Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reflections on a gig

There were some good and not so good things about playing with an orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

The best part was playing on a beautiful real stage, with plenty of room; good chairs, lighting, and sight lines (yes! I could see the conductor!); and no religious emblems on display (sorry if that offends anyone, but that stuff always makes me uncomfortable).

The level of playing was really good; it made me play better.

I liked the piece quite a bit -- though fairly simple, it is cleverly composed.

The not so good:

Despite my telling myself it did not matter in the least, I felt left out because I wasn't in a starring role. The level of playing here made me realize what I've gotten used to in my usual orchestra gig. So I've felt a bit down about it.

But there was a review in the Washington Post, with a picture! That's me, inside second stand:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Opportunity or exploitation?

I've made lots of mistakes in my musical life (let's not talk about my nonmusical life!). I've been offered playing opportunities that I turned down that probably would have been beneficial to me, and I've accepted others that turned out to be miserable and a waste of time.

At this stage, I frankly don't need whatever small amount of money I can earn doing random gigs, so whether something pays or not is beside the point. When asked to play somewhere now, I ask myself: Will this be fun, interesting, and/or challenging? Will I interact with new people who might prove to be stimulating in some way? Is it worth it just because it will get me out of the house?

I've recently had a few of these crop up, and after asking myself these questions I've accepted all of them. The first was a query from my piano teacher about playing at a school assembly with a couple of the faculty. The school is a small private school (what used to be called an "alternative" school), and the other musicians were amateurs with some musical training -- a trumpet player and a singer. Because (1) the request came from my teacher, whom I like very much; (2) it involved playing the piano in front of people, which is something I try to do as much as possible; and (3) the school is about a mile away from my house, I accepted immediately. We played a Handel aria, and it was fun to do. It was YouTubed:

The second is a concert at the Kennedy Center with an orchestra that plays a lot of tangos. I am playing only in once piece, a "Misa Tango" -- that is, a Catholic mass (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.) with music based on tangos. This will take place this coming Sunday. It sounds impressive to say "I'm playing at the Kennedy Center" but it actually can be a bit of a pain because of traffic, parking, and logistics. And sitting in the back of a cello section isn't my ideal. But something about this interested me.

Tango! Soul and Heart

And then I got an e-mail asking me to play principal in a string orchestra for this (click on the "Entertainment" tab):

Festa Italiana

The rehearsals are way out in Virginia somewhere, the music is difficult, and the pay is just a token. I mentioned it to a friend, saying it could be wacky but I'd know more after the first rehearsal, and he said "What part of 'exploitation' don't you understand?" But again, something about it interested me.

Finally, the amazing pianist Brian Ganz, whom I've mentioned here a few times, asked if I'd be interested in playing duos with a good friend of his who's an amateur pianist and a member of AMSF. She's even way-er out in Virginia than the string orchestra, though she's willing to drive to my house some of the time. But I like Brian, and she seems very nice, and I was able to answer "yes" to my three questions. We are going to work on some cello and piano duos and piano-four-hands music. It will be interesting to see how that works out.

This is all in addition to what I think of as my "personal" practicing. A lot to do … but certainly not boring.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Beethoven, finally

I played the Op. 90 Beethoven sonata this past weekend at an AMSF event, a small house concert. Aside from the six of us performing, there were only two people in the audience, one of them my husband, so it certainly wasn't a high-pressure situation.

Listening to it, I was not happy with the second movement; it was a bit too slow and way too clunky. The piano was a good one but balky, with a heavy touch and a stiff pedal, so in many places my pedaling didn't hold the notes I was intending to hold. One of the other performers turned pages for me, which was a big help, but because I'd never played the piece with a page turner before it threw me off a little as well.

The sonata is dedicated to Beethoven's friend, Count Moritz von Lichnowsky. From Wikipedia:
Unlike a typical sonata, this piece consists of two highly contrasting movements:
Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck (With liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout)
Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen (Not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner) (cantabile)
The first movement is written in a 3/4 tempo, sounding mysteriously agitated and restless, described by Beethoven as "a contest between the head and heart," based on the situation of the Count deciding whether he should marry a young Viennese dancer. It starts out with powerful chords, responded by more subdued material. The falling semitone, particularly the G-F sharp, dominates the first and second subject groups, and most of the episodic work between.
The second movement, a rondo in the tonic major, however, quiets down into a beautiful melody with a 2/4 rhythm. The two contrasting movements suggest an agitated situation calmed by restful contentness. Notably, Beethoven uses German tempo marks for both movements.
English composer Bramwell Tovey characterized the movement as one "full of passionate and lonely energy." This contrasting gesticulation of emotion is especially evident in the piece's discernible dialogical form, where the head exposes an idea which is thereafter disputed by the heart.
Here is my performance. The sound level is unfortunately too low, so you may need to turn up your volume.

Beethoven, Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, complete