Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop took the podium in our string sectionals this morning to work through some of the rough spots in Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphoses. At one point, in the second movement, she turned to the violins and said, “Let’s do that section with the nightmare triplets.”
About three minutes into the movement, the first violins, second violins, and violas have about 30 measures of triplets – sometimes in chromatic scales, but other times in unpredictable patterns that we are all struggling to master.
Tonight at dinner, we did the math and realized what we are trying to do. The movement is in 2/2 time, with each half note having an assigned value of 96 beats per minute. That means each quarter note has a metronome value of 192 beats per measure. Subdivide those quarters into triplets, and that means we are trying to play 576 beats per minute. Put another way, we are playing more about 9-1/2 notes PER SECOND! Sheez …
The other night, on the phone with Chuck, I told him I didn’t think I had ever played this fast in my life. Now, I have an idea what my speed limit is!
The good news, I suppose, is that Marin and many of the top players in the orchestra have told us repeatedly to “focus on the rhythm, not the notes, because the brass is so noisy no one will notice if you make a mistake!”
The section I’m talking about can be heard in this YouTube video – just when the worst run of the “nightmare triplets” for violins begin. It sounds on the video like one continuous line, but let me assure you, we are sawing our hearts out!