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The 'Ein Heldenleben' Journey: Finale

Daniel Tan

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Published: February 27, 2015 at 11:23 AM [UTC]

This can also be read here at my personal blog along with reviews, and other posts about travel etc.

To be honest, I haven't provided more parts and insight into this because I actually got quite busy once February began. The hunt for a new violin has been sapping a lot of my time and energy. Plus it's honestly quite distracting to your progression repertoire-wise because you often find much of your attention directed to the new violin rather than what you're playing.

Irrespectively, my preparation of the excerpts and Heldenleben continued on through all of this (as it had to). The first two weeks of February were a bit of a rough patch. Practice was a bit inconsistent at times due to other commitments and I didn't really feel like progress was being made. By this point, technically, most of the excerpts were fairly comfortably under my fingers. I didn't struggle to hit notes, or to perform all the virtuosic gestures. Despite the progress technically, I hit somewhat of a wall musically. At this time, I was also trying to sort out as many kinks in the first movement of Saint-Saens 3, which I was also to play in my audition.

I continued to listen to what players on YouTube and other recordings were doing, and essentially tried copying as many things as I could before settling on what I liked. It become a process of continually daring myself to be more outlandish, more creative, different and diverse. A lot of the times, many of the things I tried didn't turn out so well. However, slowly through trial and error, I began to hit more interesting ideas and interpretations. The solo was slowly but surely becoming mine in a way.

While my teacher and I spent a lot of time on the Saint-Saens, we didn't have any time to cover my excerpts. She suggested another prominent teacher in Melbourne who I might go and have a lesson with on Heldenleben. Unfortunately due to her performing/rehearsal commitments, the earliest I could get a lesson was 3 days before the actual audition. Better late than never!

The thing I must admit I find amusing yet annoying at the same time is the fact that no matter what you throw at a piece, no matter how good you feel you become, a good teacher always somehow seems to open up an untapped source of ideas and possibility. They don't always help you see more detail in your current line of sight, rather, often they encourage you to look a little to the right of where you previously were. This is what this teacher was able to achieve in the short hour we spent on these excerpts. I began to achieve more of the character, as well as a greater deal of contrast. It was a slight relief to be honest, that I wasn't going to be stagnated in the remaining days before my audition.

In fact, the last few days didn't seem to be enough to try all the possibilities I was now aware of. Indeed the more I read about the piece, the more I felt able to incorporate the character of Strauss' wife into my playing. It was wonderful and refreshing, to be able to be at a technical point to try lots of new ideas. However, this process had a time limit on it for now, and I had to settle on an interpretation I was happy with for the time being. I shut my violin case that evening, content I was ready as I could be by this point.

My audition was scheduled for 9:30am the following morning, so to give myself plenty of time, I arrived at university at 8am to run through some scales, the excerpts and my solo piece. I felt fairly calm and secure at this point, and intonation seemed to be behaving which relaxed me considerably. It did help that I had a good accompanist (with whom I have a great working relationship) and after we finished running the Saint-Saens, we just enjoyed a casual conversation. I was allowed into the audition room early, since some of the panel members were running slightly late, which let me relax into the space a little. I've performed in this auditorium many times before, but auditions are auditions; sometimes I feel like no amount of experience helps.

Starting with the Saint-Seans, whilst intonation was a bit wobbly, I felt calm and I was enjoying playing the piece until I was cut off much earlier than expected. This in itself was a bit disappointing since I had been looking forward to playing it through. After this, I played excerpts by Brahms and Beethoven as I had predicted, before being asked for a bit of Heldenleben. In this instance, I realised very quickly that my preparation had paid off. I actually felt the most comfortable with this excerpt and didn't feel scared to be virtuosic (which is often the case in performance). It wasn't perfect, but I got through it relatively unscathed and my body hadn't tensed through it (for me, the ultimate sign of knowing something well). On the whole, my playing wasn't spectacular, but it certainly hadn't been a bad experience, which as far as auditions go, is about as much as you can ask. I'm still waiting to hear about the results.

Upon reflection, if you spend two months with a three minute stretch of writing, you're bound to become very familiar with it. I'm incredibly thankful that I got to spend a lot of time on this piece of writing. It taught me to be very thorough and holistic in my approach to playing. From technique, to music, to the academic and historic element of it. I threw everything I could think of to improve my performance of it, and whilst I'm probably not ready to perform it in a concert hall yet, I now dread the day I have to a little bit less.

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