Last week, I took part in my first performance of Stravinsky's 'L'Histoire du soldat' (The Soldier's Tale). The project was a collaboration between the London Arts Orchestra and the Rough Fiction theatre company, culminating in a show at Keele University. It was a fascinating experience to get to know this music whilst working alongside actors and getting a glimpse into their rehearsal process.
The Soldier's Tale is scored for an unusual septet of violin, clarinet, bassoon, double bass, percussion, trombone and cornet. Apparently Stravinsky wanted performances of this work to be cheap to put on and possible to do almost anywhere. The story is told by three actors - the soldier, the devil and the narrator. In our production the genders were actually reversed, with female actors playing the parts of the soldier and the devil and a male actor being the narrator and prince (princess in the original story).
When I was asked to be part of this production I was delighted, mainly because I knew how fiendishly difficult the cornet part was and how important it was that I learn it at some point. This felt like the perfect opportunity to give it my first go. The parts were also new for most of the other musicians, so at least we were all in the same boat. The Soldier's Tale is sometimes performed without a conductor but, with the constantly changing time signatures, it felt much safer to have Ed Farmer (founder of the London Arts Orchestra) there!
In our rehearsals, I found it interesting to see the incredible detail into which the actors went for each section of the piece. It made for quite a long rehearsal process, but the end result was totally worth it. Our director, Simon Pittman, found lots of ways in which to involve the musicians in the drama, making it even more engaging for both us and the audience in the performance. I couldn't have hoped for a better first experience of this brilliant piece and I'm already looking forward to the next opportunity I get to perform it.