Knowing when to sit a concert out
I come to you all for some counseling.
I've played with my local orchestra for the past 9 years. I have music degree and studied violin in college but am by no means at a professional level. This season the conductor has us playing some pieces that are way above me, most recently Bartok Concerto for orchestra, and the truth is, I can't play large chunks of them (the last movement of the Bartok is insane!). They only have the music ready a week ahead of time and as a full time public school music teacher I don't have the hours I'd need to get it close to ready, though I do try.
This is not a pro group per se, many of the members are community members and retired folks. The second violin sections is always the smallest string section for some reason some concerts we'll have 5 seconds compared to 8 firsts.
However, it's been making me really self-conscious lately. I don't want to sit and be paid to fake my way through a concert and feel terrible about it. At the same time, the section needs players and I hate to leave them thin in the ranks.
Should I sit out this concert? What would you do?
isn't this something you need to discuss with your conductor?
No it's not something you discuss with your conductor! It's something you discuss with your friends in the orchestra first and decide if you're alone or if everyone else is struggling too.
You mention "paid". That suggests that this is a per-service orchestra, even though you characterize it as non-professional. I'm guessing that this means that you are one of the paid pros in an otherwise unpaid volunteer group? Or are all the violinists paid (probably a small stipend if so, given the nature of the group)? Are the pro players unionized, and is this a union gig paying union scale?
What kind of insanity is required to program Concerto for Orchestra for an orchestra of semi-pro players that might have just over a dozen violinists total?
Also, are you saying the parts are only ready one week before the concert? For the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra? That's insane even for pros.
This also makes no sense because the Bartok is in the public domain, and if it were timing of a rental at the core of the one-week issue, players should be instructed (or already be making it a habit to) to go to IMSLP to download parts for practice.
Talk to your colleagues. Then agree to ALL sit this one out. It sounds to me like your music director has vanity issues - and they need to be clipped. I've seen this before in community orchestras: you do a good concert and the director starts to get stars in their eyes with ever more challenging repertoire (and equally deteriorating performances).
Scheduling the Bartok Concerto sounds like the conductor choosing works he/she wants to conduct, rather than what's suitable.
Actually, Bartok is not in the public domain, and orchestras that use excerpts from that piece for auditions need to get permission.
"A semi-pro orchestra really ought to have a player's committee that deals with the music director on the subject of appropriate music selection for the season."
A few words about difficult orchestral music:
IMSLP parts exist for the Bartok, though, for practice purposes: https://imslp.org/wiki/Concerto_for_Orchestra,_Sz.116_(Bartók,_Béla)
Just make sure you get Bartok's parody of the Leningrad/Merry Widow/Caro Nome recognizable - The audience won't be expecting to understand anything else (just joking)
Scott hit the nail on the head! Bravo!
People sometimes have to sit out concerts because of illness or injury. It has happened to me on three occasions during twiddlety+ years of orchestral playing. One was a badly strained back muscle that took some time to heal and prevented me from playing the cello for more than a few minutes. The other two were heavy colds, which came on quickly and were incapacitating as far as playing in an orchestra was concerned. On each occasion I was able to give my section leader due warning, and, as it happened, all three concerts were within my technical capabilities.
"People sometimes sit out concerts because of illness."
I tend to think there is not much of a distinction between elite community orchestras and semi-pro orchestras. Most top-tier community orchestras, at least among those I've seen, pay at least some of their players. Sometimes just the concertmaster, sometimes all principals, sometimes all the first-desk players. I think of it as somewhat of a continuum.
`Scott, et al,-- I am somewhat relieved to read that a violinist superior to me also finds that Elgar Enigma variation to be Really hard. I encountered it as a concertmaster of a college/community orchestra. In a rehearsal I looked up at the conductor sheepishly and tried to send an ESP message- "Maestro-this is so hard even your concertmaster can't play it" We skipped it in the concert.
I'm a bit perplexed by the downbeat tone of some of these contributions. The first half-dozen of Bartok's violin duets were amongst the first "proper" music I ever played (with a fellow pupil) and I loved their quirky tunes, rhythms and harmonies. I've since played the Concerto for Orchestra in at least three unpaid community orchestras and it's always gone down well with both the audience and the band. I don't suppose that all the violins could play all the right notes, all the time, but that really doesn't matter - it's the overall effect that counts. As for Enigma, yes it's brutal for the firsts but in the UK it's part of any self-respecting amateur orchestra's repertoire. The important thing is to get sufficient rehearsal so you know what you're supposed to be doing, even if you can't actually do it.
George, I have to disagree:
I agree with Steve and Scott on Bartok. The Concerto for Orchestra was done by my previous community orchestra (they even recorded it commercially!), though it's probably beyond my current group. We successfully did the Enigma Variations in my current orchestra and my previous two community orchestras as well. It's hard, but I don't think it's unplayable for the firsts -- the tough parts you can get at least most of the notes even if it'd take too much practice to get all of them, and importantly, it's hard to get lost.