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April 2005

Don't Miss a Beat

Experience musical magic—in pomp-free circumstances

It’s five minutes before two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon and the mounting clamor indicates that it’s nearly time to begin. Members of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks) have assembled on the stage and they, like most of us, have work to do. That is, those of us who don’t have the privilege of sitting in the audience. Today the orchestra’s dress rehearsal is open to the public, and the concert hall is a surprising two-thirds full.

Attending a dress rehearsal offers an enticing glimpse into the mechanics of music-making, and a sober view of the orchestra and its members—aspects often buried by the pomp surrounding an actual performance. Additionally, the open dress rehearsal typically offers an introductory lecture about the music and featured composer.

The term dress rehearsal is borrowed from the opera world, where it is used to describe the final rehearsal prior to a performance, during which the players must rehearse in costume—in dress. In the orchestra world the dress rehearsal is typically executed as a run through of the concert program, and thankfully has nothing to do with attire. It is the last chance for the musicians to work out the kinks and become accustomed to the concert hall. For many musicians the dress rehearsal is a pivotal point in the concert preparation process and most (whether they admit it or not) harbor some superstitions about the critical rehearsal. There are those who view a dress rehearsal ridden with problems as assurance that all the mistakes have been made and therefore won’t resurface in the concert. According to this school of thinking the opposite is also true: a flawless dress rehearsal may predict a less-than-perfect performance. The realists see things more simply: a good dress rehearsal equals a good concert.

At the session I attended, the conductor sauntered on to the stage in a T-shirt rather than tails, which underscored the relaxed and educational atmosphere, characteristic of an open dress rehearsal. On the program were Bruckner’s massive Sixth Symphony and a 15-minute introductory lecture. During the lecture a speaker explained the composer’s use of sustained tones in order to emulate the enormous resonance of a pipe organ, the instrument on which Bruckner began his musical career. To highlight the lecturer’s points, the orchestra played excerpts from the piece. This helped the audience become familiar with the music and provided insight into the composer’s musical intent. During the rehearsal, the symphony was played through as if in performance—without pause or comment from the conductor. As an enthusiast, I personally enjoy hearing the conductor’s comments and explanations, if not during the movements at least between them. For those more interested in the music than in the mechanics of creating it, however, a run-through dress rehearsal might be optimal. The good news is that every orchestra and every conductor rehearses differently, and no two dress rehearsals are alike. And in Munich you won’t be wanting for opportunities to attend, as both the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Münchner Philharmoniker regularly host öffentliche Generalproben (open dress rehearsals) with modest admission fees of € 8 and € 7.50, respectively.

In April, the Münchner Philharmoniker will open the dress rehearsal of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7. Two further open rehearsals are scheduled for June. The first will feature works by orchestral heavyweights Haydn and Mahler, including Haydn’s late Symphony No. 102 and Mahler’s tragic Fourth Symphony. A second open dress rehearsal will include Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Stravinsky’s famed “Petrouchka.” Not to be missed in July is a visit from one of the 20th century’s most beloved musicians—cellist and conductor, Mstislav Rostropovich. Mr. Rostropovich will guest conduct the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in a “Romeo and Juliet” themed concert, again, with an open rehearsal. On the program are Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture and Prokofiev’s hauntingly beautiful “Romeo and Juliet” Ballet Suite. If possible, visit the dress rehearsal of a concert you plan to attend. The information you pick up from the introductory lecture, as well as hearing and seeing the music rehearsed prior to the concert evening, will greatly enrich your concert experience. With the added perspective and familiarity you won’t miss a beat. <<<

Münchner Philharmoniker
Website: (see under “Konzerte”). Tel. 480 98 55 00
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks Website: Tel. 59 00 33 60

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