Rachmaninoff Third Symphony

Last week the NSO performed the Rachmaninoff Third Symphony under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, former Musical Director of the National Symphony Orchestra.

The second harp part is a doubling part and, with the exception of a passage or two in the second movement, I doubled everything. It is not a difficult part, with the exception of the very end of the piece. The orchestra drops out and the harps take over with a busy passage that takes a bit of practice to get secure.

At the dress rehearsal Maestro Slatkin made a comment that the score indicated that if a second harp was not available a small upright piano could be used instead. He shrugged and said, "Why not a 'large' upright piano?" I was very curious and so before the performance I went to the library to look at the score. The Boosey edition had no such notation. After the first performance I asked Leonard Slatkin about this and he told me it was in his Kalmus edition of the score. A colleague remarked that it was a rather stupid notation. Leonard joshed with me and said, "I guess a small upright piano would be the best approximation of the out-of-tune second harpist!" No, I didn't deck him, but he did duck!

The concert received a favorable review from the Washington Post.

Photo of the inside cover of the Kalmus score of the Rachmaninoff Third Symphony.

This entry was posted on November 16, 2011.

National Gallery Orchestra with the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra
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On Sunday evening, October 9, I had the pleasure of participating in a joint effort with the National Gallery Orchestra and the Saint Petersburg (Russia) Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Alexander Titov. The program included the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein and Pictures at an Exhibition by Moussorgsky. This is a wonderful program for harp and I was thrilled to be able to play.

We had one rehearsal for the concert, which took place in the East Wing of the National Gallery. The space is beautiful, but an acoustical nightmare. There were so many echoes that it was very difficult to discern which beat was which! Still, the orchestra was very fine and the conductor a superlative musician so it was a good experience.

Above there is a photograph of the rehearsal. The sculpture on the ledge above the orchestra is appropriately named:



During the rehearsal and concert I had the pleasure of viewing the Calder mobile for which the East Wing is so well known, in many different lightings as the afternoon turned into evening. That more than made up for the frustrations of playing in such a live space!

The review, which appeared in today's Washington Post, confirmed my opinion: a wonderful concert in an acoustically challenging space!

National Gallery 3This is the view of the Calder mobile from my seat in the orchestra!

A few comments about the harp part in the Moussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. When I coach this piece there are a two questions that always come up.

• The first is how to play the solo octaves right before rehearsal number 10 in the Gnomes. My answer to that question has changed over the years. There have been times when I have played the first one as a slide in the right hand and then split the second one between the hands. Now I just use fingers 2-3 in each hand on each one and jump. Leonard Slatkin always took that measure in three and did it quite slowly, so it was easy to play. Most conductors keep it in tempo. This conductor asked me to play it just a tiny bit slower than the previous tempo and not to muffle quickly.

• The second is the chord in harmonics at the end of the Catacombs. A three-note chord in harmonics in the second octave is difficult and risky, however I think it is preferable to simply play it as written. If that seems uncomfortable, I think it is acceptable to play the chord in harmonics an octave lower. The flutes double the chord and I think the color of the harmonics is what is essential, not the pitches, so I do not advocate playing the chord without harmonics up an octave, at sounding pitch.

This entry was posted on October 11, 2011.


Richard Strauss: Enoch Arden

The story of Enoch Arden, a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is very sad. The unemployed Enoch Arden takes a job as a sailor to support his wife and children. Shipwrecked he finally makes his way home to find that his wife has married another, presuming him dead.

Richard Strauss composed piano music to accompany the recitation of the poem. In the 1950s the work was orchestrated for chamber orchestra and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy with Claude Rains as narrator.

Last week Emil de Cou took this orchestration and revised it a bit. I had the privilege of performing it with the Virginia Chamber Orchestra, Gary Sloan, narrator. The Washington Post gave a favorable review, stating that "the orchestra, well-rehearsed and alert, managed to bring coherence to a role that proceeded in fits and starts. Its evocations of delight and serenity were as convincing as its storms and solemnly philosophical utterances, and the horns in particular had a splendid night."

The harp part was quite difficult but very gratifying to play. I made some changes in enharmonics and such which hopefully Maestro de Cou will include in the harp part for the next harpist to play this work. The sequence for "Annie's Dream" was particularly challenging.

Here is Michael York narrating the "Annie's Dream" portion of the poem with the original piano accompaniment performed by John Bell Young.

This entry was posted on October 2, 2010.



World Premiere of Fantasia for organ and harp by Rachel Laurin, July 6, 2010

I am very flattered by all the emails I have received asking about the performances last week! Everything went very well.

On Sunday evening I rehearsed the Laurin "Fantasia for Organ and Harp" with organist Jean-Baptiste Robin at St. John's, Lafayette Square. M. Robin is a very fine organist from Versailles, France, and we worked carefully through the Laurin as well as his transcription of "L'Après-midi d'un faune" by Debussy. The following day we rehearsed again and were joined by the composer for a third rehearsal Sunday evening.

My impressions of the piece: it is very difficult for the harp and I suggested the composer rewrite portions of the third movement which are pianistic and don't suit the instrument. She wrote a flurry of notes in the fifth octave, which just doesn't speak well on the harp. Difficulty aside, I thought she handled the balance of the instruments extremely well and the harp was audible at all times. I liked the motifs she used and thought the piece was well-constructed. The audiences were very enthusiastic and I think the performances were successful.

Although the concert was not reviewed in the Washington Post, there was an article about the American Guild of Organists Convention in DC. Anne Midgette, the Post critic, pointed out that pages and pages of the program book were dedicated to descriptions of the stops on the various organs used in the conference. I found it fascinating to watch (and hear) the composer and organist experimenting with different stops to find just the right sound to display the music. I learned a lot about the organ!

This entry was posted on July 10, 2010.

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