Collaborative pianists wear many “hats.” On many occasions, we are required to switch from one mindset to another and back, all in the same day.
I have found that, while we have been trained to go from learning music to performing it as soloists, different skill sets apply depending on which “hat” we are wearing.
The requirements of orchestral playing
In orchestra auditions, instrumentalists play solo excerpts from the repertoire. There is no lead-in ~ auditions are extremely nerve-wracking for that reason. The musicians have practiced until every excerpt is flawless! If a player drops a note in his/her audition, there is always someone right behind her/him who nails it.
How do orchestral players cope?
Some conductors are a good fit, others are not. For example, some are terrific fundraisers, but their ability to relate to the players is lacking.
When a player has a contract, leaving for a better situation is a tough call. There are very few openings, and auditions are always required.
Among the instrumentalists I’ve talked to and the interviews I’ve read, there appears to be a common mindset. These are players in major orchestras ~ specifically, the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
The players I know of who are happy with their jobs practice for several hours every day, in addition to rehearsals. They strive for perfection. When a solo passage comes up in performance, it is their job to play it perfectly.
These players leave interpretive decisions to the conductor. They don’t compete. When a player has strong interpretive ideas of his/her own, playing in an orchestra becomes uncomfortable. It’s not that a player would be inexpressive in rehearsal, but if the conductor has something else in mind, the change is made, no problem.
Orchestral players know that if one conductor’s interpretation is “unusual,” the next performance of the same repertoire may be with a guest conductor. They do their jobs and go home. They play chamber music. They perform solo recitals. They teach. They write music, articles, and books.
A musician’s training to become an orchestral player emphasizes knowing the repertoire over individual interpretation.
Orchestral player as concerto soloist
As a side note, when an orchestra member plays a solo concerto, sometimes a reviewer will mention that the playing needed more of a soloistic quality. What someone does every day matters, and yes, there is a difference. This is not a criticism ~ the two ways of playing are just distinct from each other.
Changing “hats” frequently is different
As a freelance pianist, I play with many different groups and individuals. Some rehearsals have a conductor, some do not. I play solo recitals from time to time, collaborate with singers and instrumentalists, coach singers, teach privately, and play many types of rehearsals. (Those would include chorus, opera, musicals, choreography, staging, and yes, orchestra.)
Along the way, we learn to change “hats” quickly. And, when in a rehearsal that isn’t going as we would like, we know there will always be a different, often better situation around the corner.
Do you work with conductors? What do you do when you disagree with her/him? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!
Many thanks to C.I. for the idea for this post!