Sunday, January 19, 2014

In the interests of honesty ...

My performance of the Brahms Rhapsody today was, um, kinda bad.

The only sort of good part, other than the fact that I got up there and played without stopping until I got to the end, is that I didn't rush excessively. But I missed so many notes, and I made mistakes in places I've never made them before. Also, I thought it all sounded blah, without enough contrast in dynamics or sense of melodic line or emotional involvement. Double ugh. I did play it much, much better at home, and even the last time I played it at my piano lesson. Very disconcerting (ha).

So the sole relic of the occasion I'm going to share here is a still from the video:

Friday, January 17, 2014


So I performed the Bach movement this past Sunday, and I will be performing the Brahms Rhapsody (Op. 79 No. 1) this Sunday. And then at my piano lesson this week, my teacher urged me to sign up to play the Beethoven sonata I'm working on (Op. 90, in E minor) in April at an AMSF "Sonata" recital (designed so people can play longer works), which I have just done. I think he can see I operate better when I have a specific goal, but this feels scary for some reason. When I thought through it, though, I realized I have almost three months to practice the piece, so I should be able to do it. It's not like it's the Hammerklavier or the Waldstein. It does have its moments, however.

There's a pleasant recording of the piece here on IMSLP (hard to believe the pianist is 90 years old!):

Piano Sonata No. 27, Op. 90, performed by Randolph Hokanson

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Video of Bach Partita movement

Okay, here goes.* Every time I see myself on video, I cringe and think I need (a) a girdle and (b) a haircut. But this is the real me, and I guess need to suck it up and live with it.

The video is a little shaky because my husband was holding the recorder in his hand because I forgot to bring the tripod.

*For faithful reader Bill, because he asked!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Creative resolution, first steps

I've been thinking of how to go about this and have actually done a couple of things already:

1. I contacted the music director at a church where I've played a number of times asking if I could perform there. They have a decent piano (a Kawai grand), and the director is sympathetic to serious music. I explained what I want to do, and I am now waiting for him to get back to me. If that doesn't work out, there are lots of other options. Or maybe I could even do each program twice -- once there and once somewhere else.

2. I have started practicing the suites. Suite No. 4, in E flat major, is the main focus because I never felt like I got a handle on it when I played it before. Because of the key, it's probably the most awkward of the six, and it's the hardest to make sing, I think.

3. I decided that if I follow through on the idea of pairing the cello suites with preludes and fugues, I will stick with Book II of the WTC. The corresponding sets in Book I are not as appealing (at least to me). I learned the G major set two years ago (see my recording in the sidebar), and I love the E flat set. So I started looking at these. Another thought is to play only the preludes, but the fugues are so good ... or maybe play some other pieces, like movements from the partitas or keyboard suites.

4. In thinking about the actual programs, here is my idea at the moment, though I may need to put Suites 5 and 6 on their own rather than pairing them with 3 and 2 and thus break this into four programs rather than three. Though none of the suites are any longer than about 20 minutes, and the prelude and fugue sets are less than 5 minutes apiece each, that's a lot of music and might be stretching it a bit both in terms of my skill level and the audience's patience. In that case, Suites 2 and 3 would be paired together, and 5 and 6 would each get their own programs.

Program I

Prelude and Fugue in G major, WTC II
Cello Suite No. 1 in G major

Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, WTC II
Cello Suite No. 4 in E flat major

Program II

Prelude and Fugue in C major, WTC II
Cello Suite No. 3 in C major

Prelude and Fugue in C minor, WTC II
Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor

Program III

Prelude and Fugue in D minor, WTC II
Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor

Prelude and Fugue in D major, WTC II
Cello Suite No. 6 in D major

This all could be just a wild fantasy on my part, but it's interesting to imagine it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pic from yesterday

Someone took photos of us as we were playing or (in my case) trying out the piano at the recital yesterday. I have my usual grim and studious expression. However, my shirt totally matched the wall behind me!

