Second Violinist Xi Chen describes what it takes as an orchestra member, to get ready for Wagner's Ring Cycle. Opening night is April 30th, 2016!
The Ring of Nibelungen is comprised of four full-length operas. Musicians need to know about sixteen hours of music, inside and out. Our orchestra musicians also need to be able to perform these four different operas on consecutive days. We do not have a relief orchestra with which we can alternate.
The musicians start learning the operas as much as six months to one year ahead of opening night. During the preparation of The Ring, not only do we practice and maintain our instruments daily, we also have homework to do! Here is the list of things you might find us doing:
1. Purchasing and studying the score, translating the libretto as needed. An excellent example of this is what our Principal Trombonist Lee Rogers has done to his scores to prepare for the Ring. He explains: "Here is an example of how words and music line up perfectly in Wagner's writing. At the beginning of Scene 2 of Das Rheingold, Wotan is admiring his newly finished home, Valhalla, singing at the climax, "As in my dreams, I desired it, as my will directed, strong and fair, it stands in show, sublime, superb structure!" The entire passage is accompanied by the brass, most notably the Wagner tubas and the trombones, in their softest dynamic, punctuated by fanfares in the trumpet parts.
Funny enough, the next line uttered by Fricka, Wotan's wife, does not bode well! "Do you but delight in what I dread?" When I play this passage, I picture the castle Neuschwanstein, which Wagner used as a model for Valhalla."
2. Reading Ring-related books and getting to know the leitmotifs .
3. Writing cues into the parts.
4. Getting to know the meaning and pronunciation of instructions in German.
5. Learning the notes. We repeat each note until they can be performed as easily as taking a breath so our attention can be placed on the flow of music
6. Planning musical phrases, intonation, tone and color of the melodies, and countermelodies based on harmony and drama.
7. Rehearsing with the orchestra:
a) practicing fitting intonation, articulation, rhythm and dynamics within the section
b) practicing fitting intonation, articulation, rhythm and dynamics with other sections of the orchestra
c) adjusting for physical distance between the sections
d) adjusting to Maestro's interpretation
8. Attending Sitzprobe, which is a seated rehearsal focused on integrating the singers and the orchestra:
a) practicing responding to singers
b) practicing responding to chorus
9. Attending the technical rehearsal to rehearse with lighting, scene changes, entrances and exists:
a) adjusting musical performance and performing space so each performer can have visual contact with the Maestro as well as each section leader.
b) adjusting musical performance to the pit space; adjust to singers who can sing differently because of scenery and movements
10. Attending the dress rehearsal, which usually is our last rehearsal before opening, complete with costumes, scenery and audiences:
a) adjusting sound and energy level according audience response
b) working out the extra adrenaline related to public performance
11. Visiting massage therapists, chiropractic doctors, physical therapists to reduce injury caused by repetitive movement .
12. Exercising, stretching and meditating to reduce performance related injuries and anxieties.
13. Performing chamber music on the side to develop and maintain cooperative relationship with other members of the orchestra and express ourselves in different ways.
14. Striving to perform consistently yet with fresh ideas at each performance. This is our favorite part!
All of the above except for items #7-10 are self-motivated and assigned based on individual needs.
There are moments in our musical life when everything is ideal. Many of us started training to be musicians when we were toddlers. We go to sleep and wake up thinking about music. We are able to play music decade after decade and don't grow tired of it because of those ideal moments we experience when everything aligns between the performers and the audience. We are looking forward to those moments in the Ring cycle March-May 2016!