Nigel's Letter

Members' Information

A response to some comments on the recent Players’ Committee Questionnaire

Below are answers to a few questions resulting from the recent questionnaire. Rather than deal with each in turn, these are general answers as there are many overlapping points

 Firstly, it should be pointed out that just about every decision made on repertoire, soloists etc is directly related to money (or rather, the lack of it) and it would be possible to end this answer right here, however the points deserve a little more detail!

Regarding repertoire, it is simply impossible to please everyone, but there are many considerations in putting together a programme. Firstly I would like to outline the process and to assure everyone that although I do put forward various programmes they do go through vetting by the Trustees. If they were just my own personal preferences they would be very different and in any case I try hard not to let too much of my personal taste enter into the process as I realise that's it’s not to everyone’s liking! I am also aware that programme choosing by committee can result in the worst kind of programme, a mishmash of pieces and I am always keen to ensure that each programme has "integrity" through contrast, key structure (not all works in the same key, which would be unbelievably boring) etc plus the factors below.

 The main aim is to have at least one "popular" piece in each programme and largely this is achieved but equally important is to mix these with slightly less well known works. There is a real danger here that if you pander too much to the "we want to hear what we know" brigade you will end up playing the same handful of pieces for ever. What is a "Popular" work anyway and how many are there? Genuinely popular works perhaps number only about twenty. That should keep us going for a year and then what? It should be remembered, anyway, that at some point in one’s life you didn`t know any music. Even the popular pieces were new to you at some point, so why stop there? Looking back over the last five years these pieces have been programmed:


Enigma Variations


Symphony no 6 "Pastoral"


Hebrides Overture


Symphony no 2




Symphony no 8 "Unfinished"


Symphonies nos 4 &5


Symphony no 8


1812 Overture


Polovtsian Dances


Peer Gynt Suite


Thieving Magpie Overture


Cello Concerto




Emperor Concerto


Symphony no 2


Valse Triste


Violin Concerto


Piano Concerto no 1

Saint Saëns

Organ Symphony


Cello Concerto

If these works are not "popular" I don`t know what are! It should also be pointed out regarding comments about too many Mozart or Haydn Symphonies, that I don`t know what else can be played in the Sam Newsom Music Centre, as the number of players there has to be strictly limited. This really means Baroque and Classical works and Mozart and Haydn are central to this repertoire. Baroque works mean even less players and little wind but entail hiring a harpsichord (involving more expense), hence the emphasis on Mozart and Haydn. To put the record straight: the last five years have featured two Haydn Symphonies and two by Mozart! That's one each every two and a half years: hardly overkill for two of the giants of western music.

The reason why more modern works, including the suggestion of film music are not done is threefold. One, these attract very high royalty payments which the orchestra could not afford and also feature harps, celesta and masses of percussion which we just cannot get hold of. Two, the amount of rehearsal time is just too much for these complex scores. I have absolutely no interest in bashing through big scores without adequate rehearsal just to pander to popular taste and a less polished performance would risk alienating our faithful regulars. Three, see my final point below.

Another point which should also always be borne in mind is whatever programme is chosen, must be capable of being rehearsed in the time allotted which is severely limiting. A symphony is always easier to put together than suites and other such less tightly structured works that are more "bitty" because in symphonies there is much more repetition of passages meaning that rehearsal time is less. Whenever we have done suite-type works we have struggled and the quality of performance has been noticeably less good. I remember Grieg’s Peer Gynt when we only rehearsed Anitra’s Dance for the first time at 17.25 on the Saturday before the concert. Needless to say, it wasn`t one of our finest moments.

Soloists. Yes, the same soloists return frequently, but again there is a good reason. They are friends and contacts doing favours and playing for much less than the going rate. About two years ago, the Trustees asked to go for more high-profile soloists and very soon changed their minds when they saw the price! Unfortunately everything comes back to money.

The final and not insignificant point is the time it takes for me to learn a symphony or other large scale work. To do it well takes a huge amount of time. Time that I don`t always have readily available. Because of this fact, I try wherever possible to programme works I am doing elsewhere with other orchestras and so it’s understandable that some works chosen for Boston get taken to other orchestras as a two way process. If you want a different conductor, that’s entirely down to the orchestra. Nowhere is it written that I should conduct all the concerts!

In finishing, if you feel strongly that your points are not being addressed, then get yourself on one of the committees. It’s not a closed shop. All are welcome!

Nigel Morley

Principal Conductor, The Boston Sinfonia