Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What I'm playing this week

I haven't done one of these in quite a while, mostly because it was getting monotonous. But because I have a few new things, I thought it might be at least a little bit interesting to mention them.

On the piano:

I'm starting a new Bach prelude and fugue, WTC I/6 in D minor. I chose this to work on because it's simpler than the A major set, and I thought it would be good to learn something that I would not have such trouble memorizing so I could focus more on being musical. The prelude and fugue are also both appealing: the prelude has that fun forward-propelling texture with rhythmic bass in the left hand and fast triplets in the right hand; the fugue has some beautiful moments, and there are also some technical challenges with regard to playing the trills in the subject just right.

Beethoven, Op. 2 No. 3. I am continuing to make progress on this. Listening to Murray Perahia's recording has given me a lot more ideas on what to work on. I know I will not be able to play all the little technical flourishes as quickly and cleanly as he does, but it still helps to hear it done. I have a goal for this, which is to record as much of it as I can for a Piano World recital on Beethoven's birthday this December. I think I can do at least the first movement.

Brahms Op. 118 Nos. 3, 4, and 5. I finally came to the conclusion that No. 3 is just damned hard. What does it is all the jumping around, especially in the left hand, and having to land on thick chords at the ends of the jumps. It's almost impossible for me to play it up to tempo without looking at my hands.  No. 4 is interesting because it's the only one of the set that is not in A-B-A form, but sort of A-B-C instead. The A material does show up in the C section, but greatly altered. The B section is tricky because it requires precise pedaling. No. 5, the Romanze, has a pretty difficult B section, embellished with runs and trills, so I'm focusing on learning that first.

I have really missed playing Chopin, but I can't quite settle on a piece to learn. Another prelude? (I have really fallen down on the job of working my way through them.) Another Nocturne? Something else entirely?

And then there's so much more that's tempting . . . but I know my limitations.

On the cello:

Rehearsls for the second orchestra concert of the season start next weekend, so I pulled out the music and started looking at it. The program is Johann Strauss, Tales From the Vienna Woods; Rimsky-Korsakov, Capriccio Espagnol; Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on Greensleeves; and Borodin, Symphony No. 2. To be honest, none of it is that interesting to me. But I will do the best I can with it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bach recording (sigh)

I've been working on the Bach prelude and fugue in A major from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, for six months now. For some reason this piece has been especially difficult for me. Sometimes I have thought that it doesn't engage me much emotionally, so my mind wanders while I'm playing it. (I find myself thinking all kinds of things -- some very far afield!) I have a vague mental picture of the prelude being something pastoral and the fugue being something along the lines of a hunting song, or a jig (or should I say "gigue"?), but I couldn't seem to get deeply into it.

Anyway, I told myself I'd work on it until I could produce a reasonably okay recording and then move on. About a month ago, I made a recording that sort of met that criterion. In fact, the fugue came out especially well. I wasn't satisfied with the prelude, though, so I figured I'd work on it a little more and maybe rerecord the prelude.

Time went by without my getting around to it, and in the interim, I had the piano tuned, so the possibility of joining the older recording of the fugue with a new recording of the prelude was less likely to be convincing (i.e., the latter was going to be significantly sharper than the former). I spent some frustrating hours trying to get a decent recording of both prelude and fugue, but nothing came up to the level of the version I recorded a month ago, so I decided in the interest of my sanity (or facsimile thereof) to throw this up here and call it a half year and move on:

Bach WTC I/19 in A major

I apologize in advance for a couple of oopsies in the prelude. This does have the virtue of having been recorded in one take, though!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Music in Maine

This past weekend we finally made it to Maine. The original plan, two years ago, was for three of us (the three women who are in our neighborhood folk-ish band) to travel there to play with an accordion player the recorder player has known for 30+ years. He used to live in this area and retired about five years ago to Maine. But then the violinist had a family emergency and couldn't go, and we canceled it.

In the middle of last week, the violinist came down with something, and she still didn't feel good by Friday, so she again ended up not going. But because our spouses were coming along and we were all looking at it as more of a general vacation than an all-music kind of thing, we forged ahead this time.

Part of the deal was that I had to pick up a rental cello on the way from the airport, so each couple rented a car and drove separately. One of my imaginary friends from the Internet lives sort of on the way, so we decided to stop in and see her and her husband. I was totally zonked from getting up at 5:00 that morning, but we had a nice visit, and I played a little on her Seiler grand.

(That's my husband sitting on the couch in the background.)

She also has a fractional-sized cello (maybe a three-quarter-sized one?) that she wanted me to check out -- her husband picked it up for her on a whim from a pawn shop years ago. It is not bad sounding but needs new strings and some tweaking. (It was tuned a half step flat, and I was afraid to tune it up because the strings looked like they were about to pop.)

Back on the road, we headed for Glen Cove and Woodsound Studio, a nice little shop that services and sells mostly stringed instruments, with a few folk-oriented ones as well. They gave me a very good-sounding Romanian-made student cello, and judging from the way the cello was set up, they know what they're doing.

We then continued on to Southwest Harbor. Our B&B faced a picturesque tree-lined street, and from the back of the house, you can see the water. After a quick dinner at one of the restaurants up the street, we went down to the basement of the B&B for the first of what turned out to be only two sessions with the accordion player. He was really busy and couldn't give us much time. We played through some of our repertoire for about an hour, and then he had to leave. So that was Saturday.

We met again on Sunday morning for about two hours. We decided to liberate ourselves from the dark basement room and started out playing outside on one of the porches:

However, it was really too cold to play outside, so we moved indoors and played while the cleaning person and other guests picked their way around us.

It was bothering me that I'd rented this cello to play it for only three hours, so on Monday evening, I suggested to the recorder player that we play as a duo. She asked our hosts at the B&B if it would be okay, and they got excited and asked if we'd like to entertain the other guests at an impromptu cocktail party. So while they shook up some Cosmopolitans and set out dishes of tapenade, we set up in the dining room and played for a while -- quite a bit different without a rhythm instrument, but it wasn't too bad. We wound up our session and then drove down the road to visit the accordionist's wife (he had had to go out of town that morning, but she invited us over for a short visit). It turns out that she was a music major at Wellesley back in the day, though she doesn't play much now. She has a baby grand piano -- a Hardman -- and she asked me to play a bit. So I played my Bach prelude and Brahms Op. 118 No. 2 (the latter with a big brainfart hole at the end, unfortunately; I wonder why that happens?).

The rest of the time, we did vacationer-type things like going on hikes and eating seafood. The weather was beautiful, aside from a little rain on Monday morning.

It was a pleasant trip, and I liked getting in some playing (I always feel better when I can play music), though renting the cello was a bit of a pain. I suppose I could have bought a seat for my own cello on the plane, but that is always an iffy proposition (sometimes the airport people won't let you bring it on board if the flight is crowded), and then I'd have had to worry about it the entire time. I've done my share of traveling with a cello, and it's a hassle however you arrange it.

If money were no object, I'd get one of these: That Carbon Fiber Cello

But with my traveling-with-cello career as limited as it is at the moment, I can't justify it.