#2: Jennifer Raven

The second of our player perspectives sees one of our fabulous flautists, Jennifer Raven, ruminate on the delights of tackling unusual repertoire and the perils of the late afternoon sun.

March 2018

What a programme! One of SELO’s greatest strengths is its determination to play big, challenging repertoire. With lesser-known works like Martinu’s 1st Symphony, we (as players) are really stretched and, in turn, hopefully open audience ears to new sounds. The rhythmic intensity and the magic sound-worlds Martinu creates are intriguing and beguiling; with Martinu’s symphony preceded by Dvorak’s fast and furious Carnival Overture and Copland’s characterful Four Dances from Rodeo, we definitely had our work cut out!

Concerts like this make for some of the most exhilarating moments as a SELO player: faced with a mammoth programme the orchestra rallies together and puts its heart and soul into doing the music justice, and it’s particularly important we do so in the face of the odd hurdle thrown in our way…

…St Barnabas is a wonderful venue, and a loyal home to SELO, though it has one downside: the sunlight that streams in through the very beautiful back window,  throwing its glorious beams into the eyes of the orchestra as we begin to tune.

Having had what feels like weeks and weeks of far more grey than sun, it was extra-specially grating that the blinding light made its appearance just in time for the start of the concert. I was quite literally in the spotlight, which meant that for the first half, my ‘player perspective’ was seeing our conductor, Dave, shrouded in a halo of sunshine and not much else. The upside of this predicament was that with no conductor to follow we had to listen to one another more attentively; so perhaps it was a cunning tactic for improving our sense of ensemble!

When I am able to see, though, my view is one of the best and allows me to enjoy every section of the orchestra. The joy of composers like Martinu and Copland is that they inventively make full use of the ensemble’s tones and timbres in their orchestration, so this was the perfect performance to appreciate contributions from all corners:

  • The richness of the lower strings in a haunting third movement of the Martinu
  • The violins entering whole-heartedly into the Hoedown spirit with some very stylish, if fiendish, semiquaver passages
  • The unusual treat of harp and piano combined, rising above the orchestra
  • The cheeky humour of the brass section in Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday
  • Exquisite solos from across the wind section in all three of the pieces

Overall, it took some top-notch teamwork, jigsawing mind-bending rhythmic passages together, with Dave masterfully keeping us on the straight and narrow.

With the demands of such a programme, SELO reached a landmark moment this month and for the first time ever was 60 players strong. This meant that in the back couple of rows things were pretty cosy. I feel the need to publicly apologise to the horns for the moment that I blasted some horribly high, tinnitus-inducing piccolo trills inches from their ears: it’s no exaggeration to say that they leapt from their chairs. They quite rightly retaliated by emptying their horn juices on my foot. Fair play, team horn, fair play.

This season’s programming has been epic and the next concert lives up to the high expectations set to date. I’m particularly excited for two flute-filled pieces: Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” and Ives’ “The Unanswered Question”.

Time to get practising!