80 minutes of near-continuous playing; thousands of notes across 13 instruments... Our percussionist David Merseguer Royo had his hands full during our critically acclaimed production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse at the Royal Opera House. How do you prepare for a production like that? We spoke to the man himself.
In a nutshell, what was The Lighthouse like for you?
The Lighthouse is one of the hardest parts I’ve ever played, but in a way it’s a percussionist's dream. It’s scary at the beginning, but once you’ve come to terms that you’re actually going to have to perform it, the whole thing becomes a challenge – and a very good one, because you don’t get many chances to play an opera like this.
@SouthbankSinf Your percussionist was man of the match tonight @TheRoyalOpera #TheLighthouse
— Gary Neil Cairney (@GaryCairney) October 23, 2015
How do you learn and rehearse your part?
I started to rehearse everything separately, focusing at first on the hardest elements – the marimba part and the timpani. You plan your set-up based on the changes of instrument in the score, so I started by thinking ‘marimba, then there’s one bar to move to glockenspiel so let’s put those together. And there’s two bars to move from marimba to timpani, so they should be nearby too’. It spans out from there.
Then I tried to memorise all the choreography, things like ‘leave the marimba sticks and go to the timpani; put the timpani sticks to one side because next time you’ll be here you’ll need other mallets’. The choreography is such an important part so you can focus on the music, otherwise you’ll suddenly find you’re not playing in the right place. For a percussionist, the choreography is almost as important as playing the right notes.
The first time I played with the full set-up was in the first orchestral rehearsal; that was the first opportunity to put it all together. It’s never going to be the first set up that sees you through to the show, it evolves through four or five changes as you find bits that need tweaking!
The score to The Lighthouse picks out lots of solo lines from amongst the orchestra. How did you see the percussionist’s role within the music?
Peter Maxwell Davies’ wrote very well. He blended the tone of my instruments with other sections and instruments, for example pairing my playing of timpani, tom toms and bass drum – the low stuff – with the cello, bass, viola or bass clarinet. The marimba often accompanied solo parts elsewhere, then with the glockenspiel and crotales it was usually with the flute or clarinet in the higher registers. The percussion parts were woven into the ensemble.