Sunday, September 28, 2008

 

Wendy Warner


Wendy Warner played Prokofiev's "Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra in E minor" with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra last night as part of their "Russian Fantasy" concert. In his pre-concert lecture, conductor Randall Fleischer told us that this is one of the more difficult pieces for cellists and orchestras. I sure couldn't tell that by watching Wendy; she was clearly in complete control as her hands flew across the fingerboard with ease. Although I've had a recording of this piece by Mischa Maisky, I hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to it before this. But seeing this performance, live, sure has changed that.

Afterward, I was interested (and gratified) to hear Z comment that at one point he heard several phrases that sounded like they came from "Peter and the Wolf". There's hope for him, yet.

The concert also included a short piece by Shostakovich, Mussorgsky's fascinating "Suite from Khovantchina" and Stravinsky's "Firebird". It's too bad that Anchorage is so far away, or I'd go to many every ASO concert.

Comments:
I saw the Wendy Warner show too and I was looking forward to a review that would help explain to me what I had seen and heard. To my perhaps less-critical ears, it was a near-perfect performance of one of the most technically difficult pieces I've seen played. All those chords, playing as high on the bridge as a cellist can play, percussive sequences and yes, less-simple-to-grasp themes that really have to work hard to engage the listener -- and she made it look easy. Perhaps too easy. I wonder if non-cellists didn't realize what kind of show they were getting. I thought it was too bad that the Daily News review (by Mike Dunham I think) focused on some minor gaffe in the non-cello opening work; he also made a lot of comments about brass solos from the show's second half. I kept reading through it all, wanting to hear more what he thought about the CELLO!

I thought Wendy Warner was marvelous to hear and to watch -- I look forward to following her career.
 
I remember seeing Wendy Warner perform in a summer concert many years ago, during the Peninsula Music Festival in Door county, Wisconsin. The string teacher who taught me, had recollections of seeing Wendy perform as a child, during summer Suzuki camps. She remarked that Wendy was already good then!
 
Unrelated... but I tagged you in a blog meme, Guanaco.
 
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

 

Progress, I'm told...


At first it seemed as if my right arm had a mind of its own; my bow skittered all over the place and I missed a lot of string crossings. Not a good start to today's lesson (#57). So we stopped and did some open string work until I regained some control, more-or-less. Even worse, my intonation was pretty sloppy, today too. Aargh.

We worked on some position etudes from the Percy Such book my teacher gave me at the last lesson. I find them sort of relaxing - mentally at least - I do have to keep working out the kinks in my hands and wrists as I play them. I guess what I like about them is that after so much focus on playing musical pieces in the Suzuki and Mooney books, the basic ordinariness of these etudes is refreshing. After warming up on scales, I spend about 20 minutes or so on these, adding in a few new lines every day or so. This also got me to start using my metronome again after several weeks (months?) of "forgetting" to use it.

Next we worked on several parts of the Breval "Sonata" that I'd been focusing on, with lots of tips and suggestions for practicing these. Then we turned to "La Cinquantaine", one of my three selected performance pieces. As I stumbled my way through so much of it, I had to wonder what I'd gained from so much focused practice on this piece these past two weeks. Finally we spent a few minutes on "Humoresque", playing my toughest part. I'd worked on the rhythm and bowing for quite a while this week and was able to play that part fairly well today - at least.

Although my teacher pointed out several areas where she felt I'd made significant progress... [hmmm], I felt as if it just wasn't that good of a day. Well, maybe next time.


Saturday, Z and I will drive to Anchorage for a concert by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, featuring cellist Wendy Warner playing Prokofiev's "Sinfonia Concertante". The concert will also include pieces by Shostakovich, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky.

Comments:
How funny - the pieces you mentioned are exactly the ones I used to play when I was still learning!
Another really good book of Position pieces is:
Position pieces for cello by Rick Mooney

It does good target practise and a 'geography quiz' for each position
 
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

 

Adios to Two Cellobloggers


Today, I learned that two formerly prominent cellobloggers have deleted their blogs and exited the blogosphere .

Pink Fluffy Slippers' blog, "Cello, Et Cetera", was one of the first celloblogs I encountered not long after starting my own. We got to know one another through back-and-forth comments, and last summer (2007) I had the good fortune to actually meet her and play some duets together.

I also enjoyed reading Diana's blog, "Frog-Swans and Swan-Frogs", which largely dealt with her experiences as a teacher in the inner-city schools of New York.

Goodbye PFS and Diana. I hope you still drop by once in a while to visit my somewhat neglected blog.

Regardless, I will miss your blogs.

Comments:
Thanks, Guanaco, for your kind words. I will continue to visit your blog--I am glad it's there.

Diana
 
Aww...*sniff* Always sad to see another cello-blogger leave the scene. Of course, I shouldn't be talking- I've neglected my own blog lately!
 
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

 

Music Theory Class


Monday, after our orchestra rehearsal, we had our first of eight music theory classes with Maria Allison. She usually teaches this course at the local college, but since they decided not to offer it this semester, our cello quartet asked if she'd be willing to present the class for us and any other interested musicians we could round up. We ended up gathering fifteen students for this biweekly class - half are adult amateur musicians like me, and half are local high school musicians.

