The music for this chapter: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/74amAQ28YL8NQzW519BDTg?si=789f16241fe24498
(copy pastable version in the comments)
“That’s it for today! We will continue on Monday, and I will expect everyone to have practiced. Especially the percussion session. I don’t want to have to focus on you guys again you hear me!”
Frank ended today’s rehearsal with those words before heading toward me. “And what did you learn today? Any questions or remarks?” He asked me. His tone toward me was completely different from his strict tone toward the orchestra.
There was so much wrong with what I heard today that it was hard to find a place to start. “I will work with the cello students. What they were doing wasn’t really acceptable they were all over the place.”
Frank got an amused smile on his face. “Well, you are a cellist after all. Of course, you would put your focus there.”
“It’s just that that was one of the flaws that I can do something about myself,” I answered poutingly.
“Well, I noted down plenty. I’m sure you noticed the same things.”
I gave him my scores of ‘Die Fledermaus Ouverture’, the famous opening Waltz of the Vienna New year’s concert.
“What are all these markings?” Frank said confused.
“This is what isn’t on the score and that I interpret differently. I also marked what’s on the score and what they aren’t playing.
“You did all this today while we were playing?” He asked a bit shocked. He quickly put my copy next to his own score and started copying a lot of my notes. “I always work on the worst section each week.” He said in the meantime.
“Won’t the others that are doing things wrong just affirm the wrong thing then?” Suddenly I felt dizzy. It was like the world was spinning. While these words left my mouth. An image of my father talking to his orchestra displayed on my retina like they were right in front of me. I could see the score in detail. The notes were made in exactly the same way that I had made them and the words that left my mouth were the exact words he said. My heart rate started to go up. I could feel my breath becoming erratic. What was this? A memory? But then why was I seeing it through my father’s eyes? I could hear Frank talking but it wasn’t registering. I was reliving that moment way too vividly. Was I having another attack? This felt different though. I needed to get a hold of myself. I started focusing on my breath and slowly the familiar setting of the chapel came back to me. I managed to get myself together in time to pick up my conversation with Frank before he noticed. Luckily. If this thing came out, I might get stuck again with more counselor sessions. I wanted to avoid that at all costs, so I decided that as long as nothing bad happened, and I was able to manage them by myself, I would keep these episodes a secret.
“You really are made to conduct, aren’t you? I’m expecting great things from you.” Frank was doing his best to motivate me for his class, but I couldn’t help but speak out loud about how I truly felt. Before I knew it, the words “I’d still rather play my cello,” had left my mouth.
“Well, I would like you to see this experience as help for your cello too. If you ever need to play a concerto in a competition, this will be an invaluable experience. Since Aleksei won’t be back for quite a while and you still need to prepare for future competitions, let us just focus on what we can do today to make you grow as a musician in general. There are ways to get better at your instrument without having the focus there.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want you to talk to Nastya and pick out a concerto to perform with the orchestra at the new year’s concert for her. We need to show of our top assets together so people will take our institution seriously. At the same time, I think it will be a good experience for you to experience a concerto from the conductor’s point of view. It will make you more in tune with any orchestra when you ever have to play a concerto yourself since you will be aware of their difficulties.”
“Play a concerto with Nastya?” Even though I did not get to play one myself, the prospect of doing this with Nastya sent a thrill through my body.”
Frank looked happy at my reactions like he had just given a kid a piece of candy. “Don’t wait too long to pick!”
While Frank and I had been talking, the musicians in the chapel had switched, and right now, all that was left were the students of the Cecilia dorm, who were sitting with their instruments at the ready. I was surprised to see Tobias already holding a viola. He was bragging to the others about how I had recognized his brilliance and had written a part just for him. Well, technically speaking he wasn’t wrong, since I had done that for everyone.
“It’s your turn to be the boss. Show me what you learned so far.” Frank said while giving me a wink.
The second I stood in front of them with all their gazes on me, I suddenly felt nervous. This looked a lot easier when you saw someone else do it. They were clearly expecting me to say something, but my tongue felt dry, and the words just would not come. I felt my hands tremble. Even if some of them were my friends, they were all some of the most promising talents of Europe, and I had gotten it in my head that I could conduct them as my first conducting assignment. I must have been crazy. I might be their match on the cello, but when it came to conducting, I was nothing but a rooky. My insecurity made me feel inferior.
