About this time a couple years ago, Talea was getting ready to perform a portrait concert of Boulez’s works at Miller Theatre. Boulez had been with us for the few rehearsals leading up to the performance and we were honored to have David Robertson, conductor of St. Louis Symphony and former music director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, in attendance at the dress rehearsal. I was speaking to him about our experience negotiating the “epic” Dérive II and what he said was so beautiful. He drew an analogy to a road trip in which you are driving somewhere you haven’t been before. The first time can seem long but the more times you take that trip, you start to recognize landmarks and soon the trip seems short. We had the opportunity to revisit a few works this fall, including James Dillon’s New York Triptych, Pierluigi Billone’s Dike Wall and most recently Olga Neuwirth’s torsion.
Lightning Striking Twice (in a good way):
Normally we think of repeating a performance as a positive thing: an opportunity to make up for the unexpected bumps in the first performance; a chance to bring the piece to an even higher level. Olga’s piece, however, presented a unique situation: the first performance went better than any of our rehearsals had even gone. So all of a sudden, there’s a little anxiety that goes into meeting and hopefully exceeding a standard. Around the time we were preparing for this performance, I heard a story from a friend who was cast in the role of Da Ponte in a stage adaptation of the Memoirs of Lorenzo Da Ponte, by Maristella Lorch. There were supposed to be several performances at the Casa Italiana of Columbia (1955), but the first one went so well, they canceled all of the others feeling they wouldn’t be able to achieve the same level of perfection. Well, a second performance of torsion came complete with the challenges of any repeat performances: a new audience automatically requires a certain sensitivity, in this case a new hall required a different kind of sensitivity- and on top of that, we wanted it to go as well as, if not better than, the first time. It did in fact go well: there was a lot of concentration that went into this second performance and it was a thrilling experience for us.
Going Beyond the Landmarks:
There comes a point on that road trip that, not only do the recognizable landmarks make the duration feel shorter, but you feel you can really afford to take your eyes off the road and appreciate other aspects of the journey: the landscape, the wind in your hair (assuming you have a convertible and it’s not winter), the conversation with your fellow passengers. That’s the other great aspect to performing a piece more than once. In fact, in the week leading up to the second performance of New York Triptych, James Dillon was talking about how there’s a point in the course of rehearsals/performances, where the piece ceases to be his and it becomes the performers’- “alchemy” is the word he used in fact. It’s true for us as performers as well- there’s a shift from paying closest attention to our own notes, to noticing how they fit with everyone else’s, to figuring out how to project them in a hall or communicate them to an audience. So ideally, if we do our job right in the performance, that piece ceases to be ours and becomes the audience’s. The more time we have had to live with a piece, the easier this is to achieve.
Taking New Journeys:
This is the nature of performing in an ensemble that specializes in the music of today. We are always challenged by new works and new composers. Speaking personally, the upcoming concert on December 14th is an interesting one for me because it consists entirely of world premieres- so clearly with these pieces we are currently becoming acquainted with. I have had the opportunity to play Anthony Cheung’s music before so, although this is a new piece, there are elements of his language that are familiar or I understand and am able to reference. This will be my first Trapani and Lewis piece though, so as I have been practicing- the muscles in my hands, the idioms in my ears and my expectations all need to be trained. It’s a pleasure to have this experience of learning new music because it’s this process that keeps us vibrant as musicians and as listeners.
Talea Ensemble, Viola and Director of Development