It is very difficult to maintain a regular rehearsal schedule because we live in three different countries. We try to keep our concert schedule constant with two or three concerts every month, which keeps us on track with rehearsals and performances. Our limited rehearsal opportunities impose restrictions on the program we perform. We play the same pieces many times. Although we try to have a rehearsal a day before a concert, sometimes it is enough to have a pre-rehearsal with an older repertoire.
We always plan well ahead before adding a new piece to our repertoire. Once or twice a year we meet for extensive all-day rehearsals to develop a new program. We come to our first rehearsal individually completely prepared, with our parts memorized and up to tempo. Then, in our rehearsals we spend time developing interpretation, choreography, and ensemble playing. The length of the process depends on the piece. For example in Stephen Montague’s “Thule Ultima” we introduced choreography right away. In a classical piece by Beethoven or Mozart with so many musical details to work on we will not add choreography for a long time. Once we start performing a new piece we keep introducing gradual changes to the interpretation and choreography.
Once we commit to adding new repertoire we do a read-through of the piece as an ensemble to ensure it is a good fit. We always record it in case there are no other recordings available. Then we learn and memorize our own parts and study those of the other instruments from recordings and the score. You cannot just memorize your part and think that you are ready for the first rehearsal. You need to know all five parts really well to have a better understanding of the piece. You have to know who is playing with you at any given moment – the bassoon might be playing parallel thirds with you, the horn might be playing a duet, or the flute might be “fighting” with you.
We spend a lot of time in our rehearsals on little details. For example, we can spend 40 minutes finding a blend between a flute and a horn in an accompaniment which just lasts a few seconds.
We will listen to David and Dóra play and say “No, that’s not good enough. Let’s take that again.” For many musicians who are not used to our process, this level of focus is too much.
They think “the clarinet’s solo already sounds great, no one will hear the accompaniment underneath.” We’ve had musicians who were willing to do only a quick two-hour rehearsal without really fine-tuning any details. However, we are completely committed to perfection in our sound, and can talk about one note for a long, long time, or can spend two of three total available hours rehearsing just one piece. This scrupulous work always leads to improvement. Our pieces are work in progress without getting boring and stale.
Sometimes the rehearsal process can feel difficult. You can think “Okay, come on, let’s move on,” but two or three of your ensemble partners want to dig into some details. We do not rush each other. We might suggest a solution to colleagues but sometimes you have to leave them alone to fix it on their own, rather than constantly suggesting changes. We rehearse as long as necessary until the ensemble meets with our satisfaction. The high quality of playing in one piece will transfer to other works as well. If you focus on one work for a long time, you sharpen your senses and awareness. That helps tremendously with fine-tuning your part and the overall ensemble playing.
Revised and edited by Claire Thompson, PhD.