Orchestral Nightmares?

July 5, 2015 at 01:34 PM · In the latest newsletter from abruckner.com there's an interesting view on Bruckner from some wind players Bruckner newsletter.

I can sympathise with the bassoon player - it's hard to think of any memorable 'bassoon moments' in Bruckner, but a top horn player worried about one of the great horn solos in the repertoire? I would have thought she would see it as an opportunity to shine.

Anyway, what (if any) are the violinist's dream and nightmare moments? Sheherazade? Swan Lake? Or any orchestral parts which strike fear.......

One of mine was Anitra's Dance in Peer Gynd. A few bars are Really Awkward (well they were at my level of technique)- I never found a satisfactory fingering - and very exposed for the whole section (violin I).

On the opposite side, I love the big solo at the beginning of Josef Suk's Fairy Tale. I'd have been very happy to tackle that. Nothing to fear that I can hear, even for an amateur.

Replies (35)

July 5, 2015 at 02:59 PM · The worst nightmare I had was when I was appaerently playing the Messiah - and then I woke up and found that I was ...

July 5, 2015 at 03:11 PM · As a mere violist (..) the worst is page after page of tremolos (Schumann), or grumbling arpeggios on the lowest strings, in awkward keys.

Or suddenly having a viola theme (Shostakovich) mixing high and low positions, when you have just spent hours with the trombones in one ear and the piccolo in the other. "Violas, what do you think you are doing?!"

July 5, 2015 at 04:29 PM · I agree with Adrian. Even for a violinst, page after page of tremolos (what I refer to as Parkinson music because having a tremor would make them easier) is awful. Lots of fast runs can also be a drag (Last movement of Tchaik #4).

July 5, 2015 at 05:42 PM · I always pulled the trombones and the pics out of my ears and put in ear plugs or a good recording of tha same piece...

Shostakovih 5 - that high bit is not too bad. You just need to work out a strategy. (Or shoot the conductor ... wink).

July 5, 2015 at 05:47 PM · Yesterday we performed Bruckner's Mass Nr 3 with a choir and four professional soloists, a magificent work over an hour in length which would almost work as a stand-alone symphony. During one of the rehearsals the conductor pointed out to those who may have been a little concerned about what they were expected to play that Bruckner was primarily a church organist (and therefore by definition an expert improvisor) and this is reflected in his orchestral writing. For example you get the picture when you are faced with an extended very chromatic passage for the 2nd violins in which he uses F-flat instead of E-natural and just about manages to avoid double flats. I realized the only way to play that passage with any sort of ease was to shift the whole hand to the half position and stay there.

July 5, 2015 at 06:37 PM · It is useful to know that in some modern orchestral works with ultra-high E-string writing (top of the second octave and creeping into the third) sensible composers often double the first violin part with high woodwind such as the piccolo.

July 5, 2015 at 06:45 PM · I wonder if you could fashion a miniature reciprocating motor that you could hold in your fingers that would do your tremolo for you. Do you ever get tremolo elbow?

July 5, 2015 at 06:57 PM · Paul, No, my tremolo comes from the hand, no higher than a relaxed wrist, and can go on indefinitely. As an experiment I tried tremolo from the elbow and discovered that it's hard work because I'm moving the whole weight of the forearm in doing that very rapid movement; not at all relaxing.

July 5, 2015 at 07:52 PM · I really dislike pianistic arpeggios that don't seem to end.

July 8, 2015 at 12:53 AM · Peter, that tune in Shosta 5 isn't too bad for us on the violin because it just goes up - my viola colleagues dread the same one on the viola because they have an awful downward shift at the end of the passage - very exposed as well.

July 8, 2015 at 02:43 AM · As a violist, the Moldeau. It just never stops!

July 8, 2015 at 03:17 AM · Pretty much anything Richard Strauss.

July 8, 2015 at 04:23 AM · The 2nd violin entrance to the fugue in the last movement of Bartok Concerto for Orchestra is difficult and exposed. Once I figured out that it was a right-hand, not a left-hand, problem, it got easier but my heartrate still goes up right before it.

July 8, 2015 at 07:37 AM · Malcolm - you are spot on. Yes, it's that difficult downward shift for the violas that is often out of tune. I suppose a good fingering is called for, as well as having that note firmly in the ear beforehand.

July 8, 2015 at 07:56 AM · I suggested to my desk partner that we "share" the passage. He was shocked.

July 8, 2015 at 11:03 AM · All the runs in Tchaikovsky 's Romeo and Juliet :s

July 8, 2015 at 06:31 PM · It's not a solo, but when you're in the first violin section and your conductor insists on playing Russlan and Ludmilla, Gergiev-style...

I swear, it's a competition between conductors to see who can whip their orchestra faster with that piece.

July 8, 2015 at 07:09 PM · No votes for the Schumann Scherzo? Or is that too obvious? BTW I got to see PhilOrch violin section play it last fall and it didn't look hard for THEM.

July 8, 2015 at 08:40 PM · Anything by R. Strauss for sure; Ein Heldenleben, probably the king of all R. Strauss concertmaster solos. Had to prepare this for an excerpt portion of an audition once. Killer part! There's a masterfully played example by Noah Bendix-Balgley (now concertmaster of BPO) with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Also, the solo in the 2nd movement of Shosty's 5th.

July 8, 2015 at 09:59 PM · Schumann Scherzo honestly isn't that hard once you've learned it properly.

July 9, 2015 at 08:00 AM · Some surprising responses - Romeo and Juliet isn't bad and Russlan totally lies under the fingers. It's great - sounds far harder than it is. I like pieces like that! (The difficult bit of Russlan is the quiet middle bit).

