Written by Amy Beth Horman
Published: August 22, 2014 at 1:15 AM [UTC]
DAY ONE Practice
As much as there is a ton of work to do when you accept this type of engagement, I took a while over coffee to think about strategy. Not just my musical strategy, but also my family life and work strategy as well. I spent some time rearranging the kid schedules and my teaching, carefully prioritizing what could be done before I left. I then pulled together my score and my solo part, looked at what recordings I had, and took some time to remember the last time I played it with orchestra, YEARS ago. I don’t know exactly why I haven’t been hired to play the Brahms in the last few years. I have done all of the other major concerti in that time period. I have however played it multiple times with different orchestras of varying calibres so this, in and of itself, is reassuring. This has necessitated me pulling it up into good shape many times but this time will obviously be different.
WARNING to non-violinists: This is about to get very nerdy. But I have had many people now ask me what I did to get it up in 3 days and so I am detailing my practice below.
My goal from the first day of practice was to be able to run it through by memory and in full by the end of the next day because that would be my only chance to run it through before leaving for New Jersey. Under normal circumstances, I run a concerto in full every night for 2 -3 weeks before a performance. So I had my work cut out for me.
The first thing I decided to do was identify the spots that are incredibly difficult to pull off specifically with orchestra. For me, these are not spots that I have trouble with alone or with piano so the experiences I have had performing it with orchestra come in handy. I mark off those spots immediately so that they get priority and have the most time to stabilize. Then I practiced well undertempo, calmly remembering different aspects of the technique needed as I went. I was able to raise the tempo gently for most of these sections and play them at 2/3 tempo by the end of day one with the technique well in tact and everything clean. But I know what I will put my body through with orchestra will be way harder so there is still a long way to go on these key sections.
Next I took a look at the bookends of the movements including the first movement cadenza. These in my view need to be perfectly executed and make musical sense to help the audience understand the concerto. So I practiced these spots specifically for musical line, projection, and beauty of sound. The beginning of the concerto has to sweep the audience in and the end feels like sunset and then fireworks to me. The beginning of the second movement needs to sing with a perfectly supple left hand and fluid bow and the end with the winds is sublime. I immediately remember how important my posture and breathing is in the opening of the third movement and how challenging the pacing is in the last page of the concerto. I have to breathe and use my technique in a specific way to achieve all of this so my goals for this got set right on day one.
With the bookends becoming clearer and the harder sections getting firmer, the rest of the concerto starts to become clearer for me so I look at the score from beginning to end to make sure I haven’t missed anything. The performance itself begins to feel more attainable.
(DAY ONE evening practice)
With my goal set to run through the entire concerto by end of day 2, I found myself back in the music room late at night on DAY ONE to go over the remaining sections of the concerto’s first and third movements. I divided my work into parallel sections so that anything that required similar techniques was practiced alongside each other. This way I am reinforcing the techniques just inside the order I practice. In the first movement there are two lush lyrical themes with tenths so I practiced the easier of them first to coax my body into remembering how to execute the right sound and bow distribution. There are also two technical sections that are very alike, one being slightly harder than the other, and I did the same work here. Everything is still at 2/3 tempo. I need to feel the line and the reflex memories are there helping things along but I know better than to force stress on my hands and go even close to tempo. Next I stitched these sections to see if I could keep them in tact and clean next to one another with the work I had just done.
I then played through the second movement to assess its weaknesses. I took notes on this because I knew there would be mistakes and there is a lot of ground to cover. This was an important step for me in the second movement because I had only covered bookends at this point along with the fingered octaves on the second page that I have always found difficult when placed with orchestra. I definitely can see it more clearly now.
Then I had a glass of wine and went to sleep wondering how much of that would retain for tomorrow.
Next up: DAY TWO Practice (and my one and only run through)