Monday, May 28, 2012

Remember that video?

I blogged about it here:

Interesting experience

The video of me playing Bach and a short written interview have gone live on Nancy Williams's blog, Reflections on a Grand Passion:

A Cellist Takes Adult Piano Lessons

It now being a half a year later, and after several months of ground-up piano lessons working on my basic technique, I would play the piece differently, but it's a snapshot in time as all recordings are. I believe the videographer joined audio from one take with video from another at some points so there would be different camera angles, and that's why the sound and picture don't sync up in places, but this was done with no cuts or splicing. I just played it through four times and we chose the best version.

Note that some people have trouble loading the videos from the blog; they seem to work better on YouTube. Link:

(Of course I look at this and have feminine horror at my hair, etc., but what can you do?)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Action shot

My husband took this picture today.

You might notice my (relatively) new toy here. I had wanted a Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello ever since I heard about them more than 10 years ago, but I had no real reason to get one. Yo Yo Ma has been famously featured in their ads:

Earlier this year, a friend of mine was selling his and made me an offer I couldn't refuse (well, I could have refused it, but it was just too good to pass up). So it's mine now, despite my desire to simplify my life and have less stuff.

It's very fun to play. The smooth carbon fiber fingerboard makes shifts really easy, the size and shape make it especially comfortable to hold, and it's lively and responsive as well as being extremely resonant. My only problem with the sound is that it has a slightly buzzy edge to it that is a bit unpleasant under the ear. I seriously considered using it for the concert next week when I play the Tchaikovsky Pezzo Capriccioso, but that sound quality dissuaded me. I simply did not have enough time to experiment, so I am playing it safe by using my wood cello.

Here's a quickie recording I made with this cello of a Bach Allemande a few months ago:

Bach: Allemande in G major from Suite No. 1

I was practicing on it today because I'm going to use it for a coffee house gig I'm playing with my folk group this evening. I figure it will at least save me some playing fatigue, and it will also be a conversation piece if nothing else.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sausage making redux

Sometimes rehearsals are like sausage: if you knew what went into it, you wouldn't want to eat it. (Not that I eat sausage anyway, but I needed a cheap simile here.)

So you are forewarned.

But here is today's rehearsal with the orchestra of Pezzo Capriccioso.

I cut out the talking and dead time, so it's about 14 minutes. You will hear things repeated. I do think it got better as it went along on the part of the orchestra. I felt actually very good about how I was playing, although it was cold and clammy in the room and by the end of the rehearsal, my hands started to feel like they were coated with rosin.

The only other adjustments I made to the raw file were boosting the sound a bit because my recorder was situated behind me.

Pezzo Capriccioso working rehearsal

Saturday, May 12, 2012

From "The Genius of the Cello" to the Portsmouth Sinfonia

I had my first rehearsal of the Tchaikovsky with the orchestra today. Um, I think my post title says most of it.

(Hey -- if anyone from the orchestra is reading this, JUST KIDDING!)

However, I at least did not fall apart -- not at all. So that's encouraging.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello

I have heard all the stories about Rostropovich over the years and of course have heard many of his recordings (and I saw him play once, in the early 1970s, when my parents took me to the first concert he gave in DC at the Kennedy Center, though I'm afraid I didn't totally appreciate it at the time).* But I recently happened across this BBC documentary about him that I found enlightening and that made me appreciate him in a new way.

I loved this film both for informative value and as a piece of cinema. It's beautifully done in every way. There are interviews with many of Rostropovich's students, with his wife, his daughters, and with him, as well as footage of performances going back to his Soviet days. There is a great deal of discussion about the many works that he inspired or commissioned and how this revitalized the cello as a solo instrument. One very interesting technique here is a number of sequences in which the interviewees are filmed while listening to the same music the viewer of the film is hearing -- it's quite moving.

It's about an hour and a half, well worth the time. I recommend it highly.

*After I posted this earlier, I was remembering that I believe I actually shared a stage with Rostropovich once, at the first Cello Congress that was held at the University of Maryland in 1982. There was an orchestra of about 200 cellists (scary thought, isn't it?), and I was somewhere in the back while he was conducting. But I don't remember him.

Also, I was once a finalist in the National Symphony's college level concerto competition, and though I didn't win, I did get a certificate that was signed by Rostropovich, who was conductor of the NSO at the time, though I'm sure he wasn't at the finals when I played the Rococo Variations on the stage at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (and a good thing, too -- my friends who came helpfully told me, "You were the most out of tune of everyone who played." At least they were honest.).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

More practicing help

I recently discovered a blog, Practising the Piano, written by the pianist Graham Fitch (I have added it to my blog list here), and his most recent post is an excellent guide to how to make the most of your practicing experience, starting with having a good teacher and going on from there. Here is a link to that post (British spelling courtesy of the original author, and respect for cultural differences :)):

Top Ten Tips to Maximise Your Practising

I actually already do a lot of these, but one I have been trying out the past couple of days is the idea of doing "one measure + one note"; that is, play just one measure and the following downbeat, stop, rinse, repeat as needed. He suggests at least doing a set number of repetitions, perhaps three, but I am finding that some measures require many more.

So far I'm finding this is especially helpful for two main issues:

  1. Understanding where each downbeat is (in fact, where each beat is).
  2. Ferreting out where there are technical and musical problems on a small enough scale to be able to fix them then and there.
I'm sure as I delve into his list further it will continue to help, but I wanted to share this particular idea because it kind of goes against a distaste for emphasizing bar lines that I have somehow imbibed over the years. Maybe you don't always want to emphasize them, but you do need to know where they are.