Thursday, August 29, 2013

Graz: Festival of Summer

The first professional engagement for summer festivals has been successfully accomplished and drawn to a close. I spent a full five weeks in five lively programs of opera arias and select works for orchestra alone. The festival that afforded such a luxurious summer abroad was the AIMS Festival, which stands for American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz. Each summer a group of musicians coming from all parts of the USA and also the world form the festival orchestra that is is perform orchestral works and opera arias, which are sung by very accomplished singers in their own right. 

I went without knowing what to expect from the program--only that it had been in Graz, Austria for many decades and that the advertisements could be found posted on professors' bulletin boards, in music magazines and online. Aside from this I know not one soul who had attended the festival or had heard of it, aside from seeing the ads like me. It was not a total shot in the dark as I knew I could get free room and board plus a chance at busking to earn some pocket money. Five weeks, ok, if it's good I'll be ready to return and if not that great I'm only out the price of a plane ticket. Not a bad deal. 

The festival orchestra was fair better than I had anticipated. There were people from all sorts of positions. The principal cellist of the AIMS orchestra is currently a cellist with Detroit Symphony and other players come from various posts that include Dallas Symphony and many are either freelance musicians and/or professors/teachers in various parts of the U.S. What's more is the quality of members that are currently students that contribute a very high quality to the orchestra's sound and verve.

Without droning on about the details of the festival I will add that the music directors were all Europeans including one who directs the Volks Oper in Vienna, one Gerrit Priessnitz. Very clear in his technique as well as his musical leadership. The concerts in which he conducted were the most transparent and clearly projected from the standpoint of sitting in the orchestra. The concert of Strauss was particularly exhilarating because of the Viennese tradition that he brought with him to the festival orchestra and the singers. The all Wagner program that Priessnitz conducted also ranked high in quality and communication to me. 

All in all the five weeks felt long during the rehearsals of the final program but flew by in retrospect. I did have a good time playing in an orchestra of real, bona fide musicians. It brought back the feeling of being able to play again and reminded me how important it is to be involved in the activities regularly to continue developing and improving. If the time is right and the opportunity is there I'd do it again. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dear Mozart: It was fun

A program of all Mozart, yes, at first I was not so excited about the prospect. Now after five rehearsals with French Maestro David Grimal I have been shown the wonders of Mozart. It is so simple that one is deceived that it should be otherwise. Yet, to achieve purity of music it has to be played with utmost dedication to the ideas already clearly defined by Mozart himself. The latter is what requires the work; attention to the details of playing. 

Grimal's playing is pure silk. Not a harsh quality about it, which is expected of a French musician, but rarely heard in such smooth and seamless way as he can present the music. I went to the iTunes store in search of his recordings and was greeted by an album of Debussy and Ravel. He is well worth the effort of looking up, but I could be a little biased now that I have had the working opportunity with him. Not one one one but at least I have taken in some 10 hours worth of absolutely fantastic lessons is music making. 

Here we are during intermission just after we played Concerto No. 4 in G. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dear Mozart

Taipei Chamber Orchestra is giving a concert this Friday evening. I am also playing in the orchestra. We are lucky enough to be joined by a very good French violinist named David Grimal. The choice of music is quite a cross section of Mozart's chamber music. The Divertimento in F for strings is first, followed by the violin concerto in G, and concluding the night is the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for violin and viola.

All three works represent a fully devoloped composer but give completely different pictures of his creative mastery. I am quite simply very satisfied playing an all Mozart program. Much more happy doing so than I ever thouht possible. Perhaps because I don't play melody save a few bars here and there scattered about each score. Well, if you want some good listening then look these works up.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Into the Mind

Just a quick note and update on memorization.

I have noticed that my mind has begun to work more efficiently while I practice. Not only do I seem to organize passages in a manner more conducive to remembering them but I do so without actually thinking too much about it. This result was apparent after I practiced Popper's Gavotte No. 2 in D major for two days. I broke the ABA into subsequent themes and practiced them in turn of appearance. That's is now a given for any work I do for memorizing. What's more is that I now seem to be recognizing other building blocks of the music as an aide in remembering the music.

