Saturday, February 11, 2012

Split personality

Part of my time is being spent these days trying to instill very fine, new motor skills into my piano playing. In all my years of piano lessons, no teacher ever mentioned using a flexible wrist to direct the weight of the arm into the hand and fingers. It was all about fingers, à la Hanon: "Lift 'em high, bring 'em down hard." Also, "Keep your wrist flat, keep your arm still." The teacher I had last year seemed to be attempting to teach me to use more flexibility, but she never told me *how* to do it. I'm already feeling like this is giving me more ability to control the sound I'm making on the piano.

Then, the other part of my practice time, I am flailing around on the cello with "Pezzo Capriccioso." The big question is whether, by May of this year,  I will be able to play the two sections of spiccato 32nd notes up to tempo, with a nice bouncy bow, light and clear but penetrating sound, and "with feelin'" (as Arlo Guthrie says in "Alice's Restaurant"). An hour or more can go by before I realize it, fiddling around with the metronome, rhythms, small sections, big sections, checking intonation. Compared with what I'm doing on the piano, I feel like I'm attacking the piece with a sledgehammer.

What is this piece about? I read that Tchaikovsky wrote it during a summer, after a young friend of his had died, for another friend of his to play. I'm imagining that it's a sketch of a mercurial, charming, changeable personality -- someone who tries to be serious but simply can't do it without cracking up. A comedian. It contains snatches of a beautiful melody that never goes anywhere, and virtuoso passages that disintegrate without finality. It seems like ideas for a concerto that never got written. If I hold this in my mind, it helps a bit.

All the same, this is a serious technical challenge. I know I'm living dangerously planning to play this just a few months from now, and the safest route would be to revert to the easier piece the conductor wanted in the first place. But I am intrigued by it, and it *is* making me practice! So I'll give myself a few more weeks, at least, before I make a final decision.

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