I have never played a concerto before, and this still feels surreal! (I'm writing this a few days since the concert and I'm still at a loss for words!) Let's start from the beginning..
Jon took probably a year to write the entire concerto, and was still making changes up to the final concert day! He wrote draft after draft and scrapped so many versions, one starts to wonder how composers in the past wrote and composed in ink, on manuscripts - one mistake and a lot of work goes down the drain! We have modern day Sibelius and Finale now, and deleting or changing notes just takes a split second, but I digress..
I'm pretty sure Jon had a vision in his mind already, but that didn't stop our Skype sessions, going through the music and the notes, or sharing ideas on sounds or grooves. I feel he was very influenced by Iannis Xenakis, as my setup was exactly the same as how you would play Rebonds. The only additional instruments were a marimba and a gong, but it wasn't as crazy as many of the percussion concertos out there! (Granted, the music is for 5 soloists, so having too many instruments on stage might have been too much).
We started rehearsals immediately upon Jon's return from Boston (David arrived a week earlier and started rehearsing with Gabriel as they had many intricate and interlocking parts). I have to say, the tempos Jon wrote were incredibly insanely fast, and I had some trouble getting my parts up to speed, but it made the music that much more exciting and exhilarating!
The tricky thing about any multi-percussion setup is the setup itself, and then followed by stickings and motion. But having said that, I don't think there is a set "rule" of which comes first because I think they all affect each other. Many times during chamber rehearsals in school, I would find myself having to change instrument positions to make switches easier and more convenient, and this ultimately affected the way I played and sound. Other times, I would have to adjust my stickings, especially if there is some coordination involved, or if it brings out the phrasing of the music better. For me, I think comfortability should be of utmost importance because when you're playing comfortably, everything else will come naturally - good sound and great playing.
It was an intense 2- to 3-week period of practicing and rehearsing with the Boys. As with any new music, it takes time to get used to the material. But what was completely different for me, was when we had our first orchestra reading.
You see, percussionists are used to being at the back of the orchestra. For me, especially if I am situated on raised platforms, I'll be able to hear the orchestra pretty decently. This time, it was my first being in front of the orchestra and it changed my perspective entirely - I was just completely overwhelmed with the difference! Of course, it could have been the hall we were rehearsing in, but there were certain sections where I couldn't hear completely, like the horns (which I always hear from the back of the orchestra). It was also intriguing to experience the sound delay from the winds and percussion from the front of the orchestra! It's seriously making me think whether I've been playing "in time" with the conductor and orchestra, or do I have to make adjustments.. Another change was that I could not really make eye-contact with anyone! And I also had to crank my head in order to see Prof Chan's conducting. This was a particular challenge as again, I'm very used to seeing orchestras breathe and move, which helps me place my beats (which now I hope, are in time!) with the orchestra or sections. But to get around this difficulty, I memorised my parts so that I can maintain eye contact with Prof Chan while playing, and also kept my ears opened and in the music. This is especially so during the marimba parts - it's hard enough playing the right notes while staring at the keys, and it was just going to be so much harder if I had to go back and forth with the conductor and the keys (sorry Prof Chan, I was using my ears more than my eyes in those sections of the music!). Going back to placing beats with the orchestra, there were a few times where the orchestra and I would have hits as tutti. Easy from the back, but challenging from the front because I wouldn't know how or when to place the beats! So, I had to fully trust the brass section, particularly the lower brass, and they surely did not disappoint each time!
I particularly love the second movement - a beautiful cello solo accompanied by marimba and strings. It's my favourite by far because of how the music is able to move your soul. The melody and harmony makes it heart-wrenching yet full of love and hope.
All in all, we had a great time on the concert day! I put in my best effort, had tons of great energy from the audience and orchestra, and I'm pretty satisfied with it! From what I know, there was both video and audio recording of the concert, so hopefully something comes up in the future! If it does, I'll be sure to keep you in the loop :)
Thank you for reading this week's entry even though I think it's a bit long! It's hard to condense a first-time experience because I always want to write the whole story out! But I would like to hear from you as well - first-time experiences, whether good or bad, remember to leave them in the comments below! Till next week, I hope you all stay safe and well.