I learned a basic version of music theory in seventh grade (it was a required one-semester course back then). I spent my eighth-grade year attempting (and essentially failing) to learn the clarinet as part of the school marching band. The band teacher was big on theory and made sure we learned at least something about music, even if certain of us last-chair slackers did forge our mothers' initials on our weekly practice cards....

When I started learning the cello I was surprised how much of that theory was still with me; the basics, at least. Still, it took more than a year to convert my treble-clef reading ability over to bass-clef (even now, every once-in-a-while, I still see "C" and think "A".) Since my understanding of theory fades out somewhere in the early treatment of chords, I'm really looking forward to this class.

Cellocracy picked up a small part of another Christmas gig. We decided on a cool arrangement of "Carol of the Bells" for four cellos, done by Terry. We're also going to work on Apocalyptica's version of "Hall of the Mountain King". Their arrangement is wa-a-ay beyond us, but we think we can work out a presentable version sooner or later. It looks like a lot of fun.

Comments:
Hey G, it's PFS here. I've taken my blog offline and gone anonymous for the time being. The Apocalyptica sounds fun to work on. I see you just did Breval Sonata. That piece was stuck in my head for about a year after I did it. Not that I ever really got it into a finished state. :)
 
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

 

Lesson #56 notes


I played through the first 92 measure of Breval's Sonata, more or less satisfactorily, considering... Now work in the next 13 measures.

Focus extra attention on the eighth-note string crossings beginning at measure 29; also the triplet scales, USING A METRONOME!!!

Isolate the tricky passages and break them down into two- and three-note segments. Play through them over and over, varying the bowing, rhythm, tempos, etc. The idea is to get my fingers used to the combinations. Then return to the proper rhythm and bowing; and finally start adding in the notes preceding and following these segments.

Keep playing through the whole piece WITH A METRONOME but don't stop on any errors - over time they should slowly disappear after a lot of work on the isolated segments.

After a lengthy discussion about my continued frustration at my efforts in the Mooney "Position Pieces" book, I'm going to set it aside for now (yippee!). Instead, I'll start working on several pages from the "New School of Cello Studies" book by Percy Such. These straight-forward etudes drill all the positions up through 4th. After I've reached some sort of comfort level with these, I'll return to the Mooney pieces.

Continue working in the Mooney "Double Stops" book, pulling out the trickier parts for extra attention.

I picked out three pieces from the second half of Suzuki Book 3 to work on exclusively (as a review). Rather than spend time just playing these through over and over, I'm going to highlight the tricky parts that always catch me up, and zero in on them... After I've cleaned up these tricky parts, I'll add them back into the whole piece and work on "performance".

I brought up my vibrato exercises, and demonstrated where I am, so far. Apparently, my arm motion isn't too bad, but I definitely need to work on the finger motions: Pick a note - D on the A string, or even A on the D string - "find" the note with my fingertip and then flatten it by straightening the outer knuckle and then return to the pure note. Do these "oo-ee's" slowly; exaggerating the flat; and USE THE METRONOME!! Then pick up speed and shorten the range. Exercise all four fingers.


Cellocracy and our Community Strings Orchestra will play some pieces at an Evening of Classics presented by the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra on October 10th. Cellocracy chose one of the Rudolph Matz trios that we played at the lunch-time concert at the library this summer. We're reasonably good at this, but we've scheduled a session with our coach to fine tune it.

Comments:
Your goals are focused and well thought out. You'll continue to make great progress with your disciplined practice.

Which 3 pieces did you pick from Suzuki book 3? I either warm up or close out my practice sessions with both the Boccherini Minuet and La Cinquantaine.

For the past several weeks I've been revisiting the Breval. When I first played that 2 years ago I didn't like it, but it's grown on me now that I can play it better. It's worth the effort.

Thanks for the anniversary wishes!
 
Hi Donna!

I chose Bach's "Gavotte in C Minor", Dvorak's "Humoresque", and Marie's "La Cinquantaine" from Suzuki 3 to really focus on as "performance" pieces.

I've found myself enjoying Breval's "Sonata", maybe because I've approached it with much more discipline and am seeing reasonable progress.
 
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

 

Stoat


While I was working outside on one of my cars this morning, the cat casually sauntered by as if everything was cool. Trouble is, the cat is not allowed outside - without his front claws he's just not equipped to wander the woods at will (there are also dogs that roam by on occasion). So, he'd somehow escaped. It was funny how he acted as if all was just fine. He ended up sitting under the car near my storage shed.

When Y came out to collect him we heard this loud chattering coming from beneath the shed. Then a stoat peeked out at us and kept chattering as he ran back and forth under the shed, peering out at us from various openings. This guy seemed pretty curious about us and continued to pop out and stare at us for quite some time, before finally disappearing.

Stoats are also known as ermines; in the winter their coats turn pure white. A few years ago I thought I'd glimpsed a long thin white critter skimming along a snowbank near that shed, but I wasn't sure and never saw another trace. Since stoats live for 10 years, this could be the same one.