The Gavotte, granted, was a piece I worked on as a 14 or 15 year old, and then taught to one other student about three years ago, but that is really insignificant since I don't play anything from memory just by hearing it or practicing it without the intention of memorizing it. Or at least, I hadn't played anything from memory as a consequence of merely playing it many times. Now, with some focused thought I retain ever larger and larger pieces of music for later recollection.

Now that I have been practicing with the organized thoughts of a memorizer the process is becoming more automatic and less a frantic battle to keep a few short phrases in my fingers. It is interesting how honing this skill literally gets easier with a more organized approach and continues on organizing the organized, an so on and so forth. It's building on itself. I can live with that.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The History of Violin Playing: Bowing and Signs

Recently I have been perusing the monument on the history of the violin by David Boyden titled The History of Violin Playing from Its Origins until 1761. Since the history of violoncello is inextricably bound to that of the violin it provides excellent material for learning more about the way in which the cello developed as well. The examples given for treatment of ornaments and bow strokes are also valuable and give well thought out insights into their usages in those days, albeit, for the most part, necessarily succinct.

As I was skimming the pages on bowing I ran into the origins of the signs used to denote a down-bow and an up-bow. Here is an extract quoted from page 262.

"Terms and abbreviations fro down-bow and up-bow are as follows:

                         Down-bow              Up-bow
Italy                  T (tirare)                  P (pontare)
Germany          N (Niederzug)          A (Aufzug)
England            d (down)                  u (up)
France (usual)   T (tiré)                     P (poussé)
France (Muffat) |                               v
                          n (nobilis)                v (vilis)

Muffat's first usage is his normal one. The 'n' and 'v' are not really bowing signs; they stand for 'good' (stressed) and 'bad' (unstressed) notes, normally played with down-bow and up-bow, respectively. His (|), a vertical stroke, is very confusing for down-bow, because he gives the same sign for detachment (staccato). Any connexion between 'n' and 'v' and the modern signs...for down-bow and up-bow, is apparently fortuitous."

New students look at me suspiciously when I reveal to them that the sign for down bow looks like a square 'n' with a really thick top and a 'v' for up bow. Many invariably say that they should be just the reverse. Therefore, this excerpt caught my attention and is certainly a plausible explanation as to why the down and up bow signs have become what they are today.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Copyright and Herbert

I read more about Victor Herbert after that previous post and found some intriguing information about him. This time not about music that he wrote but something far more important for the protecting the composer's hard work. If one can sell the music that one writes it would be a shame not to get paid for all the copies being sold.

Yes, Mr. Herbert was not only a gifted cellist sought after by the Metropolitan Opera as principal cellist and a prolific composer--2 operas, 43 operettas, numerous orchestral works, 9 pieces for cello and compositions for other instruments including violin and piano-but also a very good public speaker.

He founded the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and led the way for copyright protection of musical compositions. Apparently his Irish charm--Yes, he retained that lilting Irish accent that no mere mortal can resist--was as useful in his lobbying efforts as his superb oral skills were.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Herbert and Dvorak

Yet another recording of the Dvorak cello concerto in B minor, Op. 104 has been added to my listening library. This time it's the young French guy by the name of Gautier Capuçon. The difference with this recording from the playlist standpoint is the pairing of the Victor Herbert (1859-1924) concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 with Dvorak. Rather than the usual Rococo by Tchaikovsky or the Schumann concerto he decided on the practically unknown Herbert. I had seen the Yo-Yo Ma recording on my Dad's shelf but I had opted to listen only to Bloch's Schelomo, totally neglecting this guy named Victor Herbert. Assuming that since I hadn't heard about him all through college I wouldn't bother with it.

Thankfully, I did choose the Capucon recording of the Dvorak concerto. Just today I listened to his CD. No, not Dvorak, Herbert was the reason I turned to the recording today. Why, the interest in Herbert so suddenly? I was thumbing through The Great Cellists by M. Campbell and happened to read the section on Herbert. Unbeknownst to me, he was not only a fairly popular composer of operettas in his day but he was a sought after cellist until an arm injury forced him from the cello chair to the podium and more emphasis on composition. However, before the performance career ended he premiered his own cello concerto no. 2 in E minor in 1894 in New York.

