The Independence Sinfonia presented a program of Mozart and Beethoven Sunday afternoon. I was unable to attend, since I worked weekends, but I was invited to the final rehearsal at a shoebox of a church in Wyndmoor Pa. It was a thrill to hear Beethoven's Fifth in such a small space, even when the orchestra consists of only about 40 musicians. The reading was taut, and the musicians played straight through: the only distraction was the occasional shout of encouragement from the podium.
The conductor, Jerome Rosen, who played violin with the Cleveland Orchestra years ago, told me that the one lesson he learned from George Szell is that musicians do not play better when they're terrified.
"Anything positive you can say, you have to say," he said.
Rosen spent all of his time tweaking details of articulation and phrasing, something he said he can do only when the musicians have mastered the score. As an editor, I know what he means: there is a big difference between a writer who needs help with mechanics, and one who simply isn't getting it.
"It's so satisfying to be able to nitpick," he told the group.
Besides the Beethoven Fifth, the program included Mozart's overture to The Magic Flute and his Sinfonia Concertante, with Rosen on violin and Xiao-Fu Zhou on viola. Zhou made it look easy. He was impassive through most of the run through, while Rosen, who told me he hasn't played violin in years, would grimace every time he made a mistake.
Several the musicians sat out the Mozart, but they were all up front for the Beethoven, leaving me alone in the pews. It was like attending my own, private concert.