Friday, August 30, 2013

Schumann: aspirational version

For the past couple of months, I've been returning to this video of Mischa Maisky playing the Schumann concerto with Leonard Bernstein conducting -- each time I see it, I get a few new insights into this piece. I love the cleanness and elegance of this performance. I'm guessing from the color of his hair that it was done some 30+ years ago.

First movement (there is an ad at the beginning -- just be patient, it's worth it):

Second and third movements:

I know I'm not going to play it at this level, but I can at least aim for the ease and expressiveness you can see here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My new life: how it's going so far

It has now been almost a month since I left my job, and I'm still getting used to not having to go to work. My big fear was that somehow I would fritter away my days, but that hasn't been happening so far. I was warned by many people that without a full-time job, my time would get filled up quickly, and that's true. I get up most mornings by 8:00, have breakfast, take a walk, and then practice the cello for the rest of the morning. After lunch, I have been doing some freelance editing, or chores around the house, or running errands, or teaching, and before I know it, it's time for dinner. The afternoons tend to disappear, so I'm still finding myself practicing the piano in the evening, although not as late as before. All those other things I was going to do, like clean out the garage, organize my files, and paint the living room? Maybe someday.

With the pressing business of getting the Schumann concerto learned, at the outset of this new regime I envisioned practicing the cello 6 hours a day. I quickly discovered that my fingers (especially the side of my left thumb, which presses the strings down in thumb position) could not handle more than about an hour of cello at a time, nor could my mind, so despite my almost panic that I have to get this thing learned NOW, I have had to moderate my practice time.

Nursing my aching arms and wrists and assorted nerves and muscular elements, I have worked my way up to 2 to 3 hours a day, at least three times more than I was doing before I left my job. These also have generally been concentrated hours, when I am alert and rested, versus struggling to stay awake while practicing at 11:00 p.m. And it is definitely making a difference: the Schumann has moved from OMG scary to relatively playable, plus I'm building up my stamina and calluses. With more than 2 months left before the first rehearsal, I am hopeful it will come together.

I'm continuing with my piano lessons, currently with Brahms, Bach, Debussy, and Bartok. I have been working on the Brahms Rhapsody Op. 79, No. 1 in B minor for some months -- my teacher's choice, to meet some pedagogical points he's not totally shared with me. A few weeks ago, he asked me to give some attention also to Op 79, No. 2 in G minor. I had originally protested against working on this because because it is probably the one piece I learned in some detail with my first teacher (with whom I studied from ages 9 to 16, mostly unprofitably, a long sad story in itself), and I could toss off the first couple of pages whenever I needed to play something. 

It's edifying to revisit this piece, which I hammered to death for decades, with a new perspective, being asked to play softer and more lyrically -- and also mortifying when I realize how horrifically I had been playing it all those years, loosely interpreting the marking "Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro and the dynamic of "f" to mean "let 'er rip." Imagine: I could have gone to the grave thinking that was all pretty okay. I suppose as with many things in life, better (to try and do it right) late than never! The two Rhapsodies together are teaching me a lot about relaxing the hand, playing big chords, pulling a long melodic line out of an energetic mass of notes without harshness.

I have not forgotten my WTC project, and I am still practicing WTC I/2 and hope to record it soon. But in my lessons I have been concentrating on the partita in C minor, which has been good for me -- it's Bach on a more expansive scale, with more of those long melodic lines (again) and less of the concentrated finicky detail of the preludes and fugues.

I would really like to play the piano on a recital sometime, but I think that will have to wait until after the Schumann concert in November. There's only so much stress I can take!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bit of wisdom

At my last piano lesson, I played "Serenade of the Doll" from Debussy's Children's Corner. My teacher asked, as he usually does after I've played something through, how I thought it had gone. I said, "It wasn't too terrible." We both laughed, and then he told me about a conversation overheard on the Metro:

Tourist: Everyone told us people in DC are so mean, but we haven't found that to be true at all! Everyone we've met has been really nice!
DC Native: In DC, we're only mean to ourselves.
"So don't be mean to yourself! I thought it was pretty good."

It's something of a conundrum: On the one hand, you have to be self-critical or you'd never improve. On the other, if you get into the habit of telling yourself how bad you are, this starts permeating your self-image and eroding confidence in what you're doing.

I guess as with everything, there's a happy medium somewhere in there.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Today is the first day ...

Friday was my last day at my full-time desk job. As I've told anyone who cared to listen (and some who probably didn't), it's both scary and exciting.

My biggest fear is that I won't be disciplined enough to make the most of it and will spiral into slothfulness. But the desk job had gotten to the point of being intolerable for a lot of reasons; the status quo was not tenable, so there was no choice but to move on.

It's exciting because I now have the freedom to pursue my interests without the draining 10 hours or so per day I had to spend being at work and commuting. I have lots of ideas for how to construct my days and plan to experiment finding the right balance.

I have plenty of constructive activities that will keep me busy, some even remunerative, so I'm hopeful things will shake out appropriately. My first big project will be getting the Schumann cello concerto in shape. Taking on this piece was ambitious, to say the least. Many cellists have fallen on the rocks of this thing -- but hey, it's not boring! So August is going to be Schumann month. Stay tuned ...