From the orchestra pit with Jean Paterson

Thursday 29 September 2011

It is now 11 days since the orchestra started rehearsing and it feels, following the Second World War analogy of James Conway’s Xerxes, as though the campaign is fully fledged and going according to plan.

Though we emerged yesterday into the sun from our darkened bunker (3 Mills Studios) as the ‘walking wounded’, nursing aching shoulders and heads after nearly eight hours of stage and orchestra rehearsal on Xerxes, there was a sense of satisfaction in seeing the parts coming together as a whole. The opera’s petty jealousies and storming tantrums, the love scenes and misunderstandings, have their culmination in a scene of forgiveness – as sung by our cast – to melt the hardest heart.

Every rehearsal for us has been an intense drive to work out and settle upon the details, little and large, which we think and hope make a difference to a performance: trying to analyse just what quality of sound and articulation will achieve the character and scene-painting the directors are seeking.

Conductor Jonathan Peter Kenny is a master of collaborative working, seeking to involve us all in reaching decisions. As an orchestra, we have occasionally had to protect him from bursting at the seams with the enthusiasm, physical energy and passion he puts into his direction. He is thoroughly inspiring to work with.

Our orchestral rehearsals have been laced with tea, excellent coffee (thanks to violinist Jim O’Toole and his intriguing hand-held machine) and cakes galore, brought in by players and even by Jonathan himself. We are a very ‘cakey’ orchestra and perhaps should be weighed in before and after to check we have expended the requisite calories.

Sunday was our first, and so far only, day with The Fairy Queen with Joe McHardy directing from the harpsichord. It was a beautiful rehearsal; playing Purcell is utterly blissful. We were all ready for a change of diet from Handel, much as we love him.

We await eagerly to hear the singers we are to work with in Flavio and The Fairy Queen, and to see the staging which will bring it all alive. As an orchestra, these rehearsals at 3 Mills Studios are a rare opportunity to see what is going on, before we descend into the theatre pit. It enables us to make more sense, and give more meaning, to our own musical contributions.

Jean Paterson and The Old Street Band

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