As part of my gig at AACC, I come in every other week and play with their orchestra and do stuff like run sectionals and make terrible puns from the back of the cellos. I emailed the conductor and asked her what we were playing, just so I could dig through my parts and freshen up what I surely thought would be a rehash of something I’d played before. I may have been away from big-time orchestral playing for a year or so, but before that, it was a downright repertoire melée: I have definitely played some music.

She told me we were playing the Chopin piano concerto No. 2 (check), Overture to Der Freischütz (no check, but do-able) and Borodin Symphony 2 (what?). I went to my beloved IMSLP, downloaded it, and played along to YouTube.

Ok, first off: 1/1? That’s not even real. It’s like the key of C# major. I do not accept it. Pretend music is in that key. Ok, maybe not, but you must appreciate my sense of outrage at this.



I scanned the pages and listened to the recordings twice. It’s one of those pieces that looks pretty innocuous in terms of notes, but it completely gets you with the combination of weird time signature and his whole, “I’m not going to write this melody the way the ear thinks it should go” complex.

Everything has to be a little jaunty, eh, Borodin?

This reminds me of a story. If you listen to the cello melody at the .32 mark, it sounds like it’s interrupting itself or can’t get on the necessary footing to be something you’d walk out of the concert hall whistling. He means well, but I find it a little silly. When I was studying Elgar with Andrew Cook, I was trying really hard to differentiate my interpretation from Jackie’s. In my youthful efforts, I ended up adding stresses in all kinds of weird places, causing Andrew to wave his hand from across the room and dismissively say, “You sound like you’re throwing up all over yourself.”

I can laugh about it now.

And I do.

Back to Borodin. I practiced the tough parts slowly, then ran whole movements multiple times. It was about 3 hours of solid gnarl on the loaner cello Perrin & Associates has lent me while my ax is in for some major work. My fingertips burned and my right shoulder threatened tendinitis, so I reached into the cabinet for some Scotch ibuprofen and I kept playing. The sun started going down, so I went for a quick jog around the harbor, listening to more Borodin and compelling my burning extremities to last a few more hours. A shower, some kinesiotape and two glasses of Cab Franc later, it was back to the grind.

At 9:19pm, the phone rang. I’d been invited to late dinner down the street. It tasted like Borodin with a side of Borodin sauce.  I’d been brined in that symphony. The next day I went to rehearsal, and though it wasn’t perfect, it hung together reasonably well. My fingertips were swollen, my arms ached heavily at my sides, but I had learned the symphony in a day.

I do not recommend it.