I'm grudgingly impressed by Richard Strauss. Music was pouring out of him in a way that seems to have pushed everything "practical" aside. Did he even care whether what he was writing was possible for an orchestra?
Who writes "ppp" (meaning as softly as possible) for the clarinet on such a delicate high "E" near the end of this giant piece?!? Everyone's been playing for almost 30 minutes at that point, and the intensity has the orchestra feeling like it just bench pressed its own body weight in sound. You hardly have any strength left to make a sound at all, honestly. Then, Strauss asks you to be gentle, sweet, and soft in the most fragile high register of the instrument? What a monster!
It makes me smile though. It's miraculous music. In fact, I was laughing out loud as I was looking through the score. I remembered how hard this moment is to pull off (along with so many others for my colleagues). But, the audience loves it when you get it right.
So, how will I prepare for this? I've been practicing the piece "backwards" – working on the last pages first. This way I have maximum strength and flexibility available for the most transcendent moments and can experiment with different techniques and musical colors. I can condition myself to playing those phrases with beauty and openness. Hopefully this strategy will leave me with several good options for wherever the conductor wants to take the music. Will it work? It has to. The first rehearsal with legendary Maestro Neemi Jarvi is coming up tomorrow!