Something I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my years of orchestral playing is “go home and listen to this”. Mainly through the ingrained terror of being randomly put on the spot and asked my favourite recording of a piece, I have created a habit of making a playlist of my repertoire after receiving it. But why have my conductors insisted so firmly upon this?
Gain a better understanding of your own part
Listening to a recording will help you understand the nuances of your part and draw your attention to specifics such as dynamics and rubato. It will create a map in your head which will help you realise when you may be playing out of tune or the wrong rhythm. Sometimes (although it can be a little sacrilegious) it can even help to play along with the part to check your intonation, and that you are coming in at the right time.
Gain a better understanding of everyone else’s part
I find it extremely helpful when I am first learning a piece to sit down with my music or a score in front of me and listen to how my part fits in with the rest of the orchestra. Listen for rests, and audio cues from other sections to help you come in. Also take note of the places where you do or don’t have the melody and adjust your dynamics accordingly. By having a sense of the piece as a whole, you will be able to play much more musically rather than just bashing out your own part like a soloist.
Choosing a good recording
However, when listening to your piece be wary of dodgy recordings. Try and listen to multiple recordings to get a sense of the different interpretations of the piece and to create an informed perspective of how it should be played. Try and look for reputable organisations and high quality recordings. Always look for an orchestra that has expertise in the style of music you are playing, for example anything Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven look towards the Vienna Philharmonic.
Immerse yourself in the music
Create a playlist of the best recordings and listen to them whenever you get a chance – on the train, doing chores, homework etc. This will subconsciously give you a better understanding of the music and greatly help your playing.