Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tired and overwhelmed

You'd think that not having a job would mean no more of that tired, overwhelmed feeling. Well, okay, it's definitely better than it was, but the things I'm doing are stretching out to fill my days.

I blame most of the overwhelm on the Schumann concerto. Sometimes I question my sanity in choosing to perform this piece. But then I think, c'mon, Schumann himself would have been happy that you are playing it, however imperfectly. And what is "perfect," anyway?

Earlier this week I got together with a pianist friend and we played through it. It was good for me to have to go to someone else's house, unfamiliar territory, and play in front of another person. Plus, I recorded it, so that gave me good feedback. I did pretty well with it until the third movement; as everyone says, this where the real difficulties lie. The worst place was the development section, which consists of little fragments of one to two measures passed between the cello and the orchestra, ranging through numerous keys and chord progressions. Hearing the orchestra part totally threw me off, even though I thought I had it figured out.

Aside from that, the biggest issues I could hear on the recording were these:

  • A lot of slamming at the beginnings of notes and phrases, resulting in scratchiness throughout
  • Too much all the same dynamic (loud) and energy (forced)
  • Not enough shaping of phrases

Oddly enough, these things are similar to what my piano teacher has been telling me, especially the forcing. I need to trust that my sound will carry at soft dynamics. We're always told that the cello has to "cut through the orchestra," but when I look at how Schumann orchestrated this, many times there are only a few instruments accompanying, which allows the soloist to be heard without trying so hard. So actually, this makes my task easier and more enjoyable: instead of drilling everything at fff, I can relax and figure out how to make it sing and let the cello do its thing.

Next week, I have a lesson with a cellist in the National Symphony (different person than the one I have been consulting with -- the latter recommended that I go to this other guy because he recently performed the piece, plus he's taught it quite a lot). I'm also getting together with a cellist friend who is playing a concerto with another amateur orchestra; we are going to play for each other. These ventures should help as well. I hope.

My overall concern is that I don't have a clear idea of what I want to say with this. That's probably one of the most difficult things for us classical musicians to achieve. We get so caught up in playing the notes and markings, in producing a beautiful tone, and in demonstrating our technique that the art of telling a story gets lost. In some ways, the music does it for us in its structure (sonata form, ABA, rondo), but that only takes you so far. I will continue to ponder on this.

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