I am tucking into a hearty breakfast in the hope of giving me the energy necessary to traverse the myriad challenges of Bartók's Music for Strings, Celeste and Percussion.
This afternoon's concert with associate guest conductor François-Xavier Roth is part of our ongoing Sacher Series and will see us perform this incredible work by Béla Bartók live on BBC Radio 3. Our colleagues in the wind and brass will perform Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments and we will be joined by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor for Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.
It is only Wednesday, but I'm feeling decidedly tired. Perhaps mentally taxed is a better turn of phrase, because despite a great deal of conscientious prior preparation, Bartók's Music for Strings, Celeste and Percussion is still very difficult.
There are many issues with this work. Firstly, it is exceptionally complex in texture. There can be the temptation to overplay just to hear what you are playing, which of course has the result of thickening the texture further. During rehearsals, François has spent a considerable amount of time working passages (in particular in the energetic second and fourth movements) under tempo, encouraging us to listen and connect with other lines, rather than playing as individual musical islands, in order to bring clarity to the score. It sounds obvious doesn't it? In practice, it can sometimes be quite challenging.
Secondly, as two string orchestras, we are very spread out. If you wait for the sound to come from another section, you will invariably be late. Therefore, you have to play exactly with the conductor's beat, even if your ear is telling you that means you're going to be early.
The third issue with this work is that it is simply difficult. There are so many possibilities to make a catastrophic error if you switch off for just one second. The first movement looks so simple on the page, but misread the crotchet/quaver pattern and the uniformity of each section is disrupted.
The second movement is very fiddly and calls for a great deal of what my college professor called the percussive left hand. In other words, you may be making a beautiful legato phrase with the bow, but the fingers of your left hand must work like hammers to give the music clarity.
The fourth movement? Well, blink and you miss it. François has been encouraging us to search for the dance like, jazzy quality of the music, rather than playing in an angularly correct manner. I've found this helpful and am doing my best to get into the groove.
The last three bars themselves are a minefield all of their very own, with several different performance directions squeezed into what is less than four seconds of music.
All these issues aside, I'm looking forward to performing this work. It is a brilliant composition and not one I've had the opportunity to perform before. That said, I plan to have a little lie down after it!