Playing the “Rite” in Mexico

Reflections on "The Rite of Spring" at 100

Volume 113, No. 5May, 2013

Karen Fisher
Excerpt from the first clarinet part from "The Rite of Spring," Part 1, first section

Excerpt from the first clarinet part from “The Rite of Spring,” Part 1, first section

Karen Fisher

Karen Fisher

I wish I could say that I had the kind of musical career that gave me the opportunity to play “The Rite of Spring” numerous times with Great Orchestras under the batons of Great Conductors. Alas, that was not to be my destiny as a clarinet player; however, I did have the occasion to play the piece twice. My first experience with the “Rite” was on my first professional job out of college with an orchestra in Mexico in the late 1980s. Neither the orchestra nor the conductor were quite up to the task of tackling such a monumental piece, however most of us were young with plenty of hubris to spare. Although rehearsals were rough and painstaking, we were all pretty excited to finally have the chance to play the piece that had loomed so large for us throughout our young musical lives. No matter how well we knew our excerpts, those tutti sections were hard. Most of us were playing it for the first time. If you have to play “Rite of Spring” for the first time somewhere, a small orchestra in central Mexico is a good place to do it. In spite of our collective musical naïveté, it was a blast to play and a wonderful and valuable learning experience.

The circumstances surrounding the second time I played the piece were a bit more nerve wracking. I was called to sub on the Eb clarinet part at around 11 a.m. for an afternoon dress rehearsal and concert the same evening. Luckily, I was in audition mode at the time and my excerpts and Eb chops were in pretty good shape. It was also auspicious that I had played it before, and no matter how rough that performance may have been, that experience had prepared me enough to stave off a panic attack. As a last-minute sub, it was impossible to really pay much attention to the whole. I remember feeling relief when it was over that I hadn’t stepped in any rests or (God forbid!) squeaked!

Ah yes…the joys of freelancing!

Clarinetist Karen Fisher is the senior concert rep at Local 802