Of all the instruments in the orchestra the viola is the one that is made the most fun of. There is a good reason for this and that is that it has always been this way. Sitting on stage on Saturday ready to rehearse the Turnage Viola Concerto we realised everyone was there, the players, conductor, viola students in the auditorium and then someone noticed we were just missing the soloist. He'd been seen but hadn't appeared at the right time. While someone went off to fetch him soprano sax player John and I shared a few viola jokes most of which we had both heard before. Presently Lawrence appeared and we began rehearsing. We quickly realised this was no ordinary viola player and the intensity of sound produced was quite amazing. He knew the piece extremely well and was in control throughout. The rehearsal went well and I got most of my notes in the right place, or as many as I needed to without worrying about my fee. Rohan's little snippets on harp sounded good. Usually the harp or harps sit behind the second violins, not too far from the horns on the left if you are in the audience. The harpists face is hidden from the audience behind the soundboard of the harp. Because of the enormous range of percussion, and because she needed to be near the celeste and piano she was sitting on the right hand side behind the cellos. I asked her if this was normal and she said it occasionally happened but was rare. When I asked how much of a difference it made she said not much but she just has to remember to smile more because the audience can see her more clearly.
Rehearsal out of the way and then it was onto the performance. Despite my reluctance to engage with certain genres of modern music I enjoyed performing the Turnage more than I thought I would. I find when I play pieces that don't have much of a tune I listen to them as if they might have been written for film. That helps me get through it. As it was the writing for wind was interesting and when playing we were kept busy without it being too demanding. Lawrence was excellent and he is actually performing the concerto again with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 19 October at the Southbank.
As we were packing up John told me yet another viola joke and one that I'd not heard before:
Why are viola players jealous of harpists?
Because harpists only play pizzicato on open strings!
If you don't get it ask your teacher at your next viola lesson!