I am a dedicated believer in the adage ‘if it can go wrong, it will go wrong’. This does not make me immune from disaster, but if you’re expecting trouble, it’s less of a shock. I had two concerts this weekend, in one of which the conductor showed themselves to be a fellow believer, but in the other, sadly, they didn’t.
Saturday’s concert was rather a long way away – about a 100 mile round trip – and I was being engaged to play for just 1½ minutes! So I (generously?) offered to sing in the choir for the rest of the programme – not, I hasten to add, to justify the fee, but so I wouldn’t be bored stiff (if anyone ever offered me money to sing, I’d call the funny farm immediately). Having accepted my offer, the conductor then forgot to tell me that the choir was rehearsing before the orchestra arrived, so I missed running through the a capella stuff (not a disaster: I’ve sung all of it before). Proceeding to the accompanied music (by Purcell), we immediately hit a snag. To save money, the conductor had downloaded the orchestral parts from a public domain source on the internet: the choir, however, were using hired vocal scores from regular publishers. The editions, it hardly needs saying, did not agree.
We thus spent a considerable period trying to correlate the two versions. Just playing through the music was difficult enough, with different numbers of bars, different time signatures, one version with repeats, the other written out – a nightmare. Add to that a lack of rehearsal marks and consistent bar numbers, and once you stopped, it took five minutes to agree where we would restart from! Naturally, the rehearsal overran, but worse, we didn’t get to rehearse one piece at all. In the ‘green room’ where the orchestra were provided with a lavish tea, it became apparent that the conductor hadn’t yet printed out the parts for the missing piece, and he soon had to give in and scratch the piece altogether as time ran out. The concert, despite all this, actually went rather well. The conductor, still young, will learn from the experience, so I guess it wasn’t a total waste of time!
On Sunday, a fraught afternoon rehearsal could have been much, much worse, had it not been for a Herculean effort by the conductor. The orchestral parts had come from Liverpool Public Library, and were just about the worst set of parts I have ever seen. They were old and frayed, covered in markings and often illegible. There were at least three different sets of rehearsal marks, but they didn’t always match up anyway. There were interpolated orchestral numbers from different works (I still can’t work out why, as the piece was too long as it was) and lots of accompanied recitatives all of which were inauthentic and had to be cut. The situation could have been farcical, had the conductor not spent three weeks preparing the parts as best she could by writing in cuts, altering rehearsal marks and anticipating points of confusion. Mind you, we still overran in rehearsal by 20 minutes, despite not rehearsing four numbers at all. The performance was fine: amazing how the adrenalin gets you through. I said to the conductor afterwards that in view of how well it had gone, perhaps next time we could dispense with the afternoon rehearsal altogether. But hang on a moment: what was that old adage of mine…?