An Orchestra Without a Conductor
Sarah York has been a student at the University of Maryland School of Music since 2007 and is currently pursuing a Master of Music in Violin Performance. This is Sarah’s first time attending and blogging about the National Orchestral Institute.
Although this is the National Orchestral Institute, and we will be playing a number of monumental full orchestra works under some great conductors in the next month, our first week focused on working in small chamber groups and three unconducted chamber orchestras.
I’ve learned, especially sitting on the last stand of second violins, that every player is responsible for propelling the music forward, and if we wait for others to move, the music loses its momentum.
These groups demand extraordinary musical and social cooperation from each of the members, requiring that we listen to one another and respond in a musically sensitive way while directing our own rehearsals. We have to learn when to lead and when to follow, not only in our playing but also in shaping the rehearsal agenda. The philosophy behind the first week is that if we can play well together in these smaller groups, then we will be much more responsive to each other in the full orchestra setting.
The chamber orchestra I have been assigned to performed Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in the concert on Saturday, June 8. This piece was especially challenging because of its lyrical nature. Rather than a steady rhythmic character, it ebbs and flows according to the players’ expressive tastes. This aspect of the work makes it incredibly beautiful but also incredibly difficult to play without a conductor to shape the phrases of the entire group. Instead, we have to learn each other’s parts (we often write other parts that we need to listen for into our own music) and listen carefully to move together.
Finding the delicate balance between leading and following has been one of the greatest challenges so far in our rehearsals. Because we need to listen carefully to move together, we tend to slow down and wait for others to lead. I’ve learned, especially sitting on the last stand of second violins, that every player is responsible for propelling the music forward, and if we wait for others to move, the music loses its momentum.
After three rehearsals, we were still learning how to communicate effectively as an ensemble and use our time efficiently. But despite the challenges, the concert was perhaps one of the most rewarding because the product was entirely our own.