There is a video but I haven't gotten up the nerve to watch/listen yet, even though I pretty much enjoyed playing and didn't have any shaking in hands, feet, or other body parts. I've been feeling kind of bummed today, for no particular reason, and am putting it off. If it's not too embarrassing, I will post it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The wages of sloppy practicing

I had one of those piano lessons yesterday that made me feel like I haven't been practicing at all. First up was the Sinfonia (first movement) of the Bach Partita in C minor. I am going to be playing it on an AMSF recital on Sunday -- I figured since I've been working on it for ALMOST A YEAR NOW (ahem) I should give it a go in public. Only five minutes of music, after all. I had hoped to be able to play it from memory, but it's still in that shaky stage where I'm not 100% sure of the notes. In front of my teacher, I got through all but the last page or so and then broke down -- though before the breakdown, it wasn't going so well either. He had me put the music in front of me and try it again, and of course it was much better. So I'll probably use the music on Sunday.

But it wasn't just the memory thing bothering me. The 16th notes are uneven, for one thing. For another, I don't feel I have the balance between the hands worked out, and the hands aren't entirely together. This piece is pretty much in two voices, so the counterpoint is really much simpler than in most of Bach's music.

For those who don't know this piece, it's in three sections (thus, the title "Sinfonia"): a French-style slow opening, with lots of chords and double-dotted rhythms; then an aria-like andante, with walking bass in 8th notes; and finally, a lively fugal section in 3/4. It's the last section I have the most trouble with. This evening I went through that section in small chunks, hands separate and then together, and discovered some dismaying sloppiness and lack of certainty about fingerings that, sigh, I've been baking into it with sloppy practicing. The usual result of impatience, going too fast, and practicing without really listening.

I spent more than two hours last night practicing each small chunk in different rhythms and speeds, and by the end of the session it was cleaner. I can't fix it entirely by Sunday, but I'll try to get it at least a little better by then.

At this same lesson, I also played the Brahms Rhapsody Op. 79, No. 1, in B minor. Also a piece I've been working on for most of the past year. I am planning to play it at a recital the following Sunday to see what happens with it. Again, I've wanted to play from memory, and I can do it at home, but I didn't even try for my teacher. I've rigged up a way to use the music with minimal page turns, so I did it that way. But with this piece, some sections are so vast and move around the keyboard so quickly that I can't really play and watch the music at the same time. So I need to orchestrate when I can look at my hands and when I look back up at the music. Sloppiness and lack of clarity aren't so obvious in this as in the Bach, but I know they are there. My teacher did compliment me on how I played the B major middle section. He said it sounded like Brahms.

When I was still working full time, that was my excuse for not practicing wisely; that's gone now! I need to figure out a better system or I will continue to have these problems.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Creative resolution?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband mentioned that he'd heard an episode of the radio magazine "Studio 360" that featured an amateur cellist, so I looked it up to check it out:

Creative New Year's Resolutions: A Recital Realized

At the end of 2012, the show's producers had asked people to share on their blog creative projects they wanted to tackle in 2013, and they chose four people's ideas and followed them throughout the year. This guy's was to do a cello recital. What had me scratching my head a little is that he is a music teacher but had never performed solo on the cello, and also he seemed to have little idea of what is involved in preparing for such a thing. And though I applaud the concept and his desire to do this, the realization of it is quite modest (there is some audio at the link I've posted here).

Anyway, this got me thinking. There are two things I've been wanting to try. One is to rework all of the Bach suites and record them, just to see what I can do with them. I have learned and performed them all over the years, some a number of times, but not with the maturity and understanding I could bring to them now. Another wish I've had is to combine my piano playing and cello playing somehow. And then the idea came to me: I could find a performance space and play Bach on the piano and on the cello. One possibility I am envisioning is choosing prelude and fugue sets, or other pieces, in the same keys as the cello suites and playing them in juxtaposition.

I would not attempt more than two cello suites on one program. More than that would be a bit much for both me and the audience. Maybe even just one suite and one piano piece would be enough at one time. But spread out over a couple of years, this could be a fulfilling endeavor.

Studio 360 is running this contest again for 2014, and I even went so far as to post my idea on their blog, though I doubt if they'd want to feature a cellist two years in a row. But I have to thank them for giving me the nudge to dream this up. Let's see if I can actually make it happen.