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Rehearsal Strategies Towards Ensemble Cohesion: 

Performing the Sonatine for Flute and Piano by Pierre Boulez

Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre Studies on Artistic Research 2.




What is the relationship between ensemble cohesion and artistic interpretation? To what extent can ensemble cohesion obstacles be successfully identified and overcome? How can applied rehearsal strategies impact the quality of ensemble cohesion in live performance? 


As a classical flutist I have always felt confident to combine my instrumental skills with personal artistic interpretation in the rehearsal room. I could make sure decisions which shaped the piece in preparation, and these choices would usually lead to a confident performance. There was however one area in which I found my methods were improvised, amateurish and generally inadequate—ensemble cohesion. By that I mean, the rhythmic synchronicity of two or more players in an ensemble. When I began to scratch the surface, I understood that I was not alone in my shortcomings.


I learned that chamber music performers often manage these concerns intuitively, relying on approximate, self-constructed methods to overcome these problematic scenarios, just as I had done. The greater the complexity of rhythmic structures in a score, the more often cohesion challenges would arise. Overcoming these with improvised solutions demanded great amounts of time in the rehearsal room—time which I deemed could be better spent focused on artistic, interpretative decisions. And so, I arrived at the primary aim of my research; liberating the small ensemble from practical concerns to allow for greater freedom of expression.

To investigate this issue, I knew I would need to re-examine my own rehearsal processes. I chose a demanding work to test a more systematic approach. In this case it was the Sonatine for Flute and Piano by Pierre Boulez—a cerebral, serialist work which contains almost every imaginable rhythmic-based challenge for the small ensemble. Partnered with pianist Carlos Sanchis Aguirre, we prepared Boulez's Sonatine over a four-month period, incorporating rehearsal strategies in to our preparation. These strategies were gathered from numerous sources; personal interviews with established contemporary music performers (Ensemble Intercontemporaine), individual practice-based techniques adapted for ensemble work, analytical texts which proposed alternative rhythmic structures and re-notations and a small collection of my own personal approaches.


Once the strategies are outlined, this study invites the reader to follow my flute and piano duo's rehearsal arch, preparing for two performances of the Sonatine. I detail how those pre-defined rehearsal strategies were used, and to what extent they assisted us in overcoming cohesion-based rhythmic challenges in live performance. 

We discovered that implementing rehearsal strategies in our preparation had a positive impact on the overall artistic quality of the performances, and that combining multiple strategies was the most effective solution. The strategies could not relieve us of all challenges; but rather, they did help to minimise them. Ultimately, it was possible to attribute the overall success or satisfaction of our performances to the breadth of strategies employed during the rehearsal period, interlaced with key strategies engaged in concert.


I believe this book is a valuable resource in two distinct ways. It is a catalogue of useful rehearsal tools for others to implement in their preparation which is applicable to broader repertoire from the 20th Century onwards. Secondly, the research sheds light on how rehearsal strategies can enrich artistic integrity and performance quality.


– Jonathan Henderson, March 2019

Pierre Boulez - Sonatine pour flûte et piano
Play Video

Pierre Boulez – Sonatine for Flute and Piano [LIVE IN CONCERT]


Jonathan Henderson, flute 

Carlos Sanchis Aguirre, piano

17 June 2017. Tallinn, Estonia

Video courtesy of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre

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