Big Music

Right now I am in the middle of getting familiar with some music that comes in chunks larger than I've ever played before. The first one is the Nutcracker, which the TBSO is performing with the Minnesota Ballet soon; 34 pages, all of it... well, written by Tchaikovsky. I went back and read Barry Stees' post on the subject, where he says:

This juggernaut of a piece for the orchestra confronts many musicians at this time of year. If it were played just occasionally it would be universally hailed by musicians as one of the greatest pieces of ballet music. Instead, many musicians look upon it as a chore.

This strikes me as incredibly true. This performance will be my first time paying the piece, so I don't feel any of the "ugh, this again" that lots of people seem to feel. That response seems to be pretty much the standard from musicians to the Nutcracker, which objectively doesn't make a lot of sense. This is a piece that demands to be taken seriously; it's difficult, long, written by a famous and well-loved composer, and performed every single year-- what other piece of music gets to be performed on that kind of a schedule? But familiarity breeds contempt, of course, and for people with permanent positions in ballet orchestras... well, I would imagine they get pretty darn familiar with it.

I'm also working slowly but steadily on an entirely new set of repertoire: my first opera audition! Opera, and opera auditions, seem to occupy a somewhat unusual space in the lives of orchestral musicians, especially younger ones. For some reason, the orchestral excerpts one is expected to learn at music school rarely include opera excerpts. Thus, whereas at this point in my life I generally expect one or two new-to-me excerpts on a list for a major orchestra, this, my first opera audition, features a whopping nine new excerpts to learn (and a few more that I'm only vaguely familiar with.) Then, of course, there's the issue of listening to recordings of the excerpts. Thus far, the only way I've found to reliably locate an excerpt in the middle of a recording is to listen to the whole opera with a score. So, I figured that as long as I'm doing that, I might as well be organized about it. For each opera, I am going to choose a video reference and an online score (oh god, I hope I can find scores online for all of them) and take notes on the recording; where various landmarks in the score happen, and so on, so that I can easily come back to the excerpts later, and also locate other parts in the opera more easily, if I ever need to play an excerpt from the same opera, but in a different place. Ideally, I will end up with a collection of easily navigable video references for operas with common bassoon excerpts, that will also be useful to me if I have to actually learn the whole opera.

So far, I am almost done with Cavalleria Rusticana. As well as timing notes, my document on it also contains a lot of notes about cuts the recording takes (which takes an extreeeemely long time to figure out, when you're going along merrily and all of a sudden the recording is somewhere else...) and also errors in the score, such as pages being omitted or uploaded twice. So, a large part of the difficulty is dealing with the pedagogical shortcomings of the available materials. But, since The Orchestral Bassoon website doesn't have most of these opera excerpts yet, someone's gotta do it! Of course, it will also pay off in that I'll be better prepared for an opera audition the more thoroughly I know the repertoire. And, of course, better prepared should I get an actual opera job!

Basically, it seems like opera auditions have a higher barrier to entry than symphony auditions, because not all of the people who are familiar with symphony lists are familiar with opera lists. So I want to use this audition as an opportunity to break into the "people who can comfortably do opera auditions" club, and after having done the huge amount of initial work on this one, every opera list after this will have fewer and fewer new excerpts to learn from scratch. Perhaps after this I should get familiar with some ballet excerpts too... although, it seems like I'm doing that now-- the only list turned up through a google search for "ballet bassoon audition" is all standard symphony stuff, plus generous helpings of the Nutcracker!