Monday, March 03, 2008

Scoring for the orchestra

People who’ve been reading this blog for a while may have noticed that I have a bit of an anti-thing about Douglas Lilburn, who’s currently classed as a Great New Zealand Deceased Composer. In fact, he may even be The GNZDC.
As I’ve said on a number of occasions I find most of his music lacking in something. Not all of it – his earlier pieces have some energy about them, but as he got older things seemed to get less and less lively (I hesitate to call them lifeless), and then, of course, he went down the dead end of electronic music.
Anyway, all this is by way of mentioning that at the Regent Non-Book Sale last Saturday, I actually found a Lilburn score. A full score, in fact. I would have picked up more full scores (mostly in miniature form) if the woman in front of me hadn’t been hunting desperately for them. So desperately that she was tossing anything that wasn’t a miniature score to one side in a heap. I can never understand why people do that to books or music in a sale. It damages what are often already fragile items, and shows a complete lack of concern for other buyers.
However, I managed to snaffle the Lilburn. It’s a conductor’s score, rather than a miniature, and getting it for $3 was quite a bargain, I guess. Even though it was Lilburn (!). I did pick up one miniature score as well, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
I was interested in getting the scores, because it’s good to see what composers actually write when they’re producing full orchestral scores. Often the details are quite different to what you hear, and often you wonder why is there so much detail. Is it just to give the musicians something to do? Or to fill in the gaps? Or to add volume? It’s hard to know.
My one and only recent foray into the orchestral world – in terms of playing in the orchestra rather than composing for them – was when I played the piano part in Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica. The piano does quite a bit of work at times in this symphony, but to be honest, 60 to 70% of it goes unheard in terms of detail. It’s filler stuff, added to give depth to the orchestral sound. This was just as well, as not being the world’s best orchestral player, I often found it hard to keep to the conductor’s beat, and consequently was playing to a rather different drummer than the rest of the orchestra on more than one occasion.
There’s an advantage in being hidden under dozens of other orchestral sounds, of course. You note it most particularly when you’re suddenly not hidden. That’s really scary.
After that I was determined to stick to solo playing, or accompanying. That I know how to do.

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