alternate between attention and ease
We had a great rehearsal yesterday with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov. It was a long trip (Parkinson 398 miles, Saunders 374 miles) and an early start, but great to get the piece sorted with the orchestra, who were lovely to work with and very patient.
I was really pleased with how it went, and there was a lot of very useful discussion with some of the players about the rationale for the score layout. The players have to take aural cues (words, samples) and associate them with labelled pitches on the parts. I deliberately didn’t put them in alphabetical order though as the aim of the piece is to create delays in response times. Although alphabetical cues would be easier to read, mixing them up creates a greater cognitive load. As an analogy, if playing the children’s party game where you have to remember all the objects on a tray, if they are in a randomised configuration it is hard, but if there is order – such as a colour pattern, or in another sequence such as apple, banana, coaster, diary etc – then it is easy to remember, but arguably less fun or challenging as a game. In the same way the piece needs to present a challenge in locating each cue in order to work though. It also recognises the way players might create schema for memorising the cues, which might include recognising patterning, annotations (such as drawings), or simply memorising each cue-pitch pairing.
But I appreciate this might be a stressful activity for some: the guidance though is just to do your best. For me this is an important attitude in all my pieces – try to do as much as you can, but recognise that this effort might not always lead to a perfect result. We talked about the benefits of lots of rehearsal so that the cues are very tight, but regardless of how developed this becomes the speed and density of the cues will always control the difficulty. We were quite restrained yesterday, largely because it was new, just after lunch, and we’d been travelling for most of the day. It was somewhat soporific as a result. I think on the weekend we’ll have a little more fun.
On Sunday, as well as doing this piece in the evening, Tim and I will do a short Parkinson Saunders set in the Fruitmarket comprising his songs 2011 and my piece in which one thing depends on another.
Here’s a short preview film:
— BBC ScottishSymphony (@BBCSSO) May 3, 2017