Diary of a conductor

A new score arrives

A new score has landed! My 2014/15 season finished on a high with a performance of Brahms Symphony no.3 at the Frome Festival, one of my favourite gigs of the year. When my weighty copy of Rachmaninov's 'Symphonic Dances' is handed to me, it’s my cue to get cracking on the new season which kicks off with Brunel Sinfonia in November. I love turning the pages on a new, unfamiliar piece, it opens the door on an exciting unknown musical world.

The story behind the score

With each new piece I conduct, I start by reading up on when it was composed, premiered, anything in fact that will help me understand the music as best I can. So, a few facts about Rachmaninov's 'Symphonic Dances':
it’s his final composition, composed in 1940

  • some refer to it as his fourth symphony
  • it was dedicated and premiered by the conductor Eigene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra
  • it’s made up of three movements that had working titles of 'Noon', 'Twilight' and 'Midnight'
  • he very clearly quotes the Dies Irae (day of wrath) from the Catholic requiem mass format, a motif which becomes a signature in his later compositions. In the finale of the Symphonic Dances it is heard in fragments then in its full force and glory in the brass section.

The right recording for the job

My next step is to sit with the score and read through whilst listening to a recording. I’ve plumped for the London Symphony Orchestra in this case, a great orchestra with a really strong heavy sound. Their conductor, Valery Gergiev enthralled me with his presence and charisma when I saw him conducting Shostakovich Symphony No. 4. Given that he’s as Russian as they come, he’s perfect for Rachmaninov.

That’s the easy bit out of the way. Once I’ve got the music under my skin, it’s time for the hard work. Let rehearsals begin!


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