Grace Notes: A concert of musical chairs

Last Thursday, Trinity Laban performed a concert in Blackheath Halls consisting of a Berlioz overture, a commissioned work, and some Bartok. What made this concert unusual, was that the stage had to be set three times! This meant, rather than getting comfy and making myself at home in my desk during rehearsals (basically unpacking my life around my chair, and not having to move it until concert day), I had to constantly move seats in a game of never ending musical chairs!Berlioz setup

Here is roughly how our orchestra was set up for the ‘Overture, from Benvenuto Cellini’ by Berlioz and the comission ‘Dreamsong’ by Alexander Bourne-Clark. If you look closely, you’ll see that the second violins are opposite the first violins, instead of the cellos being there, and the violas are now on the left hand half of the stage, rather than the right. As I was a second violin, I was now on the outside. It was very strange for me sat there, as I’m usually very aware of what the first violins have (the two sections often have similar parts) but I could barely hear them! I found this meant having to concentrate a lot more on what was going on around me in the string section in order for us to stay together. The one thing I did hear more of however was the brass! Although it was very loud sitting in such close proximity to them, it did prove helpful when we had similar themes in our parts. Again, we stayed like this for ‘Dreamsong’. This was a piece that was full of effects, so there wasn’t the same challenge of trying to sync up the string parts. From sitting in my seat I could see and hear the percussion more clearly and it was facinating watching all the interesting ways they were playing instruments (e.g. bowing cymbals) and the interesting instruments they were playing (the piece ended with an alarm clock going off which was one of my favourite parts of the concert!).

Bartok Strings setup

The first half ended with a piece by Bartok called ‘Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta’. This involved a total reset of the stage because the wind weren’t needed, and the string section had to be transformed into two separate string orchestras. I was playing the violin three part, and so was sat (if you look at the diagram above) where it says ‘first violins’ on the right hand side of the image. This piece and set up was challenging in various ways. Firstly, it was very rhythmical and trying to coordinate rhythms when everyone is so spread out was difficult! Due to the fact that the orchestra was split in half, there were fewer people on the parts and this meant that we were more exposed which was terrifying! We really had to know what we were supposed to be playing and when. After this half, the whole string section was knackered and needed the interval to prepare ourselves for the second half.

Bartok concerto setup

For the second half, the seating changed again. This time to a conventional orchestral setting with the cellos and first violins on the outside (like the diagram above). It was in this set up that we played Bartok’s ‘Concert for Orchestra’. I like being back in the ‘normal’ spot for second violins as I find it far easier to fit my part in when sat there. I think it’s because, being surrounded by all the other sections, you can hear what everyone else is doing.

Once the concert had finished and the stage was cleared for the final time we were all exhausted by the mammoth programme! It was great to play such a diverse concert however, and was an interesting experience playing in so many different spots within the orchestra.



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