In the first orchestral versions of the Grand Polka de bataille, the original groups were mapped onto a more conventional group of instruments as follows. The string trio became the strings, except the double basses. The saxophone quartet morphed into brass, plus the two saxophones in the Ricciotti. The piano/organ parts turned into an avalanche of woodwind sounds, very difficult to play and not very gratifying. The percussion parts stayed with the percussion, plus the double basses to reinforce the timpani solo. (The Ricciotti Ensemble has no timpani, but they do have a set of roto-toms—a funky substitute for sure, but OK under the circumstances.)
Each of these groups has a distinctive sound. But four Ricciotti orchestras have the same instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, two alto saxes, two horns, one trumpet, one trombone, one percussionist, a string section of moderate size. How to get each of them to sound unique? Fortunately for my purposes, one of the Ricciottis, composed of alumni from the 1970s, was not complete. Only one of each woodwind (no pairs), no trumpet, no trombone. I was allowed to move all the percussion to that orchestra. So that made for a distinctive sound by default. I decided to emphasize the strings in one orchestra, the brass in another (with a nice trumpet solo), and all the winds and saxophone in the final one. (Florid parts for the saxes and the high register of the bassoons makes for a special sound, that’s for sure.)
With a plan in mind, I could began to recompose in earnest. As I finished each orchestra, I sent the FINALE file to Rudi van Hest, who extracted the parts and printed them out. I promised the piece would be complete by May 3, and three of the four orchestral chunks were finished by that time. The fourth orchestra was dispatched to Amsterdam in cyberspace on the 5th.
Yesterday was the first rehearsal. I was able to guest-conduct two of the four orchestras, rehearsing them for ten or fifteen minutes. I was able to observe a third orchestra, and answered questions for the conductor and players as they came up. It was not possible to work with the fourth one, so we’ll hope for the best later today.
After the rehearsal I went with the four orchestras to a great dinner (four stews: vegan, beef, fish, shrimp; two salads: tomato, potato; couscous, potatoes, bread) for 150 people. At about 10:15 p.m. the current Ricciotti burst upon the scene, to play their thirteenth concert of the day. (Gasp!) Another entry in the Guinness Book of World Records—the largest number of concerts in one day, played by the same orchestra in separate venues.
Tonight at 6:30 we put the Grand Polka together. At 8:30 we play it for the public. I’ll report in full tomorrow.