Falstaff anyone? (2nd violin is just as bad as the 1st). Bizet Symphony - not that it's particularly hard, but it's very exposed and quiet and hard to get the section together so it sounds really clean.

Schumann? I'll fake my way through it with the best, but I wouldn't want to examine what I'm playing TOO closely.

One that still lives in the memory was doing the Ibert Divertissement with 3 violins, and I was number 3! Hanging on to the other two in the awkward bits was SCARY.

July 10, 2015 at 10:51 PM · I find the Schumann Scherzo utterly wretched to play in an audition setting. I've never actually played it in an orchestra, but I bet it would be a lot easier that way.

July 10, 2015 at 11:29 PM · my response to that si to suggest you turn the whole thing round by making it the first thing you play everyday, irrespective of what your target for the practice session is. Don't warm up, just set the metronome and go.

If you do this everyday then the audition conditions will not phase you.

it is the same idea a starting from cold with the end of intro and rondo caprice or a Paginini caprice.

One ha Sto turn ones weaknesses Shinto strengths somehow.



July 11, 2015 at 12:05 AM · When a candidate crashes and burns on Schumann Scherzo, it is almost always due to one or more of these:

1. Too much bow

2. Too much bounce (keep it close!)

3. Don't know where the string crossings are--I mean *really* know

4. Half steps not close enough

Obviously there are other intonation pitfalls besides half steps but that seems like such an easy fix and hardly anyone pays attention.

In my audition days, I learned Schumann Scherzo many times, and the most successful performance was the one I started from scratch despite several years' experience with it already at that point. I did not play it with the bottom speed of the metronome until I had gone through it note by note and was satisfied that I knew where every note was. Once I added the metronome, I started at 40 and went up notch by agonizing notch, 40 - 42 - 44 etc., never moving up that one notch until I was satisfied that it was perfect at the current speed. The whole process took about six weeks. I won that audition playing (among other things) a clean Scherzo at 144.

July 11, 2015 at 01:53 AM · The biggest problem for me in the SS, other than the ones you listed, is fourth finger control. My pinky collapses at the middle knuckle, so I don't have sufficient control over it at such a fast tempo. I realized this about a year ago, and realized I had learned to play around it for most things without even being aware of it, but there's really no getting around the fourth finger in SS. I've found it helps to try to "brace" it with the third as much as possible, but even that doesn't make it fast enough to be clean, especially in an audition. Blargh! My least favorite excerpt for sure.

July 11, 2015 at 09:00 AM · Mary Ellen's second paragraph is a superb pattern for learning any piece...

July 13, 2015 at 09:45 AM · Hedwig's theme by John Williams is completely crazy for the first violins. Really. If Hedwig would just swoop a little less, or if he could swoop in G major with no alterations, it would make things a lot easier. The runs are in awkward scale patterns, and it goes by at top speed, generally with very little rehearsal (pops concerts!) Especially when the violin section is on the smaller side, this piece can develop alarming gaps towards the end of every swoop. Second vote for completely not fun is Wagner's Flying Dutchman opera, again for the first violins. The "rolling with the waves" effect never seems to present twice in the same key, so the finger patterns, so painfully acquired, are rarely used more than once before moving on to the next harmonic iteration.

July 13, 2015 at 05:27 PM · 1st movement of the 1st violin part of the Nielsen clarinet concerto under a need-for-speed conductor. Absolutely brutal.

A lot of my section-mates grew up playing in the local high-level youth orchestra... they've seen a lot of repertoire & many of them said it was the hardest thing they ever played.

July 13, 2015 at 09:10 PM · Paul Deck says: "I wonder if you could fashion a miniature reciprocating motor that you could hold in your fingers that would do your tremolo for you."

See David Burgess. He already has.

July 14, 2015 at 08:46 PM · Allyson, Not so much for difficulty, but for needless patterns of notes, I agree about the Dutchman. And just to add to the fun, the brass ALWAYS rush. 1st violins could do with a white flag to wave at that point

July 15, 2015 at 04:32 AM · The first violin part of the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

When I was the clarinet soloist for some performances of the work, my friends in the first violin section groused daily about the jumps...parts of it seemed like a devious experiment to make the violin section sound as out -of-tune as possible, haha. :P

July 15, 2015 at 11:24 AM · Mary Ellen, your advice about learning the Schumann scherzo above is excellent. You said it took you about 6 weeks to get it up to 144. If you don't mind me asking, about how much time each day did you spend working on that particular piece, and how much total practice time did you have each day?

July 16, 2015 at 12:34 AM · It's been almost 25 years since that audition, so I really don't remember many details of the weeks of preparation. I already had a job and several private students at the time, so I probably did 4 - 5 hours practice on a good day and 2 - 3 on a bad day, leading up to it. And I am quite sure I did not devote more than 15 - 20% of my time on Schumann Scherzo since the list was rather meaty.

But it's important to note that although I did work on the Scherzo from bottom up, I was not starting from scratch. I had already taken many auditions at that point and was on my third (or fourth, depending on how you count) professional job.

July 16, 2015 at 01:50 AM · Yeah, Allyson, I know the passage you're talking about. It is annoyingly difficult for what is essentially a sound effect. What, regular chromatic scales weren't good enough?! Edited to add that I was referring to Harry Potter, but it really goes for either piece. :P

There's also the opposite problem, when a passage is too easy and it's hard to stay focused. Any number of boom-chucky second violin parts qualify (except for Sousa marches, which I know I'm probably supposed to hate but I never get tired of them). And let's not even talk about trying to put an opera together under a mediocre conductor with little rehearsal time.

August 6, 2015 at 12:26 PM · As a violist, the Moldeau. It just never stops!

Same for 2nd violin. The good news it, once you get the repeating figure down pat, you have almost the whole piece!! :-)

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