It was after this premiere that Dvorak comes into picture and hence the tying in of the title of the post. I mean the real reason to have mentioned him in the first place. Dvorak heard the concerto, although it is not clear if it was the actual performance with Herbert playing the solo cello part. It was after listening to it that Dvorak decided that he, too, should write a cello concerto and he would compose it in similar fashion.

Well, there it is. Thank you Herbert for writing your second cello concerto and performing it while Dvorak was in the U.S. Without it, we may have gotten a very different cello concerto from the Czech genius or quite possibly none at all.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Goltermann: amended thoughts

After re-reading the brief paragraph on Georg Goltermann by Margaret Campbell in her very worthy book "The Great Cellists" I decided a post addressing the comments she made about him as composer warranted another post.

It's not that I wholly disagree with her and the fairly harsh pronouncement on Goltermann's decided course of change in career, but rather that I find it more an annoyance. It sounds as if she searches for some witty comment at the expense of a lesser known cellist/composer simply to fill what little space she had intended to commit to him in her book.

While Herr Goltermann's works are not particularly inspired or inspiring to listen to, they do serve a significant purpose. That purpose is one needed in the field of teaching and learning. For those students who are not so technically advanced much of his opus created a way for those students to show off in the level they had acquired. To me this is a very courageous act on the part of the virtuoso cellist since he probably knew that writing such music would not push him into fame in the realm of compositional greatness.

However, to justify Campbell's comment at least in part, I offer the following observation. After reading several of his concertos and some character pieces that are certainly intended to be played by the advanced performaer there is much left to be desired. Yes, he provides decent melody and some exciting passage work and then some more passage work that repeats itself or is a slight variation on the first rendering of the passage--if that makes any sense.

In short, there are a few pieces worthy of the concert stage or at least in a soiree. However, most other compositions are mainly useful as teaching material. He makes one work fairly hard for the virtuosic licks, meaning that technique must be well developed to execute those passages well. This refers mostly to his concertos 1,2, 5, and 6, which I have read a few times just to be sure I was not having a knee jerk sort of reaction to the writing.

In the end though, I think we would be prudent to give this music some chance and at least the benefit of the doubt for study purposes.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georg Goltermann: A Short Biography

Goltermann may not be known today by more than the cellists who were required to play his Concerto No. 4 in their mid developmental years. However, he was, by all standards of the 19th century a virtuoso cellist touring all over Europe. Goltermann seems to have been attracted to conducting, teaching and composing, which was cause enough to halt his busy playing schedule. As the author Margaret Campbell rather impudently mentions in her book The Great Cellists, Goltermann regretably stopped playing and devoted his entire life to composition, teaching, and conducting, to which he contributed little of lasting, worthwhile music for the cellist to play.

The above paragraph is about half of the all the material I could find on Goltermann using the book mentioned above and searching the internet. Although he was once a fairly played composer his style of simpler, readily accessible music (for the less technically advanced player) has fallen to the wayside. I have found some Nocturnes and other small pieces that do lend themselves to the intermediate student. They are not wholly devoid of creativity or melodic content (melody being the stronger element in his music rather) but certainly are not the creative masterpieces of Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, etc. This makes them perfect candidates for the less technically advanced students to show off their acquired level of proficiency on the cello. In other words, Goltermann's music is just in the niveau where one can appear adept and skilled without straining their limited command of the instrument.

In short, thanks to those cellists who wrote music for every level of learner. In this sense, Goltermann filled a much needed element in the repertoire.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nocturnes and Concertos

Out of the choice of cellists who were themselves composers, I find it odd that Georg Goltermann has come to my attention. As a student I learned the well known Concerto No. 4 in G Major just like every other student in the intermediate stage of development. However, no teacher ever introduced anything else from that composer/cellist. It was almost as if Goltermann wrote one lone piece that he arbitrarily titled Concerto No. 4.

