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Brian Hong

Preludio-Three Weeks of Stress, Fun, and Friendship

August 10, 2008 at 8:46 PM

Wow……seven weeks at three different camps; I am now done with my camps for this summer. This has been one of the most beneficial three months of my life….musically and personally. Not only am I a much more stable and musical violinist, I feel as if I have finished up the summer as being a better person, which is a great feeling.

About three weeks ago, I finished a camp called Preludio which took place at Ithaca College in the beautiful mountains of Ithaca, New York. It was great, because it had top notch teachers and really nice people. One of the great things about camp was the fact that there were only 11 kids.
Every year Thomas and Allegra Wermuth, the two teachers there, select 11-13 students to join their camp and to come and have an intense three week personal session with them to improve their technique, musicality, and musicianship.

Tom and Allegra are great. They are by far two of the best teachers I have ever known, and they are also such great people. Tom, whom I had the honor of studying with for the duration of Preludio, is a Juilliard trained violinist and a nationally recognized teacher who resides in Chicago, where he has his own teaching studio. (Funny little side anecdote-my own private teacher studied with the same teacher as he did when they were kids in Kentucky!) Tom is such a great guy-he is hilarious, and his teaching is very direct, although he is kind. He makes you really think about the piece you are playing and what you want to do musically with it. At the same time, he slowly chips away at your technique, making you incorporate it into the music without you knowing it. He’s that good. His daughter, Allegra, is a fine violinist who resides in Colorado, where she plays in the Colorado Symphony as assistant principal second violin. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to study with her at this camp, but I do know that she is quite picky about your intonation. All of her students said that they always left her lessons feeling like a much finer violinist.

The repertoire required for Preludio was vast: we had to prepare 5 group pieces (most of them arranged by Tom for a two violin group and piano, with two of them having solo violin), an assigned Kreisler piece (I got Praeludium and Allegro-yay!), two Paganini caprices (I got 14 and 17), a full scale system in one key which included three octave scales, arpeggios, thirds, sixths, octaves, and harmonics (I got Bb), and we had to bring a prepared solo piece (I brought the first movement of the Barber concerto). To prepare all of this, we needed all the practice time possible to ourselves. You would think that there was assigned practice time for us, but, surprisingly, there wasn’t. All of our practice time was voluntary; we weren’t required to practice, but most of the kids were so disciplined that they couldn’t go a day without practicing (they would feel too guilty). 4-5 hours a day was the minimum for us, but we would usually go on beyond 6. I believe there was a day when a couple of us went up to 8-9 hours of practice……all voluntary.

However, we campers didn’t spend the ENTIRE day locked up in our practice rooms. We had to wake up early in the morning, about 6:30 AM, to get ready and be at breakfast by 7 AM. Then we had group class directed by Tom at a small place called the Chapel at 8 AM, followed by practice, coachings with our accompanist (a fine pianist named Melissa Zindel), or lessons with Tom and Allegra. All of our classes took place at the chapel-it was a small church-like dome with beautiful, somewhat forgiving acoustics and a nice little grand piano. At noon, we would have lunch, followed by technique class at 1:30 with Allegra. During these classes, we would either work through scales, work on bowing technique in the Sevcik exercises book (groan), or play our Paganini caprices for Allegra. Those days were nerve-wracking; she would sit in front of you with the rest of camp watching you struggle through your chosen caprice, and she would take notes on a notepad on what you needed to improve on. Nonetheless, we all learned very much from these sessions. Then, at 2:30, Tom would arrive and we would have performance class. Melissa, the accompanist, would arrive and sit at the piano, and Tom and Allegra would call up two or three people to come up and play their solo for them. Then they would spend 10-15 minutes critiquing you on technique, musicianship, and musicality. To put it simply, these were essentially masterclasses. After that we had the rest of the day to relax and practice.

Some of the students were selected to play on solo recitals. On the second week of camp, a whole horde of Suzuki campers arrived and they held daily recitals in a small recital hall called Hockett. If you showed improvement, and if you played your piece well in performance class, you would be chosen to be put on one of the recitals. I was lucky enough to be put on the first recital with my Barber, which went really well. Sure, some notes were out of tune (okay I give-many of my ascending lines were quite flat, and my first loud run all the way up the E string to the top E was completely off), but it was an overall convincing and creditable performance. Several others were put on recitals throughout the three weeks, but one person who stuck out at me was 17 year old Forrest McKinney. He is a really huge dude, a Jolly Green Giant, as Tom called him, and he was playing the first movement of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. During his first performance class, he was quite energetic, but his movements and musicality were far better than his interpretation of the piece. However, after some critique and lessons, his Lalo became much better. Later, at his recital, he played with such an intensity that I was literally blown out of my seat, plus he hit most, if not all of the notes! This is just one instance of Tom and Allegra’s magic.

