music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Preparing for Boulez, Part 3

Rehearsal five was scheduled for Friday the 13th. A bad omen? Not at all… at this rehearsal, we met Janna Baty, the wonderful alto soloist who would take this wild ride with us. We ran the movements Janna sings in and we were finally able to hear a more complete version of what we’d been practicing.

Rehearsals six and seven happened over the next two days. They seemed to fly by quickly as we hunkered down and worked on many of the piece’s problem measures. Alexander’s rehearsal technique is extremely efficient and he moves fast. He’ll stop in the middle of a passage that doesn’t quite work yet and call out the measure where he’ll begin again, and the downbeat comes almost immediately. The page is so dense with music and penciled notes to myself, that it’s hard to find the measure numbers quickly, but somehow you do it. Comments, suggestions and questions are constantly exchanged between the players and the conductor. In a small group like this, it makes for a lively rehearsal, getting much done in a short amount of time, whereas in an orchestra setting it would be chaos. I’m both drained and exhilarated by the end of each 2 ½-hour period.

This afternoon, rehearsal eight began with a difficult excerpt from the ninth movement. I’m still having trouble with a few measures, even though I’ve marked them up. I make a note to myself to look at these tonight after I get home and make sure that the fingering and the rhythm become deeply engraved in my mind and physical memory. There are so many musical figures that have huge leaps in them, taking my fingers from one end of the fret board to the other. They go by in an instant, and no matter how I position myself I have to look away from the conductor and down at the guitar for a fleeting moment, hoping that I won’t miss a beat. In most of the music that we’re used to playing and hearing, this wouldn’t ever be a problem, but here we’re working in a near musical vacuum with nothing to hang onto.

After the excerpt, we dive right in and play the entire 35-minute piece from beginning to end. Twice. There is no stopping for mistakes and no one to guide you if you drift off course. Despite a few flubs here and there, I make it through all right and once again make notes for my practice session at home later tonight. Alexander points out a very subtle part where the xylorimba plays a single note between two of mine. The notes happen in the blink of an eye but it gives me another point to orient myself. I’m hearing counterpoint and inner lines that are having a conversation with my guitar. This is that moment of discovery I’ve been waiting for. Le Marteau Sans Maitre’s vocabulary has become less a foreign language and more like an old friend who has come to visit for a few weeks.

January 16, 2006 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

Return to the front page