I've always thought BBC NOW's wood-lined home in Cardiff, Hoddinott Hall, to be one of the grooviest musical spaces I know. But when I turned up there for a rehearsal, as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, the orchestra were busy having conversations with technicians and management about the levels of heating and lighting in the studio. It certainly seemed chilly compared with the South-of-France temperatures outside (see previous post). And when you're playing modern music with pagefuls of tiny, tiny notes, you sure do want the music stands to be brightly lit.
Somehow this focus on non-musical elements really helped the performers overcome, or perhaps just ignore, the difficulties of my string orchestra score I give you the end of a golden string. I've worried a lot about whether the string writing in this piece is just too complicated for an orchestral context, but BBCNOW's exceptional string forces just zoomed through the whole piece with no complaints and barely a question. I also have to thank Geoffrey Paterson, the admirable conductor on this occasion, for so practically steering the players, and making the musical architecture extra clear (even to me, and I wrote it.)
I reflected that I'd originally heard the piece played by an ensemble of 24 strings (Britten Sinfonia, very good of course) a 'normal-sized' group for this kind of string rep. But in recent years, friendly festivals have offered to perform it with an orchestra only 14-strong - few composers would say "please don't !" - and that's what I've got used to. But to hear the 40 strings of BBC NOW was a dream come true - using the size of band I had never intended or expected. It's amazing how these features affect music and even the composer's perceptions; and a lesson to me to be rather more mindful of them.