I had a library nightmare over the holidays, and I don’t mean that figuratively. You know those performance anxiety nightmares players can have over a particular piece that’s difficult or a recurring worst-case scenario? Well, instead of dreaming my hand wouldn’t stay on the violin fingerboard or I couldn’t identify the proper chords on the keyboard for my piano jury, this was about a Má Vlast Meltdown. In my dream, the parts were all messed up or missing for different movements, the conductor was berating me in front of the orchestra, the players were calling for my head….. Mind you, none of this has ever happened to me in real life, but it felt real, I’ll tell you what. Yikes.
I’ve never had the distinct privilege of preparing Smetana’s complete Má Vlast before, so this is our lucky season in the DSO library. Sure, we’ve all done Movement II, “Vltava” (better known in the states as “The Moldau”), and here and there one or two of the other movements. But American orchestras don’t program the whole thing as often as our Eastern European friends for whom it is “meat and potatoes” repertoire, and a lot of players (and librarians) don’t know the complete work. I’m really looking forward to the performances and learning the unfamiliar movements, but I can’t say the part preparation has been so much fun. In fact, there are as many potential variables (read: impending disasters) as in an opera.
There are several score choices for this work, including the Supraphon (considered the “critical”) edition, reprints of the Urbanek, and Eulenberg miniatures. The parts can be purchased for every movement in the reprint editions, or rented in the Supraphon. That combination is not an unusual one at all, and something we deal with for many other works. One finds out what the conductor is using and gets the corresponding materials. Or, in many cases, the scores of one edition can be used with the parts of another without problems — often even the rehearsal systems match or can be easily coordinated.
Not so with My Fatherland. There are very real differences between the editions (including the rehearsal systems) and serious legibility issues in some movements. There are even differences between scores and parts of the same edition. The librarian will have a mess come rehearsal time if they’ve decided to just buy all the movements, add some bowings, and put out the parts. I highly recommend against that course of action. For example, the reprint of Mvt. 4 (“Bohemia’s Forest”) is newly-engraved and clean looking, but the notes are so small, and so many staves are pushed onto each page, that we had to re-make the parts, enlarged as much as possible. (Double the money, double the fun!) No way the string players could share a part and actually see the notes well enough without doing that. There are other problems with the rental materials from Supraphon for some movements.
Even so, this project has taken many weeks, and we are not quite finished yet for performances at the very end of January and beginning of February. Before I spoke to the conductor, I asked questions of several library colleagues who had prepared this work and they were all very generous with their time and knowledge. They offered valuable insight into which movements of the rental and purchase materials were the least problematic, all loaning parts and/or errata lists for us to use as we saw fit. That type of assistance was so incredibly helpful when researching the editions and then speaking to the conductor. It also helped in dealing with budget issues — I wanted to be able to use our set of Moldau, and purchase what I could to avoid renting all six movements. In the end, we rented three and purchased three (so we now own the three most commonly-played movements), but have had to spend a significant amount of time fixing and matching things up throughout. I think it’s safe to say that the DSO Library Team Smetana is ready to be done with this project.
I’m confident we’ve done due diligence on these parts, and my library partners have given their all for The Fatherland. But that doesn’t mean I won’t toss and turn a few more nights before rehearsals making sure we’ve covered everything.
* When conductors (particularly guest conductors) ask for specific things to be put into the parts, they should have the good manners to do so well in advance of the first rehearsal. And that doesn’t mean two weeks, it means THREE MONTHS OR MORE. In most major orchestras, the organization gets in touch with the conductor many months in advance to inquire (usually through a questionnaire) whether they are providing materials, requesting a particular edition, or requiring any cuts, special markings, etc. If the conductor does not answer the questions until a week or two before the rehearsals/performances, then he/she cannot expect additional work to be done. By then the parts are out to the players having long-since been bowed and prepared by the library, and we don’t have the time to stop other preparation to un-do and re-do work that we already spent weeks working on. Please don’t put us in that position, or, if you do, please be gracious when you are told that it is too late!