Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rehearsing War Hero

I've started a fourth book in the Grimhilderness series, but at the moment it's having to take a very definite second place to another project. I'm playing for the rehearsals of John Drummond's new opera, War Hero, about the period in the life of Archie Baxter when he was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector, during the First World War. Along with a dozen others her was taken to England, and then Flanders, where he was treated to considerable punishment - torture, in fact - by the British military establishment.

Andrew Glover
The rehearsals for this opera only began in late June, and have continued every day since, with - sometimes - three sessions a day. I thought this would be harder than it's been. Not every session has been a long one: the morning ones have sometimes only lasted an hour, and the afternoon and evening ones have varied between two and three hours. Still quite a long day, given that I'm playing the piano for a great deal of that time. But we get a reasonable amount of rest between the sessions, and that helps.

The tenor who plays Baxter, Andrew Glover, has had to be at almost every rehearsal as well, such is the extent of his part. He gets only a little time off stage. And the rest of the cast, around a dozen men (mostly young, and only just beginning their musical careers) play two or three roles apiece. So it's quite a complex rehearsal schedule.

Vincent Hardaker
I started work on the music a few months ago. I knew the music wouldn't be straightforward to read, so I couldn't get away with sightreading it on the spot at the first rehearsal. It isn't difficult music: it's what I call accessible music - in other words, people will enjoy it on first hearing because there are a number of themes that come and go regularly. These give the audience hooks to hang onto. But even though it's 'accessible' music it isn't always easy to play, and I've had to get my fingers used to playing certain chords they don't expect to play, and certain sounds which don't seem normal to them. They're coping. And I'm enjoying doing it.

We have a great young conductor, Vincent Hardaker. He's generous, patient and has a nice sense of humour. He's due to go off to Copenhagen shortly after the show finishes its season, to do a course. I'm sure he'll do well.

The season starts on the 22nd of this month (July) and there are four performances scattered over a week. I'm not sure what my fingers will do once the season ends (I'm playing one of four keyboards in the orchestra as well), but with singing and instrumental competitions coming up, I think we'll manage to keep them employed.

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