This is definitely one of the hardest semesters I've had to juggle in college, but I'm holding up well so far. Among other things, I'm taking two theory classes, Form & Analysis and 18th-Century Counterpoint; a music history class, Chamber Literature; and 2nd-year German. My German professor is from Munich and knows all the ins and outs of the language, of course, and as we have a class size of a whopping three students, she's able to help us with our accents and pronunciation more than she could otherwise. I'm much more comfortable writing, but I know that if I ever visit Germany or Austria someday, the conversation will be what counts.
I've reached a small milestone in that I can now sometimes predict fingerings and bowings Mr. Preucil will suggest to me. That tells me that I'm becoming a little more integrated into his style of teaching and understanding better his interpretations. It's also just helpful when I'm fingering/bowing a new piece myself and know, for example, that he'll want a certain passage commonly played on the A string on the D string instead, for color. Having studied with Mr. Ribeiro for the previous eight or so years, this is in some respects my first major teacher change, and while I still have some adjusting to do, virtually all my lessons are really engaging, and I hope the new perspective is giving me a wider palette of colors, sounds, and characters to choose from.
As things are now getting even busier with my recital in three weeks, I'm changing my practicing strategy. Thus far I've been doing good work but it's been so painstakingly detailed that for one thing, I don't touch all of my repertoire frequently enough. Particularly with excerpts, I now have to switch to simply running them, even or especially when cold, and learning to focus more quickly and be more comfortable getting through them. I generally indulge myself and stop at the first mistake to work, or play the opening a few times until it settles in, when I know better--auditions are a one-shot deal (unless perhaps you're asked to play the whole excerpt again faster, which is apparently a good sign, but certainly not relaxing). So my goal this week is to hit all seven excerpts every day, in between some orchestra, quartet, sonata rehearsals with pianists, and class.
With a new semester starting tomorrow, I've found the best strategy to battle feeling overwhelmed is just to simplify everything. I had a long relaxing break, caught up on sleep (even slept through midnight on New Year's Eve), saw a few friends in Chicago, and got a Powerbook for Christmas (I'm now a PC --> Mac convert), but didn't accomplish much musically. I got back to Cleveland early and was able to have a couple lessons before the semester's begun so I'm glad to at least have that head start. We've been covering the Debussy sonata for my recital, and I'm happy to say I think it will become very polished as I get more comfortable and familiar with it. Mr. Preucil is great at cutting through all of my detail work, which can get muddled and lose direction, and pinpointing the big aspects that need improvement. Essentially I already have a good idea of the nuances I'd like to be doing, but they're barely coming through because of the dynamics. My habit is to shut up whenever I see a piano, but in this kind of music I end up painting myself into a corner as the dynamics even lower than that are piu p, pp, and piu pp. In this respect many of the piano markings in Debussy actually indicate a warm, full, rich, deep, and expressive sound. It's often blasphemy to change a composer's printed dynamic, but in many cases I just have to upgrade the p to at least mp or mf to remind myself to play with a stronger character. Dynamics and tempos are the two areas I need to work on when I rehearse with my pianist.
Mr. Preucil also helped me with a neat trick for the first slow section of the last movement, which has a very coy, approximate, almost sleazy kind of character, and I was being too exacting about it. He's great at demonstrating all kinds of characters mostly because his body movements are like no other violinist's that I've seen, and he really looks like he's dancing, especially if he's trying to get a point across. Since it's chromatic, he had me play the passage with one finger to force me to play with less definition, and then just imitate that feeling with the proper fingering. It had an immediate effect. The very next bar then had a slide, which I don't consider my strong point usually because I'm generally too concerned with hitting the note to imbue it with any more character. If there's one thing Mr. Preucil enjoys it's making great slides and he's often very spontaneous and playful with them, so he showed me how to scoop into the note from underneath (even though it's not physically possible to dip below the fingerboard), rather than aiming for it straight on and making it sound colorless.
I also get to work on about seven orchestra excerpts with him, which always sort of weirds me out because I'm too conscious of playing them for the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra who knows them backwards (I'd use the cliched back of the hand analogy, but I don't think people actually pay that much attention to the backs of their hands) and has heard the same mistakes or the same insensitivities hundreds of times. I actually have his excerpts CD which is a good starting point and saves me some time in the lesson. Thus far we've worked on Mozart 39, which I was trying too hard to keep within the Classical style and didn't make enough dynamic and character difference in--the forte shouldn't be rough but definitely has a rustic, earthy sound--and Strauss Don Juan, in which there were a few too many places where I forgot to start from the string. When I started doing that it went from sounding okay to really focused and clear, and I was happy to hear Mr. Preucil say he thought this would be a strong excerpt for me eventually.
My trick as far as keeping up practice motivation is to deceive my brain into thinking I have lowered standards to meet, when really it's just that I have only one or two simple goals for each session. I can easily spend hours trying to perfect less than a page, and while it's good work and not necessarily a waste of time, it doesn't help me feel like I'm making the steady progress I need to make or fully prepare me for a lesson. So typical goals are now, "finger and bow this excerpt," "metronome work on this section," "cover difficult passagework," or just "be able to play the movement through decently." The more clearly I divide pieces into chunks in my mind, the more accessible it becomes as a work to take apart and put back together again. Then an extra focus on uncomfortable transitions between sections helps to smooth things out as well. In this way, I hope, the seemingly unmanageable task of preparing recital and audition repertoire within a month is somehow tamed...
One helpful thing that I feel a compelling need to praise CIM for is sensitivity to student recital dates. I squinted at the orchestra board for a couple minutes looking for my name before realizing I had been rotated out of both of the first orchestra concerts in February because of the timing of my recital. That frees up a lot of afternoon and evening time and makes me quite glad and grateful.
And a final thing--I'll be attending the Viola Congress in Montreal this summer! I was at the one in Seattle in 2002 and they are really fun (and I actually mean that entirely without any sarcasm). They get an incredible number of great professional violists to lecture, give masterclasses, and perform in the span of five days, so the schedule every day is something to look forward to. The Congress is open to violists/viola enthusiasts of all levels as well as parents or spouses, and very welcoming. It's also a good place for luthier exhibits so there are always instruments and bows and try and new music to look at. The final gala concert is a big event and I still remember the one almost four years ago, which included Roberto Diaz performing the Rosza Concerto in one of the most amazing solo performances I've seen, and Bruno Pasquier performing Berlioz's Harold in Italy. I am always a bit sad that violinists as a whole don't seem to feel enough camaraderie to put together an event as spectacular as the International Viola Congresses, unless of course it's a major competition like the Queen Elisabeth. This website at least seems a good start towards creating that more open and friendly kind of society.
Happy New Year to everyone.
Added new tracks, third movements of Strauss and Brahms 1 Sonatas, at download.com.
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