I'm both excited and a little scared. In the next two months, I'll be performing in two chamber music concerts. These concerts are different than the other venues that I've performed chamber music before in that they are exclusively chamber music concerts. Not "background music", not "pre-concert music", nor a sort of interlude for a different event. but honest to goodness chamber music concerts.
The first concert is on April 3rd at one of the larger churches in Houston as part of their "Christ in the Arts" performance series. We will be playing Mozart's Oboe Quartet. It is the same one that I played in pre-concert a few months ago, and with the same group except for the violinist. I have been working hard at mastering my 16th note runs in the Rhondo movement so that they sound clear, crisp and precise without feeling rushed. With my new bow (Albert), these measures are much easier to execute than the last time I performed this piece.
The second concert is a part of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra's "Pro-am" program in the middle of May. For this concert, I will be playing three pieces: the Andante movement from Schubert's Death and the Maiden, Beethoven's Op 87 (originally for oboe and english horn), and Michael Kimber's "Reflection" for 3 violas. The Schubert is challenging in a multitude of ways, most noticeably the 3-on-2-on-4 rhythm + melody section near the end. The Beethoven has some syncopated sections that are all to easy to let drag and the Kimber is an exercise in perfect group intonation.
Challenges and all, I'm having the time of my life, musically and personally.
Registration has started for Interlochen's Adult Chamber Music Camp this summer (http://college.interlochen.org/program/adult-chamber-music-camp) . This will be my 4th year and I'm as excited about it as I was on my first year. This year's theme is "Out of Bounds: Why We Love to Break the Rules". With Bayla Keye's wit, as well as those on the faculty, makes this year's theme particularly appealing. From the v.com community, it looks like there will be at least three of us going this year.
I highly recommend this adult program. I must warn you though that hotel rooms on-campus are booked quite quickly and you may end up in a cabin that is a bit of a walk (but not overly so) from the events if you wait too long. The coaching is first-class, and newcomers are welcomed with open arms - one of the most friendly group of people I've ever run across before. The Grammy nominated Enso Quartet will be in residence again this year and are considered part of the faculty.
Studying at home alone is a necessary part of the practice diet. It is the time to work through techniques, skills, and particularly troublesome spots. But unless you are a pure soloist , practicing alone can only take you so far. There comes a time where you need to figure out how to take your part and fit it in it with another part (or parts). Being perfectly in tune with your own instrument or in rhythm with a metronome alone is one thing. Being in tune and rhythmically together with a group is entirely different.
My music-partner-in-crime and I are getting ready for Interlochen's Adult Chamber Music Camp this summer. We are setting weekly "play dates" to work on two pieces that we will be coached on: Frank Bridge's "Lament" and Daughtery's "Viola Zombies". Two very contrasting works for two violas, both modern. This afternoon was our first "play date".
The Lament is difficult on many different levels: intonation with dual double-stops, dynamic balance, and rhythm. There are passages that build on chord transitions from a ppp to FFF within a few measures with very few notes that line up on a beat. It is relatively easy to practice these passages alone, but by adding another instrument, the complexity becomes overwhelming at times. Playing these measures ever so slowly helps to provide a clear road-map - moving from a dissonance to a resolution in alternating sub-beats, finding the base of a chord to build upon, tuning perfect octaves, lining up on each beat. Something that can't be practiced alone.
The other piece "Viola Zombies" has entirely different set of ensemble challenges. The piece is based on the tune of the "Twilight Zone" and demands religious counting and trading off ordinary bowing to ponticello to col lengo and tempo changes from one measure to the next. If concentration wavers for a single beat, the piece falls apart, and like a fugue, it may be several measures until it is realized.
