The Elder Concert

1 02 2012

There are quite a few good things about the opportunity of studying at the University of Cambridge.  One might assume that the greatest boon from being at Cambridge is the quality of education.  This might be true for others, but not for me.  I feel that, at a certain level, great institutions of learning are great institutions of learning–the education you receive at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Harvard, and even more average schools with good programs in your area is all roughly the same.  I had a good education at Jewell; so I wasn’t gaining hugely more amounts of knowledge by studying at Cambridge.

Instead, the most important thing about study abroad is the experience.  For me, the largest part of this experience is the opportunities I’ve had to perform.  At Jewell, I was the only horn player.  One out of 1200 students.  I was alone for two years, and looking back on it, those years were two of the most stagnant, boring years of my playing career.  Here, however, everything’s different.  While not a music school in purpose, Cambridge (both the university and town) is fantastically musical; there are opportunities to play everywhere.  Each college has its own musical society, along with the overarching Cambridge University Musical Society and a bevy of other independent student-run groups.

By the end of this year, I will have had the opportunity to play these grand works, works which I had never performed before.

  • Stravinsky–Firebird Suite
  • Elgar–Cello Concerto
  • Copland–Fanfare for the Common Man
  • Tchaikovsky–Symphony no. 6 “Pathethique” (rehearsed)
  • Beethoven–Symphony no. 1
  • Tchaikovsky–Swan Lake
  • Sibelius–Finlandia
  • Haydn–Symphony no. 94 “Surprise”
  • Debussy–La Damoiselle Elue
  • Wagner–Parsifal, Act 3
  • Prokofiev–Violin Concerto No. 1
  • Shostakovich–Symphony no. 7 “Leningrad”
  • Debussy–La Mer
  • Berlioz–Te Deum

I have yet to play the last 4 on that list; they are works to be done in the coming months.  In addition to that list are other pieces like Vaughan Williams’ Folk Song Suite and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, of which I have played before, and other pieces here or there.  Furthermore, that list does not include the pieces that I will inevitably play with whomever asks me to play for them.

Last Saturday, I performed Wagner’s Parsifal, Act 3 and Debussy’s La Damoiselle Elue in an extravagant concert at King’s College Chapel.  The orchestra that performed was comprised of members from both the Chamber Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra.  Essentially, it was made up of the very best undergraduate players in the whole University.  Three years ago, I took part in the Missouri All-State band.  It was a blast, and for three years it remained the best ensemble I had been a part of (yes, that includes the Liberty Symphony).  No longer.  This CUCO/CUMS I combination will probably be the best orchestra I will ever play in lest I pursue a career in performance (not likely).  In addition to the orchestra, professional soloists and a men’s and women’s choir made up of an amalgam of college choirs constituted the vocal power of the concert.  All in all, 192 performers if my counting of the program was correct.

This was a particularly big event because the man in charge of  this joint awesomeness was (apparently famous) British conductor Sir Mark Elder.


Go ahead and make your jokes about “The Elder Wand” and his conducting baton or whatever.  I’ll wait.

Done?  Good.

Frankly, Sir Mark was not the best conductor I’ve ever had, but sure wins the title of most intense/scary conductor.  He walked in to the first rehearsal knowing every single wind player’s name, along with the principal strings.  This is terrifying, because if you mess up, Sir Mark can call out, “Dave, that part was important, why didn’t you enter correctly?”  This is much worse than, “2nd horn, you missed your cue.”  In addition to the scariness, at times Sir Mark demonstrated a lack of empathy towards the orchestra, having little patience for us if we miscounted rests or rehearsing us past our much-needed break times.  Despite this, he was extremely efficient, clear, and faithful to the works.  His constant insistence on quality rubbed off on us, producing a phenomenal final result.  I am of the opinion that a conductor can be patient, kind, understanding, and still possess an infectious passion.  Mr. Anthony Maiello, conductor of the 2009 Missouri All-State Band, was like this, as is current Jewell choral director Dr. Anthony Maglione.  I guess you have to be an Anthony/of Italian descent in order to do it right.

We played, as stated before, in King’s College Chapel.  Which looks like this, if you forgot:

We were seated in front of the organ, facing the camera (I did not take this though)

Big, luscious, and very reverberant.  We had an intense rehearsal schedule due to a combination of factors which led us to 17 hours of rehearsals in 6 days.  This was in addition to the couple of rehearsals before.  Combined with the concert itself, this little thing took up 20 hours of my week.  No wonder I didn’t get anything done.

The concert itself went fabulously.  I had a very pronounced solo in the Wagner and it went off without a hitch.  Fellow horn players Misha, Stephen, and Katie were fantastic.  I will remember this concert for the rest of my life. Here are links to the first part of both pieces so you can experience them if you wish:

Debussy (beautiful piece; French music from the Romantic period on is great)

Wagner (note that we did it without the stagings/costumes; we performed it is a concert piece)

Thank you for reading.




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