There are many, many fabulous things about being a somewhat professional musician, things which I am trying to appreciate more as I move farther away from my previously chosen career. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, indeed. One of those things, one of my very favorites, is when a fresh perspective on an overplayed piece makes me see it in a new light and recognize it for the art it is. My best example of this occured in 2006 when Emmanual Villhaume spent an entire three-hour Civic rehearsal on Ravel's "Bolero", a piece mainly known for being the background music for a presumably steamy sex scene in the the movie "10". Usually seen as a fluff piece by professional musicians, we had spent almost zero rehearsal time on it up until that point, but our extremely enthusiastic french guest conductor deconstructed it and made us all realize that, yes, it's also a legitimate piece of classical music. (This experience was also notable because Villhaume rehearsed the Ravel ad nauseum while barely touching on an entire Mozart symphony, leading to an adrenaline-filled performance due to my recurring thought "I have no idea what his tempo is going to be! We only played this once!")
Now, I've had that moment with the Dvorak symphony I was writing about earlier this week. During our rehearsal yesterday with our guest conductor (the ever-inspiring and dedicated Mark Elder), he took the piece apart and showed us more of the structure and passion than we had seen before, leading to an intense and detail-oriented rehearsal style that is all too often missing from professional life. He reminded us that Dvorak was a peasant all of his life, and that we needed to remember that when we played his enthusiastic and dramatic music. As we worked through the third movement (based on Dvorak's ideas for an opera based on, of all things, Longfellow's "Hiawatha") Elder stopped us and said "You know, you'd be playing this much better if you hadn't heard it before." And he was totally right. I love being proved wrong sometimes.