Everyone looked at me expectantly, even Frank was doing the same. They were clearly expecting that I was going to say something profound. I should have prepared for this moment, but I had only been thinking about the music. The moment where I would actually need to take charge in front of a large group was something that I had dreaded so much, that I had just ignored the problem and just focused on the musical aspects. I was now reaping what I sowed.
Just as I was about to start stammering something that would have made me look like a complete idiot, Axelle thundered the first 4 notes of Beethoven’s 5th on her piano.
Everyone including myself started laughing. My eyes immediately turned around to her. What on earth was she doing?
“Just building the drama!” She joked while giving me a wink. Did she realize what I was going through? I quickly put my hand on my mother’s hair clip to give myself some energy and took a deep breath. She had broken the pressure with her joke and when I looked back at the jovially laughing people in front of me, this time, I saw them as my friends and my fellow students. My hands were no longer trembling. I gave Axelle a thankful nod, but she acted like she had no idea why I was thanking her, but I knew in the meantime that she did that on purpose. That nonchalant attitude was just a façade to hide her embarrassment. She was a lot more attentive to the needs around her than she let on. That much was pretty clear since, after all, this was not the first time she had done something like this.
I opened the score largely on the conductor’s stand and took out the baton that I had gotten at Flagey.
“Thank you all for agreeing to be in this ensemble. Since we all know each other, I would prefer to let the music do the talking. Nastya, tune your orchestra.”
Nastya looked surprised that I was treating this little ensemble as an orchestra. Since she was the first violinist, she was the one in charge after me. She first checked if she was in tune with the piano and then played an A for everyone to tune themselves with.
As soon as I could hear everyone was in tune, I ticked my baton on my music stand and I could see everyone at the ready. I gently gave Fabio the sign to start with the solitary oboe that started Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps.
Even though they were all distinguished musicians, they were clearly not used to playing together. The erratic rhythms and sweeping feelings were completely missing.
I quickly stopped them from playing by forming a 0 with the baton.
“Okay, that gives me an idea where to start.”
I noted a few important things down.
Everyone was looking at me why I stopped the playthrough so soon.
“I know you all did your best to make something of these scores, but right now you aren’t playing solo. You are part of an orchestra. I want you to play what is on the score. Nothing more and nothing less. Think of yourselves as my instrument right now. I make the calls.”
Once again, the room started turning and I started to feel dizzy. This time I also felt a slight pain stinging in my head while a video of my dad saying the exact same words to his orchestra flashed in front of my eyes. My hand moved toward the scores and noted something down. Another memory? What on earth was happening to me? Were these memories that I blocked?
I wasn’t about to show something was wrong with me, so I said:
“Again from the start!” Everyone was at the ready. I could see in their eyes they were looking for instruction. This feeling made a slight rush go through me, as I gave the sign to start playing again.
As soon as Fabio started to play, luckily the pain and memories subsided.
While we were playing, I noticed I had noted down the word Martelée next to a part of Sara’s scores. It made so much sense that she would bow that part in a hammering style. So, the next time I was forced to stop everyone, I made her add it to her score.
She looked at me a bit scared to ask a question. Did I really look that scary? Luckily, Sara's face was always an open book and I could tell she did not know what martelé meant, so I said: “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you later.”
Immediately that big smile of hers formed on her lips. I then proceeded to give some instructions to all the others who seemed to be surprised by all the details that I had picked out. The only one that did not really need correcting was Nastya. When I wanted her to play something a bit different, it needed to be changed on the score. She really was a master in playing things exactly as the score indicated. It was really something to behold. I could learn a thing or two from her on that front.
When I noticed Nastya started blushing, I realized I had been staring. I quickly returned my attention to the entire orchestra and continued the rehearsal. Axelle was shaking her head with a knowing smile on her face. Damn, this was embarrassing. I shouldn’t be spacing out like that. I’m supposed to be in charge here!
By the end of the rehearsal, it all started to sound like they were playing together but it was also clear that we had a lot of work ahead of us.
The feeling of holding the baton gave me a feeling of power and control and I could not say I did not like that feeling. Maybe just maybe there was more of my dad in me than I would like to admit.