News and Features

Orchestrating the orchestras

Charlie Snee visited Head of Music Library and Resources, Martyn Bennett who, in December, could be found planning for the year ahead.

Down in the depths of the theatre, a stone’s throw from the orchestra pit, is the Music Library office where Charlie Snee visited Head of Music Library and Resources, Martyn Bennett who, in December, could be found planning for the year ahead.

Alongside their numerous other responsibilities, the Music Library staff and Martyn in particular, in his new role heading up the department, have been planning 2019 for the past four years; confirming which orchestra will play which opera, sourcing information on the orchestration (the selection of instruments to play each part), and providing budgets broken down into cost per player per session.

Things really get going in the nine months prior to the opening of a production, when decisions need to be made about which players will be employed for which show. Our house orchestras for the Festival are the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), we also have a Tour orchestra, and education projects regularly require orchestras or small ensembles too.

Howard Moody’s brand new opera Agreed, commissioned for the Glyndebourne main stage, kicks off 2019. A chorus of around 80 local auditioned singers will be joined by five professional singers, five world music players, musicians from the OAE, the OAE’s Ann & Peter Law Experience scheme, as well as local auditioned young talented instrumentalists.

The five world musicians appearing on stage (rather than in the pit) are playing instruments I’ve never heard of including the darabuka, kora and udu.

So whilst our artistic administration and education departments have been working with the OAE education arm to get the 40 strong orchestra for the pit ready to go, Jonathan Tunnell (Tour Orchestra Manager) has been arranging for masters of these unusual instruments to appear, music memorised, on the Glyndebourne stage.

Sebastian Carpenter (15) is one of the local young musicians. He explains how he got involved: ‘I’ve seen a few of the education operas at Glyndebourne because some of my friends perform in Glyndebourne Youth Opera. I’d been asking for a long time to play in the orchestra – these large scale operas only happen every three years and you need to be Grade 8-standard, so this was my first opportunity to audition.

‘For this, I was sent some of the more challenging extracts from Agreed to practise. I was nervous but also excited when I came to the audition, but the people on the panel were really nice to me. Howard Moody treated me like a player in the orchestra and we went through the Agreed extracts. He gave me instructions which I responded to. It was great fun.

‘I couldn’t wait to hear if I got in and when I did I was so happy. Howard wrote a really nice email about my playing. I’m thrilled to be part of the next big new opera and can’t wait to join the whole team, especially the OAE players. I am hopeful that I’ll get the chance to try out a baroque trumpet – that would be fantastic!’

Unlike the rehearsals for the Festival, the orchestra for Agreed will have extra opportunities to practise together before the sitzprobe (if like me you aren’t fluent in German it translates as ‘seated rehearsal’. It is the first time the orchestra and singers work together, focusing on the music rather than the performance). The first read-though for the orchestra was on 2 December, followed by Sunday rehearsals throughout January and February here at Glyndebourne. This is carried out separately from the singers who have the accompaniment of a répétiteur on piano during their rehearsals. All this practice will pay off for the performances in early March.

Swift on the tail of Agreed is Festival 2019. The first rehearsal for the LPO, playing the first four operas this season, is on 4 May. Ian Jackson, Head of Planning & Company Management, has already scheduled the rehearsals including those in London. The OAE will then begin rehearsing for Die Zauberflöte from 6 July.

The two Festival orchestras operate in a similar way. The LPO tends to be the larger of the two, although it isn’t unknown for the OAE repertoire to require more musicians than you would initially expect. There are four orchestra rehearsals in London for each of the operas. Each of these will be a three-hour session. This is the standard rehearsal length for an orchestra. Overtime arrangements for musicians are in place if sessions run over this.

Some members of the orchestra have already requested practice parts from the Music Library for next summer – requests can vary depending on the player and when they will have time to practice before rehearsals. Those who have to memorise their music, or work more closely with singers (think harpsichordists or cellists playing the continuo in baroque works) will attend earlier rehearsals. This year, a guitarist will also appear on stage in both Il barbiere di Siviglia (Festival) and L’elisir d’amore (Tour), and will rehearse separately with the singers.

For the Tour, Glyndebourne employs Jonathan Tunnell as the orchestra manager. He first played the cello on the Tour in 1991, then as he explains ‘I returned in 1995 and have played in the orchestra ever since. When the manager’s position came up, I applied and was lucky enough to be offered the job. I have now been the Tour orchestra manager for 11 Tours or to be more accurate a player/manager as I still play principal cello.’ The management of the orchestra, which can be made up of up to 65 freelance players, involves contracting the players, managing budgets, dealing with payroll, liaising with conductors and the dayto-day management of the Tour orchestra on the road. ‘We are very fortunate that around 90% of our players return each year making the orchestra one of the most experienced opera orchestras in the country’, he adds.

The Tour experience is varied for each orchestra player as they start off with three weeks at Glyndebourne, before heading out around the country as Jonathan explains: ‘When we go out on the road, conditions can vary widely from theatre to theatre. Each venue requires a different pit layout which presents huge challenges. Some pits have a lack of space, some are on three different levels, some are open and some enclosed. Fortunately, we have a uniquely patient and adaptable group of musicians, most of whom are well used to each venue and its complexities. Often the people most shocked by the different venues are conductors who have never been to the venue before. We test the balance before each production to ensure everything works well with the stage.’

So what does Tour 2019 have in store? ‘Personally, I am looking forward to bringing another new production to the Tour in 2019 – Verdi’s Rigoletto. This a piece we have never done on the Tour. Also, I adore Handel and Rinaldo is a favourite. Lastly, we are very excited to be going to Liverpool for the first time since I have been part of the Tour.’

Written by Charlie Snee,  Glyndebourne’s Membership Coordinator

Photo credits
Orchestra photos by James Bellorini | Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival 2019, photo by Robert Workman

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