Monday, April 28, 2008

Back to Bach

Like most musicians, I have a special fondness for Bach. But there are pieces of Bach that are my particular favorites for various reasons: and they are usually specific reasons. I wonder if other musicians have their particular favorites. These are mine:

The motet Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229) because I got to sing it with an adult chorus when I was a teenager.

The D minor Fugue of the second book of the WTC. I remember when when I was a kid we got the Henle edition of the WTC. My older brother declared that the E-minor Fugue was his fugue because it had the longest subject, or something like that. I was forbidden to play it, so I promptly picked the D minor Fugue as mine and I have retained ownership.

The D minor Toccata, BWV 913 because it is so completely limitless and so modern. I didn't hear it until I was an adult, working at a radio station. It was Trevor Pinnock's recording that hooked me.

Cantata 78 because it was my first cantata. I had a volume of tenor arias with instrumental obbligato parts, and the first one in the book was for tenor and flute from Cantata 78. I bought a recording and fell madly in love with the whole piece. My father told me that Cantata 78 was the first cantata he played when he used to play church jobs in Cleveland. I thought that was extremely cool.

The B-flat Partita because of Dinu Lipati's recording of it.

The St. Matthew Passion, for reasons that I simply can't articulate.

The A minor and D minor Violin Concertos, which, when I was a flutist, were forbidden flute-fruit (I always wanted to play them on the flute, but they never sounded right). Now I can play them on the violin whenever I want to hear them.

The Cello Suites and the Violin Sonatas and Partitas. The happiest memories I have from my childhood are the mornings when I would lie in bed and hear my father practice the Bach Cello Suites on the viola. He would also practice the Violin Sonatas and Partitas on the viola, so it took me a long time to figure out what was what.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Das Rheingold

I remember seeing this Karajan film of Das Rheingold on Austrian television in 1980 or 1981, and I was so happy to find it on YouTube that I just had to share it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meme (123)

Michael tagged me with this blogging meme, so I will respond:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

And I saw that it was a carpet, that flew like a bird; and I was in a valley of flying carpets, that flew to and fro. So lying on my stomach and quaking in great fear, for I knew not whether I would plunge to destruction, I gripped the side of my carpet and flew down into the valley. And the valley was so thick with those flying creatures that I felt them brush against my cheeks and fingers; and I held tight with one hand, and covered my face with the other.

From "The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad," a story in Steven Millhauser's The Barnum Museum. Out of context the "creatures" seem to be other flying carpets, but in the story the creatures are rocs.

Let's see what we get from T, Alex, Tom, Lisa, and Jen.


Sometimes my metronome, which is my little practicing companion, seems to take on a personality of its own. This image popped into my head last night, and with a little help from the paint program you can see it, even though it is imaginary. Anyone want to try making one of these for real?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Playing my own music

I enjoy playing my own music, but I have a great deal of difficulty performing it because I have to make so many decisions in order to give it a successful performance. They are the same kinds of decisions that I have to make when I play music written by other people, but it is much easier to play music by people who are dead and who I never would have known even if they were still alive. I sometimes worry that someone might take my "interpretation" as something definitive, when I know in my heart of hearts that it is just as subjective as anyone else's interpretation of something I write, or just as subjective as my interpretation of something that someone else wrote.

As a composer I find that there is no "right" tempo for anything I write. I go back and forth (pardon the pun) on bowings and degrees of dynamic contrast. From the experience of preparing my own music for performance I learn (over and over again) that the emotional content of a piece has a less to do with the pitches and rhythms than the musical moment or sequence of musical moments that happens during a performance. I also know that a successful piece is one that is open to all sorts of different interpretations.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

If you happen to be in the neighborhood . . .

Preparing for this recital has been a real challenge for me because so much of the music we are playing is in the violin's upper register. As a flutist I lived among the ledger lines all the time. As a violist playing the notes above the pitch of D just above the treble clef are kind of like riding on little sailboats while navigating through stormy seas. Faure, Beethoven, and Turina use the violin's upper register really well, and my goal for this performance is to enjoy exposing my fiddle's lovely upper register through their wonderful music.

Here's a map that will show you how to get there.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musical Dollars to Donuts

People often ask me why I don't live in a major city where I could have a much more visible musical life. My simple reason is that my husband got a job here 23 years ago, and I decided to make the most out of a move from a major city (Boston) where I typed for a living and had a very small amount of work as a flutist. Since living here I have learned to play violin and viola, I have gotten a degree in composition, I have worked at a radio station, I have raised two wonderful children, and I have written a lot of music. I believe that my musical life is far more rewarding and productive than the musical life I led in either Boston or New York.

