Musical Choreography

Musical Choreography

David Merseguer Royo


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.

The Lighthouse on-stage at the Royal Opera House

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.

David playing the bones in the pit

Were there any new instruments for you?
I’d never played the bones before this show. After the first rehearsal I kept the bones and went to my house and spent all night watching tutorials on YouTube. I was up all night practicing in the dining room – and I was kicked out twice by my girlfriend who told me to go upstairs and practice there! But now it’s one more instrument that I can play, which is good.

Finally, what’s the best thing about being a percussionist?
Here at Southbank Sinfonia, it has been the involvement and relationship with the rest of the orchestra. Every time my part provides an opportunity to lead the orchestra in terms of rhythms or crescendos, I feel like the concertmaster is really involved, looking and moving with me. Likewise, when I have something with the basses I feel like there is a lot of eye contact. When you get to the point where you sense the orchestra is feeling the same as you in that moment, it is a great feeling.

And then you get the chance to play a lot of loud things too!

Find out more about David Merseguer Royo here.

Southbank Sinfonia works in partnership with the Royal Opera House throughout the year, performing side-by-side with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and - as in The Lighthouse - providing the orchestra for productions with the Jette Parker Young Artists. Find out more about the partnership here.