Cristian Gruber

Let it Snow!! (But not too much!)

January 19, 2012 13:35

So as you all may or may not know, Seattle has been completely immobilized by our latest snow blizzard, which has in fact made national news:

It has even come to the point where the Seattle Symphony has had to cancel a concert featuring Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony on account of inclement weather (this has been something that has never happened in my memory for the 14-15 years I've lived here).

For me, school has been cancelled, and so have symphony rehersals, which is a bummer considering that our concert is next week. I'm sitting here at home now, not doing much. Getting in some practicing and studying between periods of shoveling snow and watching Jackie Chan movies.

Now I realize that many of you who live in Canada, Europe, or the East Coast might probably laugh at this, but the fact is that when it snows in Seattle, no one is ready. Even if it snows a little bit, it's still dangerous to drive, given the fact that we have an innumerable amount of steep hills and drivers who have no idea how to drive in the snow. Last time it snowed, it took me about two and a half hours to get home, and along the way my scenic view was dotted with car wrecks and busses in ditches. Personally I'm glad they cancelled school, not because I don't want to study, but because I don't want to spend three hours getting home in knee high snow, or worse, being stuck in a ditch.

Right now, my biggest fear is a power outage, since we'll be left without heat in this blizzard. But as long as I have my violin and my laptop (and a couple of thick layers), I'm not worried.

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There is more to life than vibrato

January 13, 2012 22:40

Last night as I was studying, I came across a recording of Joseph Joachim playing Brahms Hungarian Dance No.1 on Youtube. Absolutely stunning performance, even though the recording was old, Joachim's perfect musicality still managed to transcended the recording's technological imperfections.

I remembered reading somewhere (I think it was Bachmann's Encyclopaedia of the Violin), that Joachim and violinists of his generation didn't use vibrato, or that if they did, it was used very sparingly. After hearing this recording, I realized that this was in fact the case, much to my surprise, Joachim used vibrato at most 4-5 times, whereas any modern violinist would have used it 90-1000 times! Also to my surprise, it sounded unbelievably expressive and musical.

As modern violinists we are taught that vibrato is the hallmark of expressive, passionate playing, and that without it music is dry and boring. Clearly, whoever told me that never listened to Joachim play (nor Auer for that matter). I actually remember that in his "Violin Playing as I Teach It" Auer devotes about half a chapter to rant against the use of excessive vibrato. Before last night, I thought that this was an old fashioned view, and that in our modern era, music making was less, pardon my expression, "uptight". However, after hearing Joachim play, I decided that maybe I was wrong, maybe there was something more meaningful in life than vibrato.

I decided that I would test my theory the next day, see if I was right, and if one can actually play gorgeous music without the need for vibrato on every single note. So I did. I got to the University, entered the practice room, and decided that the Bruch 2nd mvt. would be my guinea pig. I began on the sustained G note, careful not to let my instincts get the best of me. At first it was tedious, it sounded like drinking mineral water instead of delicious Orange Cream Soda, but then I realized how, actually, there was much more room for expression.

I began to see the piece more clearly than I ever have before, and I began to notice things about my playing (mainly my intonation, tone and phrasing) that I had never even heard. In perticular, I began to notice nuances in the composition itself more clearly, and quickly realized that my phrasing, in fact my whole interpretation of the piece was going against that grain of its ultimate "intention" if you will. I stopped and asked myself (silently): "Could it be that my entire stylistic approach to music is centered on vibrato, rather than clear phrasing? Could it really be that vibrato doesn't make the music more musical, contrary to popular belief?"

I started the Bruch once more without vibrato, and I felt as if I finally understood that movement, and that I could finally play it as it was intended. I gave more thought to my bow, not just for dynamics, but for color and texture, it was like stepping into a completely different dimension as far as violin playing is concerned, and it felt strangely liberating to put my vibrato on the sidelines and concentrate on the real music. In that moment, it dawned on me that all my life, I have had an impression about violinistical interpretation that was wrong: you don't need to overemphasize anything (with vibrato) to make it beautiful, because the beauty is already there, what a musician needs to do is to bring that beauty out through their nuance and phrasing, not through an endless handshake!

Now that doesn't mean that I'm done with vibrato forever, merely that I finally understand that it is only the cream on the cake, and if you have a cake made mainly of cream, well it would be only cream, not a cake! I now feel that maybe in our modern conception of music, we have lost sight of what is really important in music: the music itself. Many violinists today that I hear (both students and seasoned professionals) put their vibrato at the foundation of their playing, as if to say to the audience "Look how passionately I can play" but really, vibrato does not equate to passion, because passion is within the player and within the music. Passionate playing merely involves taking that passion, and, with alot of controll and sensitivity, making it obvious to the audience.

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