My husband and I do both cringe at tax time when we see that my yearly salary from the community college where I teach as an adjunct instructor is so low. Dollars to donuts, it seems that the "price" of the classes he teaches as a university professor are worth ten times more than the classes I teach. Of course he has university obligations, and my obligations to the institution where I teach are zero. I drive about 20 miles to get to class, I teach, I give exams, I hand in grades, and that is that. The facilities are excellent, my colleagues are great, I like the mix of students that I get (particularly the ones that realize that they like "classical" music) and there is never a problem with traffic or parking.

I do a lot of things in music: I write music (most of which is published), I teach violin, viola, and recorder lessons, I teach music appreciation classes, I play viola in three orchestras, I play in a Medieval and Renaissance ensemble, I play in, and do administrative work for, a string quartet, I play two violin and piano recitals a year (I'm playing one next week), I write CD reviews (as well as other articles), I keep this blog, and I co-run a summer orchestra program in my town.

If you lump everything together and look at its cash value, I make a living below the poverty level. If I did not have a spouse with a good job, I would not be able to afford to have a car, rent even a small apartment, feed a family, buy insurance, or live in a safe neighborhood. That is why I choose not to value what I do the way society values it. I am thankful that I can live in a beautiful place, can spend my time doing the things that matter to me, and can contribute to society and make my corner of the world a little more musical, and hopefully a little more beautiful.

Why do people value money so much? Why are people valued for what they earn from what they do? There are many things in life that don't have monetary value. Playing in tune is one of them. It "costs" years of careful technical practice, and its value can not be measured. Knowledge may be something that you could quantify, but wisdom, like playing in tune, is something that comes from paying a lot of dues. Happiness is also something that cannot be quantified. Despite my overwork (or maybe because it is overwork that involves doing things I love to do), I am very happy. I treasure that time that I can take for myself, particularly the time I take to practice, think, and write; and I treasure the ability to be creative and to grow, even at the age of nearly 49. I treasure the fact that I don't have the kind of job where I need to encourage students to be music majors, or lie to them about their possibilities of making a living as musicians.

I treasure the fact that I don't really care to push the business end of music or promote what I do beyond providing information to people. It is really rewarding to me if people enjoy playing (or listening to) the music I write simply because they like it. I couldn't imagine being in the position of having people listen to or play music I write because they should like it (but really don't). When I used to spend my time with the flute repertoire, I encountered a lot of pieces that I didn't like, but felt I should like. Some of those pieces (as well as their composers) are quite well known.

So now it's time for lunch, followed by a walk to the store (I value the fact that we can walk to the store if we want to--if it doesn't rain), and an afternoon of practicing and maybe doing a little work on the violin sonata I am writing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Willie the Operatic Whale

It's finally here! My favorite music cartoon of all time!

Part 1
Part 2

Monday, April 14, 2008

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

I have loved this Darius Milhaud piece for years and years, and finally last night I got to play it in a concert. What a treat to sit in the viola section and be right smack in the middle of the bitonality! And I made a good joke, which, in the spirit of the piece I will share here. The güiro is probably the most important instrument in the piece because it is what everyone else in the orchestra relies on to snap into the quick "ritornello" that separates all the languid bitonal and tritonal episodes. I spontaneously told the güiro player that he was a "güiro-hero" because he kept us all in line.

Here is an excerpt from the piece made into a highly amusing (and rather lewd at times) film by director Adrian Marthaler and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin conducted by Matthias Bamert. I would love it if someone were to make a film (even an animation) of the original concept of the work as a Chaplin-like silent film with music.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Prairie Stage Companion

That's me in the viola section!

See what violists have to live with?

The version of this passage that comes near the beginning of the piece gives us a clef change before the E flat, which makes the passage much easier to play. The same passage that comes near the end of the piece is much more difficult with the clef change (albeit a copyists quick fix of an error) after the E flat.

This is what we have right before rehearsal number 3:

and this is what we have right before rehearsal number 30

What a difference the placement of a clef makes!

See if you can guess who wrote it. I'll give you a hint. It is an orchestral piece, and this version is from 1955.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Musical Roller Coaster

This is simply too cool for words.

Buechner on eternity, Cherkassky and Schumann demonstrating it in musical terms

I came across this lovely thought about eternity today, and the sentiment seems just as easy to apply to this meeting of two (or I guess three, if you count Chopin, who inspired this part of the piece) tremendous musical souls (all who now belong to eternity).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jacqueline du Pré alert!

