Technical ranking of orchestral repertoire
Technical ranking of orchestral repertoire
While there are many technical rankings of solo literature, I wonder if there are technical rankings of orchestral repertoire (for, let’s say, violins) out there. Many community orchestras conductors/music directors could, I believe, greatly benefit from these type of rankings.
A related question. How often do conductors ( who are not string players ) in community orchestras consult with the concertmaster in music selections ?
Define "easy" or "hard".
One way to research this would be to search for high school orchestra programs and see what they play. High school orchestras can vary widely, but one could say it's an "intermediate" level.
Thing is, pros can breeze through easy stuff and high schoolers can still butcher advanced music, so looking at programmes doesn't tell you much.
Violinmasterclass.com has a ranking of solo, orchestral, and piano concerto repertoire, however it is based in the technical perspective of the violin part. It’s under the Graded Repertoire section. I hope it can help you out in some way.
I don’t think Violinmasterclass.com ranks orchestral repertoire. Its category “violin and orchestra” ranks solo literature to be played with an orchestra (e.g. concertos); its “violin solo” category ranks unaccompanied literature (eg solo Bach).
The technical difficulty of the 1st violin orchestra parts approximately follows the historical dates of the composers; there is a gradual increase of difficulty with time. With many exceptions; Bach orchestra parts more difficult than Handel or Vivaldi. Mozart is deceiving; the literal technique is lower than Haydn or Beethoven, but a higher technical control, quality, is required for a good performance. Weber is harder then Mendelssohn. Dvorak-Brahms-Tchaikovsky about the same. There is a reason why Richard Strauss appears on pro. orchestra audition lists. After R. Strauss it gets messy, there is a wider range of difficulty. Prokofiev, Shostokovitch, Hindemith, can be max. difficulty. Conductors of low budget orchestras should definitely consult with their section leaders when planning season programs.
Joel that's true in general, but wouldn't it be nice to have a handy list of exceptions? For example there's plenty of classical rep that's harder than "Serenade for Strings" by Suk (or Elgar), Prokofiev Classical Symphony is easier than Brahms, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is easier than the Vivaldi Four Seasons, or the Brandenburg Concertos, etc. And then there are the slow movements (e.g., Barber Adagio) which are often performed as standalone pieces.
Joe, the dilemma is that most music before Mozart and Hayden has little to offer to winds and brass. To have everyone playing, one needs to select music from the late classical (say Brahms) period to modern.
Paul, we are looking for something that everyone (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussions) has interesting parts and can play well : )
And if it's a community orchestra, brass and woodwind parts that can override the upper strings when required ;)
I wouldn't say Prokofiev's Classical Symphony is any easier than Brahms. It's one of those pieces that I'd call deceptively difficult.
David Zhang, re your question about non-string playing conductors of community orchestras. We have one such in one of my symphony orchestras. A young man (30-ish) who is a professional horn player and pianist. Notably, a couple of seasons ago he successfully stood in at very short notice for an absent soloist in a Mozart piano concerto - but drew the line at directing from the piano and got a friend to do the honours on the podium.
I absolutely do not agree that Prokofiev's Classical Symphony is easier than Brahms; quite the contrary. There's a reason why it shows up frequently on professional orchestra audition lists.
One other thought: sometimes difficulty of string parts can vary widely within a piece, which can lead to nasty surprises if the conductor doesn't check with section leaders in advance. For four years I was principal violist of a lower-level casual community orchestra; at first the conductor (who was a horn player) consulted with me along with other principal string players on the difficulty of string parts. At some point, though, he stopped including me in those emails as the orchestra picked up surprisingly strong violists. I think he assumed the viola section could play anything he programmed, because for one season the five best string players in the orchestra were the concertmaster and the four violists. And then that season he programmed Hamish MacCunn's overture "The Land of the Mountain and the Flood," where the violin parts are of intermediate difficulty while the viola part is full of
Mary Ellen, Thanks for suggestions. Andrew, the suggestion on English composers is spot on—we have done some stuff by Elgar and V. Williams.
Mary Ellen, yes I still have memories of Mozart 39 at an audition. That horrible bit in the slow movement, an then the opening of the last movement. Much to everyone's surprise (especially mine) I got it absolutely clean. And was asked to do it again.
Yes, the Prokofiev Classical Symphony has several passages that are audition standards. They are quite difficult, but they do at least have the advantage of being tuneful (unlike many other excerpts, such as my personal nemesis, the Schumann Scherzo).
Most conductors can look at a score and estimate difficulty even if they're not string players. I've seen conductors underestimate the amount of practice time needed for tough string parts, though.
For the second question: I have never heard of a conductor consulting with members of the orchestra about repertoire, except maybe for really new contemporary pieces. YMMV though, especially as I don't have much experience with community orchestras.
Most conductors make a point of ignoring repertoire suggestions from the orchestra.
It very much depends on the community orchestra. In my current community orchestra, we have a voting process for repertoire, and that process has evolved over time (for instance, being more board-centric to being more player and audience-centric).
It varies greatly in my experience too.
I think in community/adult orchestras it can often come down to cost. Things like:
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