After consulting the trusty internet (when I was a kid, we used our Encyclopedia Britannica set) we learned some interesting facts about stoats: These cute little critters are in fact vicious killers; smaller than ferrets, they even prey on rabbits. But their usual diet consists of mice, voles, rats, birds, insects. I've always wondered why we have no mice sneaking in under the garage door to raid the cat and dog food supplies. Stoats can climb trees and run down the trunks like squirrels. No wonder the swallows avoid all the birdhouses. That might also explain why there are no rabbits around here.

At first we assumed that the stoat was complaining because we'd let the cat get close to its hideout. Now, though, I wonder if it wasn't actually telling us off because we'd recaptured the cat and taken away a rather substantial feast...

Comments:
Yikes! Watch out, Kitty!
 
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

 

The Cellist of Sarajevo


Steven Galloway begins his new novel, "The Cellist of Sarajevo" with a historical event, the story of the cellist, Vedran Smailovic, who defied enemy snipers and mortar shells to play Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio in G minor" in the middle of a city street in Sarajevo every day at four o'clock for twenty-two days to honor twenty-two of his neighbors who were killed on that spot by mortar shells while waiting to buy bread. Galloway presents three different perspectives on the siege of that city - a young sniper assigned to defend the cellist, a father attempting to cross the city to get clean water for his family, and a bread-factory employee just trying to cross one of the more dangerous intersections to get to work. Each comes across the cellist and pauses as his unexpected music momentarily transports them to a better time. Then the reality of their impossible situation returns and they resume their struggle to survive. The cellist in this novel plays only a minor role, being primarily a device to link together the stories of all the characters as they try to deal with the bizarre reality in their own ways.

This book calls to mind another recent novel about a fictionalized historical cellist, "The Spanish Bow", by Andromeda Romano-Lax. Andromeda (I love that name), who herself is a cellist, presents an enthralling story about a cellist, loosely based on the life and times of Pablo Casals. Unlike the cellist in Galloway's book who is not really the main character in the story, the cellist in "The Spanish Bow" is the focus of the novel, and we read about his life from the time as a young child he receives "the bow" from his absent father until he ultimately becomes one of the most celebrated cellists of his time.

It seems, as I watch way too much television for my own good, that more and more often one of the guest characters in the various series (frequently a child) is studying the cello. It seems to be a fad these days. A few recent movies present cellists as a main character [including "The Soloist", based on the book by Steve Lopez, which hasn't yet been released]. The depictions on TV are fleeting, almost superfluous. The movies are a little more engrossing, but I tend to get distracted watching the actor's simulated playing.

I much prefer to read about cellists. So from this fan: thank you, Andromeda Romano-Lax; thank you, Steven Galloway; thank you, Steve Lopez.

Comments:
I love reading books about cellists too. All is not harmonious with the original cellist of Sarajevo, however, who is unhappy about being portrayed in the novel. See: New York Times
 
When I first read the blurbs on the book's cover I was surprised to see no reference to the real Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic. His name is not mentioned anywhere until a brief author's note at the end of the book.

Smailovic's anger is understandable. I can see how he feels the book's author has stolen his identity and is capitalizing off his story. I would have liked to see the author [or at least the publisher] reaching out to Smailovic before the book was published...

Nevertheless, the book itself stands on its own as a remarkable examination of an extraordinarily brutal episode in our recent history.

Perhaps some accommodation could be reached between the author and the cellist if the author were to use some of his anticipated profits to fund some sort of music program in Sarajevo...
 
There's a CBC interview with Steven Galloway I linked to here (http://www.fuguestate.co.uk/2008/04/the-cellist-of-sarajevo.html). I can imagine he was inspired by the real story, but wanted to write his own version. There's much more difficulty in trying to interpret someone else's story sometimes - though it's too bad it was so close to the real life events that it angered the real cellist of Sarajevo. I haven't read it yet, the UK version isn't out yet I don't think.

If you extend your interest to upper string players too, an acquaintance of mine, Jessica Duchen, has recently published a neat book about Gypsy violin players called Hungarian Dances. I've started reading it and it's interesting. Though it will make you crave stew.
 
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

 

Back to Cello Stuff


I've almost made my way through the first part of the Breval Sonata. I'm taking it slowly, each day picking out various stumble spots to focus on for ten or fifteen minutes, then moving on. About once a week, I pick up ten more measures. I'm far from satisfied (I suspect I'll never actually be fully satisfied - there will always be that one [or ten] passage[s] that I can improve). But as I played it through today, several times I realized: "that used to be a stumble point... and that..."

So, progress.

With the "Sonata", the Mooney "Double Stops" pieces, the Mooney "Position Pieces", and my desire to continue working on the older Suzuki pieces, I find myself running out of time each morning when I practice. I've been juggling the play order each day so that I do manage to attend to each piece every day or so. But as we move back into orchestra season (we're supposed to have a concert in mid-October) and our cello trio/quartet is trying to figure out what next to add to our repertoire, I am once again wondering how the heck I'm going to find the time to work on all of these extra pieces.

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