Probably every musician has that one piece that keeps coming back to haunt them (in their dreams, nightmares, real life, etc.). In my case, this piece is Verdi's Overture to La Forza Del Destino. This part - often devilishly fast and containing lots of complicated pedal changes - comes up on numerous audition lists and concert programs. I haven't kept track of how many times I've played it for auditions, but to date, I believe I have played this piece in concert at least seven times in the last ten years - five of those were in the last year alone. After practicing and rehearsing and performing La Forza so many times, I feel like I am finally starting to lose my fear of it.
La Forza Del Destino, Take One:
I was sixteen the first time I played La Forza, in my first year of youth orchestra (and only my second year of playing in any orchestra). This piece terrified me. I remember I could get through the first couple of phrases okay, but when that pedal-y section hit, I was a goner. I worked my butt off practicing for that concert (concerts? I think we played it more than once), and I was so disappointed that I could never pull it off perfectly. If I could talk to my younger self, I would say, take a chill pill Kate - you will have so many more shots at this.
La Forza, Take Two:
I didn't have the chance to perform this part again until I was 21, in my senior year of college. My harp teacher couldn't be there for the first performance of the local symphony orchestra, so she asked me to take her place. The theme for the concert was a night at the opera, and we were playing lots of major opera rep with big harp parts - Carmen, Song to the Moon from Rusalka, lots of Puccini, and - you guessed it - La Forza del Destino. I think the fact that there was so much playing on this concert meant that I couldn't stress too much about La Forza, so it was good that I was so busy practicing other things. I remember that the tempo was merciful, and I had my friend and rockstar harpist Mikaela Davis backing me up on the second harp part.
La Forza, Take Three:
I had yet another long gap before I would play La Forza again, and this time came in the middle of the Christmas season - the busiest time of the year for any musician. Last year (when I was 25, ,if anyone is doing a timeline) I got a last-minute call to play for a youth orchestra on Long Island. "Oh yes, we're doing La Forza, and the concert is in three days." PANIC MODE. I spent the next several days freaking out practicing for this performance. In the end, I needn't have worried - the tempo they took was very slow. But it was good to know I could pull it back on such short notice.
La Forza, Takes Four, Five, and Six:
The next three takes of La Forza were interesting, and were also more fun. I had plenty of time to prepare the part (and had already been practicing it for an audition), I got three opportunities to perform it with the same orchestra in the space of a few weeks, and I got to play with an old friend from the Brevard Music Center, Liann Cline, on second harp. Although I of course kept the part on the stand in front of me to count measures and make sure I came in correctly, I had the part memorized and didn't bother looking over at the page while I was playing. Some of the venues we played in were quite small, and most interesting was when we had to squish ourselves into a church to play in a line.
And that brings me to...
La Forza Del Destino, Take Seven
This was another last minute call, again in the middle of the Christmas season. The people hiring me didn't send me a part (it is on IMSLP) and I didn't have my part with me. Since I was in the midst of driving to Connecticut and playing a run of The Nutcracker, I didn't have time to really think about it. I knew I had the harp part memorized, and didn't need to look at it to practice. However, when I got to the sound check before the performance, I realized they weren't going to give me a part to look at either. If this had been any other piece I probably would have freaked out, but I felt barely ruffled. I prepared and performed the part in a matter of four days without ever once looking at it.
This means I win, right?
It's not like La Forza will ever go away, for any of us harpists. It's a part that has followed me from my very beginnings in youth orchestra and will likely pursue me for the rest of my life. You want to go another round, Verdi? I'll be ready for the next time.