Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Schumann concerto video

Here it is (split in two to fit YouTube's length requirements):

First movement:

The rest:

People have generally been very kind about this performance. I am probably too close to it right now to be objective, but what I miss is clear expressiveness. What was in my mind didn't come through very well. But it's respectable, I think, and certainly technically clean, which is worth a lot with this piece. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's done

I performed the Schumann concerto yesterday, finally! It went well. I made one stupid slip near the beginning, in the second theme -- my mind wandered and my fingers zigged when they should have zagged -- but I think I recovered decently and kept going. My friends said they didn't notice. But overall, I felt amazingly in control and free to be expressive. So from that standpoint, a success.

The orchestra and conductor did a great job. They really sounded good.

There's a video (nothing fancy -- just a straight shot of me playing), but I haven't been able to bring myself to watch it yet. If it isn't too embarrassing, I'll post it. Still recovering from my cold, breathing and sleep all messed up, decompressing from the excitement of performing, I couldn't sleep at all last night, so I'm in a fog today.

I hope to get myself reoriented soon and figure out what's next musically.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

If it's not one thing ...

Things had been moving along fairly well with this upcoming performance -- it was not everything I hoped it would be, but that's how it goes.

But on Thursday, I woke up with a raging sore throat, the kind where nothing helps at all -- not hot tea, aspirin, or copious amounts of water. Normally, I don't get too stressed over a cold. They pass after a few days or a week no matter what you do. But to get one right now! I canceled my piano lesson and took several long naps, interspersed with a little practicing.

Friday, the runny nose thing started. I took more naps, practiced a little, and went to the dress rehearsal. The Schumann felt just on the edge of being out of control.

When I got home, I ate something and went to bed. Right about then, the cold had reached the point where I couldn't breathe and couldn't get comfortable. Somewhere during the night, I lost my sense of smell and thus taste. I am sitting here now trying to eat a bowl of broth I made that contains onions, cayenne, lemon juice, and Tabasco sauce, and I cannot taste it at all. It could be a mud puddle.

I took a decongestant just in case it might help, though I'm not optimistic. I took a long walk this morning just to get myself moving around, and I'm going to try to practice this afternoon and evening. I hope I am able to get through the concert tomorrow, but frankly, this sucks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kind (and probably wise) advice

From an Internet friend:

Take a deep breath, relax, and smile. You are really good, and the audience is going to love it. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

More rehearsals, thoughts

This weekend was the second round of rehearsals for the Schumann concerto. Yesterday's was in the morning. I slept too late, so only had time to get dressed and have breakfast before rushing over there, and I didn't have time to warm up at all. The conductor had invited a couple of friends to watch him and give critiques, one a conductor, the other a cellist, which he announced just before we started. So I was all shaky, and the whole thing felt horrible. Plus, the orchestra was still sounding pretty bad. My recording told the tale.

At my last piano lesson, my teacher showed me a way to practice a technically difficult passage wherein you set the metronome at some determinedly slow tempo and then play the shortest note value at that speed. The section we were working on, 10 measures of Beethoven sonata Op. 90, involves rapid 16th notes in an Alberti bass encompassing leaps of a 10th. He had me set the metronome at 60 = 16th note and play the left-hand part of the passage with one finger (first thumb, then fifth, then fourth). At this slow speed, it sounded like random notes. We then moved the metronome up to 80, then 100, then 120.

This helped so much with this passage (which had been turning my hand into a claw) that I decided to try it in the last movement of the Schumann on the sections with continuous 16th notes (though skipping the "one finger" part of it, obviously). Although the problems are different on the two instruments, the principle is somewhat the same: this gets you to feel the distance between each note and perform whatever motion you need to get there in a relaxed fashion. So I spent a few hours yesterday and today working those passages in the concerto.

I also, after wrestling with my pride a bit, emailed the conductor and asked if could take the last movement slower. Schumann marked it 114 = quarter note (which actually doesn't exist on any metronome), and we've been doing it probably faster than that, what with the rushing on everyone's part. In any case, it's not held together very well, and I felt very pressed and insecure.

I am listening right now to today's rehearsal -- basically just a run through because of time limitations -- and wow, the conductor really kept it at 108 = quarter note. It felt like we were crawling along, even though we were just a notch or so slower than what we've been playing. But it felt great to be able to play all the notes without panicking.

As for the rest of today's session, my other preparations involved bringing my own chair (the chairs at the place we rehearse are very low metal folding chairs; my own chair is at least a couple of inches higher, which makes a big difference in how secure my seating position feels, with my longish legs) and getting there 10 minutes early so I could warm up with a few scales. I also tried, while playing, to concentrate on the emotional scenario of the piece that I had come up with. So whenever my thoughts started drifting along the lines of "how'm I doing?" I steered them back to what was happening in the music.

In total, it all went much, much better. If I can play it somewhat in the area of how I played it today, I will feel relatively happy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Battle scars

My poor left hand:

On the left, my beat-up index finger (slowly healing). The dark stuff on there is the New-Skin.

To the right, my pinky suffering from an infected hangnail, thus the bandage. Do you know how much it hurts to play the cello with something like that on a finger? I never knew, until now. A soak in hot salted water last night helped.

At the very right, the scar from a paper cut received when I was fishing the mail out of the mailbox the other day.

Maybe I should wear gloves at all times until this concert is over.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Perceptions are odd

At the second rehearsal of the Schumann today, I felt tired, my finger was hurting, I didn't get a chance to warm up before we started so my hands were ice cold. From my point of view, I sounded awful.

Yet, when I loaded up the recording I made of it and listened to it this evening, it was quite a bit better than I was dreading. The tempos were good. By the time we got to the last movement, I was even more tired than I was at the beginning and was losing concentration, so I fluffed a couple of places, but overall, it sounded clean and confident. The orchestra was kind of pathetic today -- we were missing the entire bass section, most of the first violins, one cello, one viola, and some of the winds -- but I soldiered along pretty well.

Even the opening, after which I wanted to run and hide in a closet, didn't sound all THAT bad. Here, check it out:

Schumann concerto, somewhat fluffy opening

So the lesson here: don't panic. Keep going. Make the best of what I've got, what I've done with it, and where I am in the moment. Probably a good idea in any situation.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I had my first rehearsal today of the Schumann with the orchestra. That's not what I'm ughing about, though -- it went pretty well. I was happy that although things weren't perfect on my part, I never felt that utter panic of not knowing what comes next or whether I could play it. Even the development section of the last movement, with all the tricky back and forth between cello and orchestra, just rippled off my fingers without a second thought.

I recorded the rehearsal and listened to it carefully when I got home. I took notes and made a list of all the places that particularly bothered me. The orchestra had its usual first-rehearsal sound (less said about that, the better), but I expect they will improve as they get more familiar with their parts. So I was raring to go and work on my list, but the "ugh" is that I have ripped up my left index finger from playing. My fingerings apparently use that finger a lot for hard shifts, with the result that the skin has been peeling off. Very frustrating.

I did practice for an hour or so this evening, but decided it would be prudent to give it a rest for the rest of the night. My finger even hurt too much to play the piano -- I knew when I was wondering if any of my pieces avoided that finger that it was time to give up. So I soaked my left hand in hot water for a while, then put on some lotion. It may be time to get out the New-Skin again. I still have a bottle of the stuff that I bought about 20 years ago (no kidding).