We had many other performances as well. One night was dedicated to our Kreisler pieces. That concert was epic, in a good way. Everyone played up to their full potential, except for me (but then, I am the harshest critic of my own performances). Four performances were really fabulous, however. Forrest played La Gitana, and it was absolutely stunning, technically perfect, and intense. Another great interpretation on the concert was Liebesleid, performed by a really cool kid named Will Reynolds-Ejzak. I really felt the music, and his tone was very refined. A girl called Emily Mather played the Danse Espagnole (truth be told, that might not be her piece, I forgot what it was called). It was the hardest piece on the program-and she pulled it off very well. However, the best performance of the night was a piece called Midnight Bells played by Kiyoshi Hayashi. Kiyoshi, my roommate, is a tiny kid. However, everyone is always blown out of their seats when he starts playing. His tone is the definition of sweet, his technique is flawless, and he is also really intense onstage. His vibrato is to die for as well. Because of this, his rendition of his piece was too beautiful for words-I was literally crying. What depressed me was the fact that I had to go right after him to finish up the concert, and there was no way I could match his skills. However, I did my best (which still wasn’t good enough; I was really out of tune,) and a video of it, along with many others’ performances, was put on Youtube (search for drumstx2010’s channel).

Another concert that we played was our group concert. On this, we played all of our group pieces. We played two Kreisler pieces in a group, his Slavonic Dance, and Liebesfreud. We also did arrangements of some great pieces arranged by Tom: Jealousy, by J; Gade, the theme from the movie Sabrina, which featured Allegra as soloist (it was absolutely stunning), and Mi Mancherei. This is a song that was sung by Josh Groban, and it has a huge violin solo in it, which was recorded with Joshua Bell (mock me all you want-he is one of my favorite violinists of all time). Tom and his colleague from Chicago arranged it for a group of two violin sections, piano, and violin solo. One of our campers, Emily Mather, played the solo part. And, I have to say, it was fantastic! Her playing was so soulful, her tone was gorgeous, and it was perfectly played. Kiyoshi and I also played solos on the program, me doing my Barber concerto again, and he playing Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Again, his playing was electrifying and perfect. I was at a loss for words.

You would think that with all of these performances done already, we would be done, but no! We still had two more to go! One was our scale system, performed for Allegra during technique class. We went up one at a time and played it through, with her issuing instructions at us on how to pace the scales and arpeggios (in 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, etc.). However, our most important concert at camp was our Paganini concert. Since there were only 11 of us, not all of the caprices could be played, but that didn’t stop the concert from going on. This was quite stressful-these caprices were the pieces that we had worked the hardest on during this camp. And everyone did very well, I thought. However, I was not very happy with how I did. Several chords in my number 14 were quite out of tune, and in number 17, I was surprised because my pinky refused to go down in some of the runs. That screwed me up a bit, but I feel like I made up for it somewhat in my fingered octaves. They weren’t perfect, but they were best I’d ever played them.

That was on the second to last night of camp-but I left the next day, one day early. Unfortunately, many of us left one day early to get home. However Tom and Allegra wouldn’t let us go that easily; we still had one more class to do. We all assembled in the Chapel, and one by one, Tom and Allegra called us up and interviewed us about what we’ve learned, how we’ve benefited, etc. During this session, Allegra and many of the students cried, because no one really wanted to leave camp, even though it had been three weeks of grueling work and stress. All of us had gained a certain…connection and personal friendship with one another and it would be hard for us to leave each other. In addition to our interview, we were allowed to play a piece, if we wanted to. I was the only one to do so, however, but I chose a piece specifically for the occasion: Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor, his Guardian Angel Sonata. I tuned my violin down and played my heart out in a full baroque performance of this piece, knowing that this gorgeous composition was the perfect fit for this last meeting. I have to say, it was one of the best performances I had ever done, because I immersed myself into the music, pouring all of my feelings for everyone in the camp and all of my experiences into the chords. After the meeting, we all exchanged gifts and made one last goodbye to our teachers.

I spent the rest of the day packing; my parents came to pick me up around noon. We got everything together and said one last goodbye to everyone. It was a very sad day. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I felt a tug at my heart, because I knew that I was going to miss every one of these people. When I reached home, I felt compelled to practice more, but it was hard to do so, because I was used to practicing in my practice room with all of my friends practicing in their rooms around me. However, as the days turned into weeks, I knew that I had grown very much as a musician and as a person. A summer well spent!

From Forrest McKinney
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 2:56 AM
Excellent blog Brian! it really captured the spirit of the Preludio camp, which for anyone reading this really was an amazing amazing experience for all involved! and thanks for all the complements! :P In my opinion you over flatter me, but nonetheless i do appreciate it, especially coming from you! :-)

Also for anyone else reading, i believe some important details were left out of this blog concerning Brian Hong himself! The first time I heard Brian play i thought "wow, this kid is really really good!" that was an understatement. His technical skill is something I can only hope to achieve and he truly makes every piece his own. As the camp progressed I also began to recognize the level of dedication and commitment Brian has for the art of violin, an aspect of his personality almost more impressive than his playing. He is so detailed in his practice and performance and spends even more time than might be required to achieve a level of perfection that is rare but amazing to see! His performance of Barber was one of the most spectacular student performances I have ever seen, such was its level of sophistication and musicality.

So that's the only flaw I see in this blog! everyone most certainly lived up to the glowing reviews Brian gave them I can assure you, and I saw huge amounts of musical growth in everybody! It was an amazing 3 weeks!

and this page contains links to some of the youtube videos Brian talked about:

From Brian Hong
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 12:24 PM
Haha, thanks, Forrest. Now you are the one over flattering me. The Barber performance was not even close to as technically good as I wanted it to be, but I thank you nonetheless. Have a great summer!
From Ray Randall
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 2:48 PM
Like your other blogs this was very informative. We feel like we're there with you.
Good job.

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