Orchestra reading with Simon Rattle, November 1, 1997

The most recent Archives exhibit, Conducting at Curtis, features the conductors who have led the Curtis orchestra since the school’s founding, as well as the history of the Curtis conducting program. The exhibit also discusses visiting conductors who have led orchestra readings and performances. To give an impression of an orchestra reading, we have put together a small audio slide show featuring Sir Simon Rattle, who visited Curtis for an orchestra reading of Dvořák’s Carnival Overture on November 1, 1997, when he was in Philadelphia for concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Today’s guest blogger is Lourdes Demers, managing director of performance studies and summer programs, and herself a flutist. She selected audio excerpts from the rehearsal and discusses the event below. Sir Simon has worked with the orchestra several times; his most recent visit was in 2012.


When the task of listening to over three hours of a rehearsal recording arose, I cleared my calendar and hunkered down for a long morning. Skipping forward and backward, trying to find a few golden nuggets to share about that soggy November day was going to be tedious and challenging. How could I select moments that would demonstrate the sheer inspiration that Sir Simon brought to students during a reading session with the Curtis Orchestra, back in the fall of 1997?  I’ve always heard from alumni about how memorable that day was, but how could we replicate those feelings of wisdom, fun, and excitement that the students felt under his baton?

The archival recording started with Sir Simon in mid-sentence and was a bit distant and unclear. But listening to his words, I was quickly drawn in. He explained his plan for the morning to the room full of eager musicians who sat before him, ready for the downbeat. His speech was reminiscent of some kind of apology for the way that the morning would go: They’d zip through the piece and then go back and very quickly touch on spots that needed improvement, as if in a recording session. Not only was it an efficient use of rehearsal time, it was a very different use of that time. The musicians had to think and execute on their toes. There wasn’t going to be the luxury of taking big sections and working them through to perfection. Instead Sir Simon wanted the students to experience a real-world recording situation, just as if they were experts in a studio – which is a whole different profession in itself.

As I listened, I suddenly felt as if I was fortunate enough to be in the room. The students welcomed Sir Simon’s directness and wit with giggles and laughter. He offered critique with humor and respect, and the students responded wonderfully through their playing. He shared some insightful anecdotes and stories relative to the many great masters with whom he had the pleasure of learning from – and passed those examples directly to the orchestra. The students knew they were in the presence and care of someone extraordinary.

These three short excerpts will give a glimpse into the intimate music making that took place here in Field Concert Hall that morning. It’s clear to see and hear why this was unforgettable for those in attendance.
Lourdes Demers
The complete reading rehearsal is available for in-house listening in the library.  

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