Small opera groups, operatic societies and touring companies face tough financial decisions that have a big impact on artistic success. Very often either the venue or the budget is too small for a full orchestra.
The management team – and the conductor in particular – must then face the decision whether to perform with instruments by ‘thinning out’ the orchestration for a smaller number of players, or to use a piano alone. But there is an alternative.
Most conductors have faced this problem at some time. You probably don’t want to perform with only a piano accompaniment, so you hire a full set of orchestral parts. When the parts arrive you start to mark them for the players. Armed with a combination of pencil, manuscript paper, paper clips etc you face up to the problems: you’ve only got one horn instead of the four in the score, so that passage for horns 1 and 3 will need the third part transcribed into some other part, the clarinet will need to take the second oboe part at figure 16, the section for three trombones simply defies solution, especially as there is no room to write on any of the other brass parts. Hours later and the realisation dawns: you have created an indecipherable monster that will waste a huge amount of time at the band call as every change needs to be explained to the players.
Is it worth it? Maybe it would have been easier just to use a piano after all! But a piano really doesn’t do justice to the sound that the composer intended. And so we return to square one!
I have found that taking the effort to reorchestrate complete opera scores, reducing them for a chamber ensemble produces better results both in terms of the sound produced and the satisfaction of the players involved.