Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Moment of Hegemony?

This coming Friday and Saturday I will be performing in a production of Handel's Messiah. This will be my third year as bassoonist for the freelance orchestra, though it will be my first time performing with the modern instrument. This past Saturday we had our first rehearsal and it was quite the experience.

Naturally, it being my first gig on the modern instrument, I was expecting a different approach by the continuo players, though two of the four others, Olivier and Marie; are both HIP players whom I play with regularly. My expectations were met, but with a twist. The overall feel of the continuo group's playing was of mild banality and when Olivier or I made a variation in the line, the group didn't respond. In fact, in one instant where the continuo part doubled the line of the basses, there was a small disagreement on whether to play in the style of the singers or a separate one. What peaked my interest at this moment was how the group resolved the problem.

Let me give you a play by play.

At the end of 'All We Like Sheep', I got Olivier's attention and asked him if he noticed our line jumping between the basses and a separate, instrumental, voice. He said yes and mentioned he heard moments where I played the two 'voices' in a different manner and that he, too, was making that distinction. At that point we turned to our fellow continuo instrumentalists and tried to make them see our way of thinking.

The strongest reaction came from the contrabassist, Peter. "Ask the conductor," he insisted. We did. Unfortunately, the conductor, in his first ever performance in front of both his church choir and a professional orchestra, rather nervously told us he wasn't bothered about which way we did it. In the end, we made him make the decision.

Although I understand that in a short rehearsal period where a once-through is as much as you get and discussions on performance practice should be kept to a minimum, this insistence on the conductor deciding any and all details was new to me. Is this something I should get used to? Or were we going to the conductor only to save time?

Let me know what you think
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