The trick to both of these pieces is learning how to play well with each other. The person next to you is not the human version of a metronome nor a tuner. Even with the best of partners, there are variations that requires adjustments. Beyond learning the part, there is learning the other person's body language: breathing habits that queue a bow change, eye contact to indicate a change of tempo or dynamic, body movement for changes in style. When you think you have all these things figured out, the human factor kicks in - one day may be slower or faster, notes sharper or flatter, tempos different from the previous day. An endless variety of factors to adjust to.
I'm ramping down my "V" composer (Vieuxtemps Elegie). After several months of study, the technicals are fairly secure and it is now a matter of style for the most part. Granted, I could spend another several months on this piece working on style alone, however variety is the spice of life. Something new is called for to provide a new perspective an interest in my daily practice regime.
Working backwards alphabetically from 'V' is 'U' (Alfred Uhl) and 'T' (Telemann) are composers that I studied when I first began playing viola back in the '70's and '80's. I have recently covered 'S' with Schubert & Sitt, so it is time for an 'R' composer.
After discussing it with my teacher, the Reger Suites for Viola is my choice for 'R'. The challenge will be much like the Ysayse was last year. These Suites are either incredibly fast or have a prolific use of double stops, and quite often a combination of both. They were nearly ruled out due their difficulty until we settled on at least one that was manageable at tempo with the others being good studies at a slower tempo.
Even then, my teacher is reluctant for me to take on Reger. After reminding him that this same crazy old lady took on all of the Bach Suites starting with the 6th after a 25 year hiatus, followed by Bloch and then Ysayse, he agreed that it was possible with reservations and suggested what movement to start with.
I don't take this challenge lightly. It will take an incredible amount of effort to make any one of the movements recognizable. I enjoy pushing myself a bit (or more) beyond my limits. The thrill of taking on the seemingly impossible is irresistible. In my experience, taking on a huge technical challenge helps me with pieces more inline with my ability, both technically and stylistically. With every push forward, pieces that I have spent time with before aren't as technically difficult which opens up the realms of interpretation and style.
This is going to be fun.
A month ago, the cellist in my quartet broke her left hand. This left us looking for trio pieces while she recovered. The music for 2 violins and viola is limited, but I knew of a piece for three violas that is quite interesting and beautiful - Michael Kimber's "Reflection". As it happens, our second violinist is primarily a violist, and our 1st violinist plays viola for time to time, so this piece made the cut.
"Reflection" was composed by a violist and premiered in 2001 at Interlochen by several well known violists in memory of Francis Bundra, who taught viola for many years at Interlochen and at the University of Michigan. It is reminiscent in many ways of Barber's Adagio in form and counterpoint. A truly beautiful and moving piece.
Though this piece has "viola" written all over it, the fingerings as written were dull and lifeless under my hand. Maybe this is due to me being a rather short gal playing a large viola for my size, an inflexible 1st finger, a weak 4th finger, or a combination of other factors. No matter the reason, something had to change, so I began to experiment.
For years, fingerings have been dictated by my teachers in consideration of my skills and ability while trying to maintain a balance with what is called for musically. As I have gained experience and "fingerboard comfort", fingering choices are now mine to make. This new responsibility has opened several doors of exploration.
To shift, not to shift, and how to shift is the question. Staying in a position is often the safest rout when it comes to intonation but has its drawbacks such as un-musical string crossings and reliance on the weak fingers for important notes. Shifting can introduce interesting tonal "colors" to a phrase but can be challenging to stay in-tune and not sounding "sloppy". When choosing fingerings, I opt for those that are musically appropriate and practice them using Yost shifting exercises.
The Yost shifting exercises are essentially about starting in one position and end in another position using every possible fingering combination. While doing these exercises, I focus on intonation and control of the shift into the note ranging from a clean shift up to a full glissando. After practicing the shift in all its possible variations, I put the practice into context and start making decisions: what finger to start on, what finger to end on and how much of the shift I want to be heard.
The end result sometimes turns into unconventional shifting techniques which are more comfortable under my hand and while keeping to the demands of the musical phrase.
More entries: February 2011
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