Sunday, April 23, 2006

 

du Pre


I'm currently reading Carol Easton's biography of Jacqueline du Pre. I've never heard anything by her, but I've heard so much about her. Of course there's the movie "Hillary and Jackie", from 1998. I've not seen the movie either, but I'm looking forward to it. I'd already planned to buy some of her recordings... at least her Elgar Cello Concerto, from 1965. It's interesting to see the other side of the British musical scene that was going on at the same time as the tidal wave of rock and roll: Daniel Barenboim (of course), Zuben Mehta, Pinchas Zuckerman, Itzhak Perlman, as well as Casals, Pleeth, Rostropovich, and on and on. What a combination!

With my cello, I am steadily sawing away at the same old pieces, taking them slowly, part by part. It appears to be working. Problem areas have "appeared" that I hadn't realized I'd been glossing over because of my too-fast playing. For example, I ran into trouble with the first bar of the B part of Rigadoon. I thought I'd done it fine, but when I started slow playing, I realized I had been having some trouble with the 1-2-4 finger placement at the eighth note speed. Now I'm working through this and other areas and I'm finding the pieces are beginning to sound even better.

Lately, I've been warming up playing scales - primarly C (two octaves), G, and D. Then I've been running through basic chord/arpeggio progressions in each of the scales. I've noticed that I'm getting sweeter sounds out of each note - clearer with more ringing. I'm hearing cleaner vibrant notes, such as E and F# (on the D string), and B and C# (on the A string) that I'd not been able to find before; and I can immediately tell when I miss a note, and by how much.

I switched back from the Dominant A string to the Spirocore A that came installed on the cello when it arrived from Ifshin. It's not quite as "bright" and seems to match the Spirocore D, better. Now that it has been broken in, I'll carry the Dominant as a spare.

Today, I worked fully through The Happy Farmer without error, and more-or-less at proper tempo! I know I've said this before, but today it felt right, finally! I still have a few weak parts in the Bach Minuet #2, but I'm getting better and better as I slow-play each of the tough sections. At the end of each session, I'm working on two fiddle pieces (Hunting the Hare and Country Gardens). I'd never heard the first one, and I am struggling with the rhythm. The second one is quite familiar to me, and I found I was able to play it quite quickly as soon as I realized what tune it was (and after I got the first few notes and the basic rhythm). I've got a long way to go before I can play these at proper tempo, but I'm encouraged...

Friday night I went to a cello concert by LA cellist, Andrew Cook, sponsored by our local Performing Arts Society. I even enticed Z to come along. I didn't expect to infect him with classical music, but I did want to expose him and let him make up his mind based on a real experience rather than rely on hearsay from his peers (he paid careful attention throughout, asked some interesting questions, and seemed to enjoy it). We sat in the second row on the right side at the center aisle, giving us a clear view of the cello, his bowing and fingering.

Cook was scheduled to play the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suite #3 in full. At the beginning, he announced he'd only be playing three of the five parts due to a recent injury that had been acting up. This was my first opportunity to see a cellist playing solo since elementary school (I'm not that sure I even saw one back then, but our school had many concerts - unlike today's education system). I think he had a small problem with his A string - as if it had loosened slightly as he played. I heard a few notes that just didn't sound quite right to me. I noticed he also shook out his left hand several times between movements. Clearly it bothered him.

In spite of all this I was captivated by the sound and by watching his hands and fingers. I noted how he held the bow - a lot lighter than I hold mine, yet he pressed it quite firmly into the strings as he played. But of course watching his left hand flying up and down the strings at dizzying speeds had me spellbound. It was over all too soon. (As soon as he went out of the hall into the lobby, I heard him retuning the A string...) I bought his CD at intermission...

The next piece was a sonata for Cello, Clarinet, and Piano by Beethoven. Wow, was it different! I'd never heard a cello and clarinet together, anywhere. There were several points where the two sounds merged into a wonderful new combination - especially in the lower registers. After a few years playing the clarinet, I had some doubts about how it would work out with the cello, but no longer. The final piece, a Piano Trio by Clara Schumann featured Andrew Cook on cello, Maria Allison on the piano (more on her later), and Emily Grossman on violin - wow, she is good! I'd never before heard this beautiful piece, with a lot of expression and variety. It gave each player several opportunities to "take" the lead and soar off on their own for a moment before bringing the other two back in.

Afterwards, I went up to Andrew and introduced myself as a novice cellist - "Never Too Late". He said he'd understood there weren't any cellists in the Soldotna/Kenai area; I told him I had to go to Homer for my lessons; he knew my teacher by name saying he'd met her years before (she didn't tell me that when I'd talked to her about this concert). I asked about his cello - it's an Amati model (slightly smaller than the Strad); about 10 years old; he also owns a 1790's cello but was worried about Alaska's dryness and cold so he doesn't bring that one up here. I commented that the back looked like it was made from a single piece of wood; but he said it was actually two - just carefully matched up; I also commented that I'd noticed him shaking his left hand and asked about his injury - he said he'd had surgery about 8 years ago and was told he wouldn't be able to play again, but he'd persisted and came back; but now it was causing him trouble. He said he'd been playing too many concerts lately and should be resting more.

All in all, I found it very captivating and am even more motivated to continue my meager efforts ... Even though I don't see myself ever playing that sort of venue, I sure would like to be able to sit down and play with other musicians in a friendly setting. I'd guess I'm many years away from being able to do that much.

Comments:
I don't think you need to be years away from playing with other musicians! I've only been playing for 6 months or so and I'm playing with an amateur string ensemble. I'm a bit over my head, but it's a good challenge.

It depends what you want of course, like you said in one of your other posts. But for me, playing with other musicians gives me the motivation to keep working hard on my own.

I have a copy of that du Pre Elgar concerto. It's so emotional, though I've heard the cello she recorded it on (Yo Yo Ma has it now) was one she didn't get on with, she fought it apparently. Interesting to think about having such an intense relationship like that with an instrument.
 
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