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Orchestral Balance - One Of The Most Important Jobs Of A Conductor

  If you've ever attended a concert and wonder about what the real job of that guy standing in front of the orchestra is  waving his hands around  is ,  it's making sure that everything can be heard clearly during
rehearsals . 

  You see , the various instruments of the orchestra a re very unequal in  the amount of sound  they can
produce .  A single flute or violin is totally inaudible  next to  brigade of  trumpets, horns , trombones and tuba .
That's why an orchestra needs so many string instruments ;  the majority of the musicians play either violin, viola, cello or double bass ; the  rest are  woodwind and brass playing individual parts , plus percussion , which can also be very loud .

   If the conductor is not careful ,  the brass section can sometimes drown out the rest of the orchestra  at a concert . This is also true in opera , where  it's vital that the audience be able to hear the singers over the din of the  orchestra .  Conductors and musicians being human ,  balances are not always perfect .  John Boyden
of the New Queen's Hall orchestra clams that the old fashioned narrow bore brass instruments his orchestra uses  prevent  the  other sections of the orchestra being  drowned out ,  but I doubt that balances were always perfect in the past , either .

   The members of the brass section , and I know this from many years of experience  in orchestras ,
love to produce a big ,beefy and brassy sound  whenever possible, and there is a certain amount of
ego gratification in this .  But sensitive orchestra musicians, no matter what instrument they play ,
should always be aware of what is going on in the rest of the orchestra .

   And  it's not always the brass player's fault in they are too loud , because it's not  possible for them to hear what  things sound like in the auditorium of the concert hall .  There are many different factors involved ; different concert halls have different acoustics . Some are very dry and lacking in reverberation ; others have highly  reverberant acoustics . 

   Sometimes during a rehearsal , the conductor will ask  the orchestra's assistant conductor  to
conduct  parts of a rehearsal so that he or she can  go out into  the  auditorium  to check the balances .
During a concert , balances may sound different in one section of  the  auditorium  because of
acoustics . This may be why one music critic may complain of faulty balances at a concert and another
does not . It's all highly subjective anyway .

   The great composer Richard Strauss , who was also  a renowned conductor , not only of his own
music , once quipped  in his famous  rules of advice for conductors ,  "If you can't hear the brass
in rehearsal , tone them down a shade or two !"

Posted: Dec 17 2011, 11:17 AM by the horn | with no comments
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