Sunday, August 26, 2012

What I'm playing this week

I haven't done one of these posts in a long time, so here goes:

On the piano:
Scales and arpeggios, hands together, parallel and contrary motion (C minor this week; btw, with all those years of piano lessons, this is the first time I've learned scales in contrary motion); trill exercises; and chord progressions (modulations using I/V7 and I/II7). Reasons and aims: obvious.

Bach, WTC I in D minor and WTC I in B flat minor. I am breaking my self-imposed rule here by moving on to another piece before memorizing the last one. Also, I'm going back to one I learned, memorized, and recorded a little over a year ago. However, this is what my teacher has suggested, so I'm going with it. I'll keep working on the B flat minor set at least to keep it in my fingers. It really is a hard one to memorize because the texture is so thick, with big chords in the prelude and five voices in the fugue, plus the key is more complicated. The D minor from Book I has some challenges that are things I need to work on: moving the hand instead of stretching, learning to separate different lines within the same voice (in the perpetual triplet patterns in the right hand), keeping track of the beats when the modulations don't fall in with the bar lines. I don't exactly have to unlearn everything I did last year, but almost.

Chopin, Preludes 1 to 4. The idea with these is to eventually perform them as a group. No. 3 is still the sticking point. I may need to practice this for another year before I get it.

Brahms, Op. 116 No. 6 and 118 No. 1. These are exercises in subduing all but one line. One overarching characteristic of Brahms' music is its thick, complicated texture (many voices, many rhythms, many unexpected modulations), and these pieces are miniatures containing all of these elements. 118 No. 1 is something I worked on on my own for a couple of years, to little avail, so we'll see if it's better this time around. (I think it will be.)

Schumann, Kinderszenen, Nos. 1 to 7. I'm up to "Traumerei." At the last lesson I had on this, we talked about schmaltz and how to achieve it on the piano. See, I'm used to being able to get this on the cello by using a lot of vibrato and a lot of sliding shifts -- aside from the fact that the cello is in itself the essence of schmaltz in music. On the piano, it's a different experience -- you have to learn to sing the melody and to apply rubato to get this effect.

One thing I've been noticing is that even when I play music that I'm not working on in my lessons, I'm thinking about what my teacher would say if I were. So this is good. It's the "teach a man to fish" approach.

On the cello:
I have to admit I'm kind of bummed out that I couldn't do the audition I wrote about a month ago, even though I know it would have been an exercise in frustration, given all the other things going on in my life.

In lieu of that, I have been wanting to relearn the Schumann concerto and the Bach E flat suite -- both pieces I learned when I was in school. I performed the Bach on a recital but never felt like I really imbibed it totally. In some ways it's the most difficult because the key is so awkward on the cello.

And then the Schumann -- this piece has always intimidated me; it's so very unidiomatic to the instrument. I guess I started thinking about it because it was one of the two concertos one could choose to play at the audition, and I realized it was a real deficit that I had never brought this to any kind of polished level because it IS one of the great romantic works, period, let alone for the cello.

I've made some stabs at both of these pieces, but I have been frustrated by lack of time, at least if I want to sleep more than 4 hours a night and eat regular meals.

We have an orchestra concert coming up in about a month, but the music for this is not difficult, so not much practicing is required. The folk group may become more active now that summer is ending and people are back from vacations.

That's about it for now. Not terribly exciting, but at least I'm keeping at it.

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