Tucked in this very fine DVD of Christopher Nupen films about Itzhak Perlman is a lot of video of and about Jacqueline du Pré.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

May Day War Protest

While millions of people worldwide have marched against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and last week's New York Times/CBS News poll indicated that 81 percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction - key concerns being the war and the economy - the war machine inexorably grinds on.

Amid this political atmosphere, dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have decided to stop work for eight hours in all U.S. West Coast ports on May 1, International Workers' Day, to call for an end to the war.

Please read the rest of the article from the San Francisco Chronicle, and share it with as many people as you can.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Being who you are

Maybe the title of this post actually should read "being who I am," but for musicians the difference between who we are on the inside and what we hear in the world outside of us can be the nature of a lot of problems.

Over the past week I have been on a Bolte-Taylor-inspired look at the inside of my brain, and I have spent so much time and energy concentrating on what my weaknesses are, that I have been kind of blind and deaf to my strengths. If too much negative self-evaluation is part of the development of the left part of the brain, I think that I'll pass and just go buzzing along in the merry way that I lead my life and enjoy my unique thought process.

It is so easy for performing and practicing musicians to compare ourselves to other performing and practicing musicians, wondering how it is that someone can manage to play beautifully ALL THE TIME, or wondering how someone can manage to move his or her bow and fingers in ways that seem (and probably are) physically impossible (at least for most people). Most of us know that technical accomplishments on any instrument are usually the result of constant practice, but some people seem to be able to do extraordinary technical and musical things on a minimum of practice. Some people can function really well on very little sleep, and some people can manage to stay in great health without ever eating a single vegetable.

Rather than dwelling on things I can't do, or things I have to do differently from the way other people do them, or things I need assistance to do, I have simply decided to enjoy the things that I can do.

Last night Garrison Keillor came to do a benefit concert for the Champaign-Urbana Symphony, and from the stage I was able to witness well over a thousand people (the place was packed) loving him for what he can do, which, aside from his virtuoso recitation of all the counties in Minnesota, didn't seem to require a great deal of effort. By being completely natural on stage, he is able to give an audience a feeling of comfort. In return the people of the audience feel a great deal of comfort about who they are as individuals, something that is really special, and really important.

At the end of the performance my stand partner (who is in the middle of a week of tremendous overwork) said that she would love to start from the beginning and play the whole concert again.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Young Man's Game?

Excuse me for this interruption of significant musical thought to direct you to a bit of backwards thinking (and captioning) from the New York Times. I guess Matt Richtel, the writer of this article, hasn't spent much time reading blogs having to do with music. But then again, most of us (both men and women) keep music blogs for love and not for money.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Was he listening?

I have been excited about Augustin Hadelich's Carnegie Hall recital debut, which happened a few days ago. I was really disappointed to read this New York Times review by Bernard Holland because, aside from mentioning that Carnegie Hall is a large room for a violin and piano recital, he didn't mention anything about Hadelich's playing. Was he listening? This was also the New York premiere of Bright Sheng's Night at the Chinese Opera, and it seemed to go by without anything but a superficial description.

Augustin Hadelich is a great violinist. If the reviewer for the New York Times doesn't think so, I know that I am not the only person who would appreciate knowing why. It also seems that a New York premiere of an important piece by an important composer that was being played by the winner of an International Competition (and one held in America) was not an important enough event to warrant a real review in the New York Times.

Those of us who were not able to be at the recital will need to rely on bloggers, I suppose. Anyone who was there and has written about it, please leave a link to your post in the comments. If you would like to put your review of this concert in the comments for this post, I would appreciate it. I know that I am not the only person who would be interested in reading about the concert, and I imagine I'm not the only person who is disappointed in the New York Times.

What a lovely piece!

I know the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto well. It is actually the only violin concerto I have ever really studied with a teacher, and it is one that I have heard countless times by many fantastic violinists.

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard this recording over the radio this afternoon, because for the first time I really felt that I was hearing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with an emphasis on the Mendelssohn part of the piece rather than with an emphasis on the "violin concerto" part of the piece. I was captivated by Viktoria Mullova's playing, but it was because of her relationship with the orchestra. I was impressed by the combined abilities of the soloist, conductor (John Eliot Gardiner), and the ensemble (Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique) to play the Mendelssohn Concerto without that feeling of tension that otherwise seems to characterize the piece.

This expansive performance sounded more like a piece of large-scale chamber music than a performance of a "big" violin concerto. During all the years I have known the piece, I never really noticed how truly lovely the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008