ENO Evolve – My diary of rehearsals with students from the Royal College of Music

November 9, 2009

Hugh Davies, 2nd Violin for ENO

Wednesday 14th October 2009, BBC Maida Vale Studio 2

Arrive close to start time to find Ben (Norris), my RCM (Royal College of Music) student, already here. Jonathan Manners, ENO’s Orchestra Manager, asked me some time ago if I would mentor another RCM student – it was a very positive experience when the scheme was introduced in 2008 so I’m happy to do it.  But I had forgotten that today was the first of his five rehearsals with me as mentor.  Never mind – Ben puts me at ease and it is clear straight off that he has the social skills for the music profession.  And the musical ones?  Absolutely no problem there either; I have been playing professionally since 1970 and though the music doesn’t get easier, the ability to assess ability does.  I arrange seating with my colleagues in the section whereby I can have Ben with me on the outside of the 5th desk (of the second violins). We are rehearsing Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with Ed (Edward Gardner, ENO’s Music Director) and it is clear that Ben is extremely well prepared, musically confident and blends.  Technically it is not especially difficult music for violin (how will he cope with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring next week?) but the ensemble skills required for playing with a professional orchestra need a lot more than playing the notes.  He has them, no question.  In the break Ben shows me a piece he is preparing for a RCM recital – Sequenza by Luciano Berio (1976).  OMG!  Supremely difficult writing for solo violin. Thank heavens it hadn’t even been composed when I was at the RCM! 

Monday/Tuesday 26/27th October 2009, Blackheath Concert Halls

Ok Ben, here we go!  Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is on the stand.  It’s a fantastically exciting piece to play.  But it is also taut, edgy and rhythmically demanding; not a piece for novices!  One has to be neither proactive nor reactive – just active at all the right places and times.  The opportunities for loud and embarrassing individual mistakes are many and proliferate with repeated rehearsing – happily, thoroughly prepared as before, Ben avails himself of none of them and sails through unscathed. I arrange with our Principal 2nd Violin, Nicole, for Ben to sit alongside her on the front desk of the second violins for half a rehearsal which is a different and very useful experience.  These three days prove to me again how beneficial this ENO Evolve scheme is all round – RCM students  experience life (not just musical) in a professional band, we members of the ENO orchestra see what talent is coming up from the colleges, and ENO as a whole raises its profile for the Double Bill.

Hugh Davies teaching at his son's school

Hugh Davies teaching at his son's school

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