I was a classical page-turner: Peter Dobrin lends a hand

In solo recitals, players tend to memorize their parts, so page-turners are a moot point. In an orchestra, where parts are only a few pages long, players can photocopy, cut, and tape parts to avoid awkward page turns. When there are two musicians to a stand, one turns the page while the other continues playing.But in pieces like Elgar's thickly textured 40-minute Piano Quintet, played by the Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson not long ago at the Perelman Theater, the part is long, and the pianist is often in the middle of a line when the page runs out.

And so the present writer lent a hand.

Where I had expected the newly intimate perch to bring previously unheard insights into the mechanics of performance, only pure focus on logistics was possible - on the physical score, and getting out of the way of Ohlsson's left hand when it struck the lowest note on the keyboard.

Excerpts from the thought diary of a (very) part-time page-turner:

At the pace Ohlsson is going, and given the fact that he's not even looking at the music now, should I turn the page even though the page has three more bars to go?

The stiff binding has made the page bulge in the middle, so I can't see the music anymore. I think there are two bars there. Not sure.

Look - the piano writing here mimics the second movement of Schubert's

Arpeggione Sonata. I can't think about it now. Is that head gesture a signal that he wants me to turn the page, or is he just moving with the music?

 

"You were perfect - I hardly thought about you at all," said Ohlsson backstage afterward.

Not the sort of thing you want to hear after most personal encounters, but in page-turner parlance, it's praise.

- P.D.

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