and well-coached performance, and the audience loved her. The programming of the concert played to her strengths exclusively, which is of course what it needed it to do. Well done, Jackie’s handlers! All of her phrasing was gentle, heartfelt, intimate, and elegantly behind the beat. There is nothing in the world wrong with that, but by the end of a two hour concert I was itching for an up-tempo number, or something belted, or something with at least a little momentum to it.
Immediately I knew what I wanted to do in my next practice session. It’s time to make sure that over the course of my upcoming recital I play something loud and something soft, tempos fast and slow, intimate phrases and rousing ones. Those contrasts are all built in already, of course - that is part of the programming - but I hadn’t yet worked through seeking the energy arc of the program and how to find and intentionally exaggerate the different elements, and that’s what I felt Jackie, bless her heart, was missing, and that’s what I couldn’t wait to do.
It’s a project that I normally hit around this time in the cycle, but for some reason I had to be reminded this winter. I explore, section by section, movement by movement, piece by piece, what the feel of the work is. What the basic color palette will be. Within that, where the peaks and valleys of tempo and dynamic are. Within that, the overall high point and low point of the movement, of the piece, of the recital.
I was needing this. We’re a month out from an exciting set of recitals, and I have been treading water in my music for a little while now. Able to play it, not thrilled by it, and not really clear on what to do next. This morning, though, I had a great and productive session, working on both consistency of sound and variety of approach. I can’t wait to get back at it tonight or tomorrow - that’s how satisfying the practice was. Thank you, Jackie and Jelena!
While I’m on the topic, may I point out a person who is EXPERT at this balance of beautiful timbral consistency with color and variety? Trevor O’Riordan, that’s who. Our fabulous principal clarinetist is featured this weekend in the Copland Clarinet Concerto and I cannot wait to hear him play it. If you are in the area or can get to the area I strongly recommend attending this Sunday’s matinee concert. Details HERE.