Wilmington Symphony Orchestra Prepares for Romeo and Juliet

In their October show, the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra performs Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, a more modern piece than the group usually presents, and more challenging. WHQR's Megan Williams looks at the difficulties of putting on this piece.

Oct. 26, 2005, Wilmington, North Carolina – With that slightly jarring, always-rising note so familiar to symphony-goers, all the warming instruments of the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra leave off their individual tunings and begin their struggle to fall into line. It's a Tuesday night and the musicians settle into crowded rows in UNCW's practice hall. There are marching band drums in the closet, mismatched acoustic paneling on the walls. Rehearsal begins under the direction of conductor Steven Errante.

Errante: "Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev I think is one of the most beautiful, exciting, colorful pieces, all kinds of adjectives I could use there, from 20th century."

A few years ago, Romeo and Juliet would have been out of the grasp of the W.S.O. Errante has to balance his selections with the skills of his current players, skills that are improving.

Errante: "I think we have a process in the orchestra where every year in auditions we try to be a little bit more selective, so we're gradually moving from a community group that embraces everyone who wants to play music, to a group that has higher performance standards."

Even as the players become more skillful, the Orchestra still has a limited pool of talent to draw upon. Errante says Wilmington just isn't big enough to draw many professional musicians... Which can leave the W.S.O. out of luck when it comes to some of the more obscure instruments. Cellist Kathy Meyer has been with the orchestra for almost 20 years.

Meyer: "Steve has to carefully program the music so that we don't have to hire too many people with too many empty spots. We need a bassoon player to move to town really badly."

Errante: "From time to time, when there's an instrument we don't have a local player for, we hire people from out of town. So in this case, on the night of dress rehearsal, two bassoonists and a contra-bassoonist will show up and suddenly join the orchestra."

The orchestra's non-rented members range from high school and college students, to white-haired retirees. Taking on this composition, which vacillates between lush romanticism and darker, more jarring passages, can make for challenging rehearsals.

Errante: "Well, Romeo and Juliet just has a lot of intricate writing and so trying to get all those parts to coordinate when they're not all doing the same thing, that's really tough. And it has dissonance, and you have to play dissonance right. It can't be dissonant dissonance."

Cellist Kathy Meyer says for her, one big hurdle was just getting familiar with the piece.

Meyer: "Well, I went right out and bought it, and I really didn't like it at first. But it's a very interesting piece, I really enjoy it. And when you know the story, then it makes it even more interesting."

As the two hour rehearsal wraps up, the demands of the piece have second violinist Myra Wollins hurrying home... for more practice

Wollins: "There's one section, where the first and second violins play together at a speed that's outrageous and we, you know, we have to work for it."

As the musicians each work toward mastering this new piece, and expanding their overall repertoire, the orchestra as a whole is about to tackle the challenges of its growth. This winter the group begins a new long-range planning process, trying to match its evolving level of performance, to the expectations of a changing community.

Megan Williams, WHQR News