October 31, 2013, is a big night here—and not because it’s Halloween. Our concert that Thursday night launches a full weekend of performances featuring three new works, each written specifically for a principal player in The Philadelphia Orchestra.
But there’s another important date on the calendar: Tuesday, October 29. That’s the first orchestra rehearsal. And until that day, no one—not the soloists who have been practicing for months, not even the composers who may have been working on their pieces for years—really knows how the music is going to sound.
“There’s an excitement and anxiousness,” says Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa, who is preparing to give the world premiere of David Ludwig’s bassoon concerto, Pictures from the Floating World. “I don’t know what it’s going to sound like until that very week of the premiere performance. It’s like being in the waiting room … waiting for my child to be born,” he says, “and not knowing what to expect.”
The due date is still a few days away, but Matsukawa and Ludwig—who are friends as well as colleagues—got a taste of what’s to come at a small rehearsal this week. Soloist, composer, and two cellists—Acting Associate Principal Yumi Kendall and Acting Assistant Principal John Koen—(all of whom happen to be Curtis grads) got together informally to work on two interludes from the piece.
In the first, says Matsukawa, “I start and then the other one immediately interrupts and then the third immediately interrupts that person and it sounds like we’re echoing each other, rapidly, almost tripping over each other. It’s a really neat effect. It’s really cool, actually.” And in the second: “That’s more like the three of us in harmony,” he says. “It’s really beautifully written. And I can’t wait for the audience to hear that section.” “They sound incredible,” says Ludwig, adding that after living with the work for so long, “to suddenly have it alive and breathing in front of you—it’s an incredible thrill.”
Matsukawa got the concerto at the end of the summer and has been preparing ever since, practicing, of course, by reading the score and playing his part, but more importantly, he says, by trying to internalize it to the point where he really knows and understands the language of the piece. He likens the process to putting something under your pillow at night and “sleeping on it.” One way he absorbs the music is by singing and humming his part—a technique he teaches his students at Curtis.
“Singing is the most natural way we can make phrases and make music and we don’t have to think about our instruments as much,” he says. “I don’t even like the word practicing. I like the word familiarizing. I want to feel, as a listener, that the person is familiar with what they’re doing … that they know what it sounds like, and what it should sound like.”
Matsukawa says he’ll learn a lot in that first rehearsal—including how to communicate with Yannick, who will be conducting all the premieres. He says he’s grateful to be working with a conductor and a composer who are both great collaborators. “I’m lucky as heck,” he says. “I’m probably the luckiest of the lucky people to have both this kind of composer and conductor to work with. It’s just really, really great, glorious writing. And I’m really excited. I’m even more excited than I was. And I can’t wait to play it with the Orchestra.”
Daniel Matsukawa and The Philadelphia Orchestra give the world premiere of David Ludwig’s Pictures from the Floating World on Friday, November 1, at 2 PM in Verizon Hall with a repeat performance on Saturday, November 2, at 8 PM. The Philadelphia Commissions Micro-Festival—which also includes the world premiere of Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto featuring Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner and the U.S. premiere of Tan Dun’s Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, Symphony for Microfilms, Harp, and Orchestra with Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen—runs from October 31-November 2 with Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting. For tickets and program information, click HERE.