This year the musical chairs program has been extended to adults in the community. The best part is that non-musicians--like me--have the chance to participate. Last month I listened attentively to a talk the Maestro gave entitled "The Psychology of Music: What Instrument are You?" He asked us to think about the personality traits he attributed to the musicians who play particular instruments. Then he invited us to come to a rehearsal of the CSO for its first concert of the season and to sit with the musicians whose personalities most resemble our own. Score!
The first thing that struck me from my seat on the stage was how loud it was when the musicians were warming up. Once the Maestro was ready to start, concertmaster Stewart Kitts stood and said, "Let's tune." With that, Raffaele took his position at the podium, greeted the musicians (about half of whom were new to the CSO), and announced that the morning rehearsal would focus on Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. He raised his arms and they were off.
Maestro Ponti commented that he wanted the opening notes to create a sense of mystery, singing the melody to make his point. At one juncture he said to the violins, "Take your panic out of this rhythm and let it relax." When they arrived at the third movement, he announced, "Now for a little Czech dancing." He asked the winds for "a little more soul" and the strings to "give it a bit of air." When they reached the rousing finale, a section that Dvorak had labeled "poco animato," Raffaele exhorted the musicians to "take the poco out." They played fast and furiously and with the passion of people doing something they love.
During the break, Raffaele chatted with us about his approach to rehearsals. He works first on the "architecture" of the music, then on the tempo and nuances. He doesn't play it safe, pushing the musicians to play at the tempo he wants in the performance. There's no time to work up to it really, with rehearsals starting on Saturday for the Sunday evening concert. He talked about the challenge of convincing the musicians that his interpretation is best. (A couple of times he asked the musicians to forget about the recordings of the music they had heard.)
The CSO intends to offer more opportunities for community members to get up close and personal with the symphony in this way. If you get an invite, jump on it. It's an experience you won't soon forget.