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Is it possible, without any rehearsal, relying solely on sight-reading?
Are there any experiments of this kind with octets, nonets, maytbe entire orchestras?

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

Yes. High-paid studio musicians are all expected to sight read perfectly on the first read. There are even programs to illustrate and develop the skill for younger musicians. Many movie soundtracks are recordings of first-time sight reading.

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It's cheaper also. You don't have to pay musicians as much for time. – American Luke Aug 7 '12 at 19:47
However hourly rate can be around the $1000/hr mark, so cheaper is relative. – mjibson Aug 7 '12 at 22:38
Possible, but in reality how many composers and conductors are happy with the first read? It takes a number of rehearsals to get the nuances perfect. In movies, you may have other considerations that have to work with other sound elements (Foley, dialogue). A first read by competent musicians is certainly possible, but getting what the composer or director or conductor wants in a first read is rare. – filzilla Aug 8 '12 at 18:12
Anecdote I was told by my band director: over half of the recordings for the Star Wars Ep. 1 soundtrack were first reads. I think these musicians are some of the world's best, and can actually perform at that level. – mjibson Aug 8 '12 at 18:37
Singers are another business--I doubt Sinatra was reading from music at all in making that recording. It's a standard tune, so he probably reviewed the arrangement they had written for the orchestra with his producer beforehand and took many liberties with the actual line and words. That's what makes different singers distinctive. – NReilingh Aug 14 '12 at 16:16

I doubt, a full symphonic orchestra will achieve a breath-taking recording on the first attempt. Of course anybody knows its Beethoven, so it is not exactly sight-reading, but these points make it difficult:

  • the conductors individual interpretation

  • increased complexity of voice interaction

  • sheer area of a late-romantic orchestra make it challenge to hear soloists from remote groups

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