Friday, September 27, 2013

Confessions of a Renegade Harpist

Lately I’ve become an inadvertent “on-call” harpist for a particular conductor. His method of organization baffles me. Often times I will receive a surprisingly calm email from him asking me to play with an ensemble later that week. The harp part is written in the score for all to see, it doesn’t have to be excavated or viewed with special glasses. So, at the beginning of the season when he selects the music for the year, that might be a good time to arrange for a harpist. But no.  A few examples:
  • Earlier this week I played two pieces with one of his orchestras. He gave me enough notice to attend the dress rehearsal, though there were other issues with getting the music. After the concert, which went fine, I let him know that I had left the music on the stand to be collected by the librarian. Typically, this is not something I would announce but it seemed like there might be some value in telling him, so I did. He looked startled and told me that “No, I need you again in October—same music”. He tried his hardest to remember the dates for the next concert but could not. Did he need me in October when he initially contacted me to play in this concert? Yes. Did he mention anything about October then? No.
  •  Next weekend there is a concert with his other orchestra that calls for harp in every piece. I played one of the pieces a few years back with the Las Cruces Symphony and it will be easy to put together with little notice. The other three pieces are all new to me, and the score is written for six harps which is five more than will be playing and will take a bit of creativity to make it work. He gave me three weeks’ notice for this concert, but I have yet to receive the music. I have asked for the music many, many times with no success. Is his intention to drive me crazy? Probably not, most likely it’s a simple absent-mindedness that many composers are equipped with. But still.

In years past he has tried similar methods of contacting me at the last minute, but 100% of the time I turned him down thinking that eventually he would learn. Send me your requests at the beginning of the season! What’s so hard about that? Lots, evidently. This year, though, he picked some of the best harp parts out there. How could I say no? Earlier this month I was finally able to play Vysehrad by Smetana, as part of the Ma Vlast suite. It was a dream come true, I love that piece so much and have ached to get to play it over the years. A massive Wagner concert is coming up which will be a fantastic exercise in counting and correctly making all my entrances (assuming I get the music). Stravinsky’s Petruska will be performed later in the year, yum! And, in the concert to end all concerts, Brahms’ Requiem. He could give me the music to any of those terrific, harp infused compositions minutes before the concert and I would still be happy just to be a part of the production. But that would be a terrible idea because the best way to make an orchestra cohesive is 1) a great conductor, and 2) making sure everyone has enough time to learn their parts!!

I should clarify, even though this rant would never show it, the conductor amuses me more than irritates me. He will never do things different than he currently does, and even though it is a massive inconvenience, he’s a very good conductor and doesn’t seem to be expecting the impossible. So when I come to rehearsal and do the best I can, given the limited notice I’ve had, he seems happy and we all have a good time.

But still.

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