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Ben Clapton

WASO Open Rehearsal

September 8, 2006 at 9:22 AM

I was lucky to be able to go today to an Open rehearsal by the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. This was their last rehearsal before their performances tonight and tomorrow night. On the program are two symphonies by Mozart, 29 and 39, the Second violin concerto by Sergei Prokofiev with Boris Belkin, and Un sourire by Messiaen.

The rehearsal was open seating, so I took my spot somewhere in the middle, in what would have been A reserve. While I was not able to hear everything that the conductor said to the orchestra (which I would've had I chosen to sit in the Choir Stalls), the location that I chose gives the best sound from the orchestra and still the ability to see most things.

The rehearsal started with a couple of announcements for the orchestra which we didn't get to hear all that well, and then we were introduced to the conductor, the young Englishman Alexander Shelley. Small in stature, Shelley provided a youthful edge to an orchestra who's string section is starting to see a youthful invigoration after a number of elderly retirements. Shelley ran through what repeats would be done in the Mozart symphonies quickly and the orchestra quickly scribbled down the neccessary infomation.

We then went into the Messiaen. This work was a homage to Mozart, though it's difficult to see where. The work itself is amazing, and one I'm sure audiences will enjoy, with Australian audiences hearing this for the first time at this weekend's concerts by WASO. Shelley ran the rehearsal as I would expect any final rehearsal to be run, a quick check of some difficult passages, and then a run through.
Shelley was also in fine form in this informal concert, addressing the audience and giving a small introduction to the work, which I am sure no-one had heard before. I did not expect this from him, however was glad that he gave it.

What struck me was how quickly the orchestra worked. Having only had experience in Youth and University orchestras, I'm used to it taking a good 10-20 seconds between the conductor saying "let's start here" and the orchestra actually starting, where as it was almost instantaneous with the professional orchestra.

After the Messiaen, a slight break as unneccessary players departed, and on came 7 double basses which weren't in the Messiaen at all. Shelley gave a brief introduction of Boris Belkin (which consisted of "Now this man needs no introduction, but I'll tell you that he's Boris Belkin") and we launched into the same routine with the Prokofiev - a couple of cleaning sections, and then a run through.

I was very interested to see how the orchestra worked with the soloist, and how much Belkin communicated with Shelley, staring intentley up at him for large periods of time, and often saying instructions to him: "Quieter" or "Slower" Once we got into the run through, interruptions were minimal, and only where absolutely neccessary.

There was one such interruption that was really neccessary - in the third movement, near the end, a string on Belkin's violin broke. I couldn't see which string it was, but from the pegs that he moves, I am assuming it was the A string. He swapped violins with the concert master (Associate concert master Margaret Blades), and continued to the end.

The orchestra finished with a couple of cleaning areas of Mozart, then finished the rehearsal early.

WASO run these open rehearsals regularly, about 4 or 5 each year. They are open to friends and patrons of WASO, as well as High School and Tertiary students. They are a really good chance to see the orchestra working, to see scenes that you don't normally see. It gives you a good sense of the professionalism needed to be a part of one of these orchestras.

I would encourage any students who are considering a career as an orchestral musician to contact their local symphony orchestra to see if they run similar programs. It not only is a chance to see the symphony at work, but also to hear the concert programs at a very cheap price (Normally I would go to the concert, however I am very broke this weekend).

From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 8, 2006 at 1:01 PM
Very interesting to read - thanks for sharing.

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