Monday, May 17, 2010

Catching up + what I'm playing this week

I haven't written one of these in a while, mainly because I haven't been working on anything new or interesting. It seems like I've just been treading water, doing the minimum, aside from preparing Brahms Op. 118 No. 2 for the recital last week.

But there are a few things to report:

On the cello:

The last orchestra concert of the season is coming up in a few weeks. We are playing a Johann Strauss II overture (the "Gypsy Baron"), the Mendelssohn violin concerto, one movement of a symphony by a local composer, and Darius Milhaud's "La création du monde" (Creation of the World). This last has generated some excitement in the orchestra because (1) it's a chamber piece (i.e., one on a part) and (2) it's got "jazz" in it (i.e., a saxophone instead of a viola, lots of seventh chords, a spot of ragtime). But in my opinion, it's not a particularly interesting or clever piece of music; it's more of a curiosity. Even with the chamber scoring, the texture is thick and muddy. I spent a few hours this past week practicing my part, but at the rehearsal yesterday, it was obvious that no one will be able to hear me in all the murk. Ah, well; I will do my best.

A couple of weeks ago, the group I'm in with some of my neighbors played at a cafe for three hours. It was a typical background music gig, with people eating and talking while we were playing. It certainly wasn't the best we've ever played. A couple of the others were very unhappy about how they played, but I wasn't upset about it. It was hot in there, and noisy, and were cramped into sitting in a row on a little platform where we couldn't see each other. We also played quite a lot of music. To make it anywhere near perfect, we'd have had to spent much more time on it than we did. It's not like classical music, for which some diligent practicing on one's own is more than enough prep for a gig like this. To play music like this -- our assortment of folk, jazz standards, and Beatles tunes -- well requires many hours of working things out in the group. We just don't have the hours for it, not to mention the collective skill level.

Anyway, here's a sample, warts and all:

All of Me

On the piano:

I'm continuing with practicing two scales (parallel major and minor) most days. I spend about five minutes at a time on this, and I've been enjoying it (a back-to-my-roots kind of thing, I think).

Bach, WTC I/19 (A major): This has been slow going. The fugue is especially difficult because there's a lot of stretto (voices come in before other voices finish their statement of the theme -- basically, they overlap, as shown in the link). This makes it harder to keep the voices mentally untangled.

Beethoven, Op. 2 No. 3, Sonata in C major: As I've mentioned before, this is not terribly difficult, but it is long. With my time limitations, five minutes seems about the most I can learn at one time, and each movement of this sonata is longer than that. But there are some things I love about this piece: the way it sweeps up and down the keyboard, the very Beethovenian twists and turns among key centers. It's also great as a technical study because it has a little bit of everything.

Brahms Op. 118: I'm pressing on with these, working now on Nos. 3 and 4, making slow progress. No. 4 is especially dense and odd, almost Baroque in its knotty textures.

Chopin Nocturne Op. 62 No. 2: I've been working on this a little bit. I had one or two extremely good practice sessions on the difficult middle section a few weeks ago, but I set it aside to concentrate on the Brahms.

So there you have it -- some of what I've been up to.


Anonymous said...

The solo between 1:15 and 2:16 was awesome! Is that you? To my ears the lead violin was a bit flat but it could be the recording. Also, the tone quality of the lead violin wasn't nearly as rich and full as the cello (at least to my ears).

Harriet said...

Yep, that was me. My stab at jazz improv.

The violinist was really upset about her tuning. Her violin kept going flat because it was so hot in there.

ray said...

I love the beethoven op 2, no 3 sonata. The first movement is so lively playful, still a bit like Haydn but already so different.