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An Orchestra Should Be Like A Chameleon

   Continuing my discussion of how orchestras sound , and the controversy over them allegedly all sounding alike ,  it should be remembered that major orchestras with year-long seasons play an extremely wide variety of repertoire, ranging from music by Bach,Handel , Haydn,Mozart , Beethoven and Schubert etc, to the latest works by living composers .

   This extremely diverse repertoire covers a vast range of music from different periods , nationalities and styles
ranging from  the 18th century to the present day .  Orchestras today also play music by composers of many different nationalities ; German, Austrian, French , American, Russian, Czech , Polish , Hungarian ,
Scandinavian  and other European countries, and even  ones from China, Japan, South Korea and Latin America . 

   So an orchestra has to be very versatile  and flexible, changing its sound and style  of playing  from week to week, and even within one program .  It should not have a one-size-fits-all  sound and  style which it applies indiscriminately to all kinds of music .  Mozart and Haydn should not sound like Wagner and Brahms ;  Richard Strauss should not sound like Debussy ,  Berlioz should not sound like Shostakovich etc.  Orchestras and conductors should also have enough knowledge to play  baroque music so that it does not sound like Rachmaninov .

   In Wagner , for example  or Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, the brass should have a rich , dark ,powerful yet  never coarse or raucous sound .  But the ideal brass sound for French music ,
Debussy and Ravel,  in particular, is quite different ;  a much thinner and more transparent sound ,  with  a fair amount of vibrato allowed .  But that kind of vibrato is absolutely wrong for the German and Austrian composers .

   Traditionally in the  20th century , Russian brass players  also use considerable vibrato , but  with a much  more powerful and even raucous sound which is appropriate for Russian composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich .   So a Russian orchestra will have the ideal sound for Russian music, 
a German or Austrian orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic will have the ideal sound for German music , and a French orchestra will have the ideal sound for French music.

   For Czech music , the Czech Philharmonic of Prague has the ideal sound for Czech composers such as Dvorak,Smetana, Janacek and Martinu .  It's difficult to describe in exact words, but when this orchestra plays Czech music , it sounds Czech . 

   Of course it's virtually impossible to get every orchestra to have  the absolutely right sound for each composer and national style ,  but  conductors and orchestra should strive to come as close as possible to  getting the sound and style as close as possible to what is appropriate for the music . In some cases, brass and woodwind players use different  makes of instruments at different concerts to try to adapt to the music .

   In some ways , this is rather like the way a skillful actor can do different accents depending on the nationality of the character .  You don't want an American actor who is playing the role of some German or Austrian aristocrat  to use his native Brooklyn accent !   This is why an orchestra should be as changeable as a chameleon .
Posted: Nov 27 2011, 11:15 AM by the horn | with no comments
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