Overture and Beginners, Please!

14 Nov

Before I was a runner, my hobbies were music and reading. I was a bookworm first, then started to learn musical instruments, ultimately falling in love with the violin. I’ve played in orchestras and ensembles since I was 10, and although there was a very short period of my life where (in a moment of all-or-nothing certainty) I thought that, having decided that a career playing professionally was not for me, I might stop playing altogether, I couldn’t. I may not play nearly as much as I used to (2-3 hours of practice a day would be hard around work and running), but music still holds a special place in my heart.

Before lockdown, I was still playing regularly in two local orchestras, and had been looking forward to getting back into chamber music, with a concert scheduled for July. The last concert I played in was in March, and I thought I’d made my peace with the fact I probably wasn’t going to be playing in concerts again anytime soon. And then this morning, just at the end of the Radio 3 breakfast slot, they played Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas Overture, and suddenly, that sense of everything that is missing came flooding back.

Maybe it’s because the overture sums up those early moments in and before a concert: backstage, putting on smart, dark clothes and warming up. A last look at *that* passage: the one that took the longest to nail when practising at home. Or maybe one that wasn’t hard to play at home, but somehow it took the orchestra a while to pull together when rehearsing. Queuing up in an approximation of the order you need to be in to go on stage. Walking out and sitting down, chatting to your desk partner, and glancing out at the audience, trying to get a feel for their mood. Tuning, with the background chatter of the audience humming in your ears. The first sputter of applause as the leader walks out, and then more as the conductor follows, and the orchestra rises to its feet. The house lights going down, settling back into your seat, and that moment of anticipatory nervous tension as the conductor’s baton is raised.

Maybe it’s because “Ruy Blas”, with its dark, dramatic opening chords in the winds and brass, captures the mood of a wet, windy, lockdown November day. The scurrying, swirling passages for the strings which follow are as if the storm continues, but then you have the upbeat arpeggio-based theme which feels like the sun has returned. When you nail “Ruy Blas”, it brings the house down. The nerves you felt backstage have gone. Today is one of those days: you are in the zone, at one with the music. The rest of the concert is going to be great. I miss it all so, so much.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: