Anton Bruckner: The all new complete arm work out...

Friday night will see us perform Bruckner's Seventh Symphony at St David's Hall. It is widely recognised as being one of his most loved symphonies which brings me to a small confession. I do not particularly enjoy playing Anton Bruckner symphonies.

Now, before people start complaining or lecturing me, and before our orchestral manager reaches for my P45, I would like to point out that I have not confessed to disliking Bruckner. I actually really like listening to his music and without a doubt, there are some moments of the seventh that are simply sublime. However, playing a Bruckner symphony really can be downright exhausting - it is like doing an intensive arm workout at the gym!

Let me explain how I have come to hold such a blasphemous view. While the trombones and tuba are having fun playing their little chorales, while the violins are soaring in the stratosphere and the horns are hooting out their heroic tunes, what are we, the viola section doing? Scrubbing.

Scrubbing is the not-quite-technical common term we use for tremolando. It is a bow stroke that involves moving the bow as rapidly as possible on the string. At times it can produce a silvery, fluttering effect, or it can create an ominous rumble, or an absolute blanket of sound. To watch, it can look a little like the string section have had too much coffee. Or that they are trying to saw their instruments in half.

I'm being facetious of course - tremolando is a technique used to great effect in so much of the epic orchestral works that we all know and love. It is just that in Bruckner there is so much of it! My part for the Seventh Symphony is 22 pages long, and out of that, 11 pages are almost full of scrubbing. I've had a nosy at the second violin part too; 13 out of 23 pages are tremolando-tastic!

The thing is, Bruckner certainly knew how to write for strings. Our principal trombone, Donal, gave a talk on Bruckner on Monday evening in our small studio, the Grace Williams, and some of us performed Bruckner's String Quintet. I was genuinely surprised by how idiomatic the string writing was. It still sounded like Bruckner, but was so much more satisfying to play than the symphonies are (in my opinion). I guess somewhere along the line, he just decided he loved the brass more than he loved us. Don't know why.

What stops me actually disliking the music of Anton Bruckner is the simple fact that it is actually rather epic. It is exhilarating to listen to, it is colourful and noisy and the brass chorales are beautiful. Despite the fact that by the end of the symphony my arms will feel like lead weights, it will be a huge buzz to sit in the middle of all that sound on Friday night.

Laura and the Orchestra will be performing Bruckner's Symphony No 7 from 7.30pm on Friday 25 November at St David's Hall, Cardiff. For tickets and information call 0800 052 1812.


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