Now, some years after initially studying that concerto I have found a number of other works that have piqued my interested. Some Nocturnes and a few of his concertos have proven compelling enough to play through several times in a week. It seems he wrote eight concertos and a goodly number of nocturnes which include a half dozen opuses.

Though his music is rarely played, even by students--his music is generally a student-type of music--it was once on the regular circuit of performing cellists. One such name that most will recognize is the legendary Pablo Casals. There is even a recording of him playing the concerto no. 4! This I want to hear. I had a mind to record it simply because there were none to listen to. As I found out though, there is one extant recording, therefore I stand corrected. However, I think it would be good to record it for the sake of quality in the recording itself--not to be confused with the quality of playing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Album Leaves

12 Album Leaves for Cello and Piano
by: Reinhold Glière

 Discovering heretofore unknown works for cello from the Romantic period and before is a pleasant, if not exhilarating experience. Seeing the printed music for the first time, I generally get a sense of excitement at the chance that the music will be interesting enough to play more than once. The notes are on the page and they begin to speak before being played. Then, as I draw my bow over my strings, with my fingers stopping notes as the composer wishes, the music has a voice. This is the moment that I have been waiting for. What is the voice that the notes wish to express?

In the case of the 12 Album Leaves or Albumblaetter (in German) the sounds coming from my cello gave rise to a soothing, though dark Russian voice. As Russian composers are known for their darker music, even happy music can have a somewhat heavy tone to it, this music seemed to be no exception. I played through all 12, one or two page, movements in one sitting. Each little piece gained in melodic beauty, all the while compelling me to continue. The notes were not written for beauty's sake nor to prove the composer's ability at writing flowing lines that meld together.

I don't know any people who have played these pieces let alone anyone who knows they exist. I am grateful to the generous uploader to IMSLP for allowing others to discover one more reason for playing cello.

On a short note about Reinhold Glière, I read in Wikipedia that he was born to a German father and Ukrainian mother in Ukraine after his father moved to live there. His father's family name was Glier. Only later on did Reinhold change his Germanic family name to the more Belgian/French looking and sounding name Glière, which also changed the pronunciation. If this is true it certainly clears up the questions I've always had about a Russian with a French looking name.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

In an Elementary School: Play and Tell

Taipei Adventist American School

The Adventist Elementary School in Taiwan lies just to the North of Taipei on a mountain called Yang Ming Shan. It is a rather out of the way place in the midst of trees and tall grass. Though, it is still surrounded by housing, not a as tightly packed as in Taipei or most other cities. As the school came into view I couldn't help but think of the resemblances between the Adventist college in Italy, Villa Aurora. The long driveway winding through small trees and shrubs climbing up a fairly steep hill. Then the gate came into view I a really started making comparisons with Villa Aurora. High walls surrounding the entrance way and a little yard in front of and off to the right side of the main building. This is where the comparisons stop however. TAAS is a one building place. All the grades are in a three story building constructed in like manner with many of the older buildings in Taiwan. Though I think this one tries to give as much semblance to an American structure with plenty of windows.

The program I did was rather extemporaneous but it came off well. I played some Bach Prelude and Sarabande from Suite No. 1, something fast and flashy by Franceour, and the exposition of the concerto in D major by Haydn. The kids were asking all sorts of questions. A very talkative, but quite informed bunch they were. In between the pieces I played were questions like, "Can you play Silent Night on the cello?"So, I demonstrated one verse and they loved that since they knew the tune well. Then one of the teachers, David Robinson, asked if I could accompany the kids as they sang Amazing Grace. That is how I finished the presentation.

This kind of program is one that leaves you feeling satisfied. I was able to share what I love and show them how amazing the cello is and how great Classical music is to listen to and play. They were all very receptive to the playing, which helps me think that Classical music may not die away quite like we have been hearing in the past few years. I think, with education and exposure to the art we classical musicians will have informed listeners who love the genre for centuries to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


With the current scenario that I have, it has finally occurred to me how vital one's own space and environment is to learning. Not that accomplishing goals is unattainable in less than desirable conditions. Rather, it's more of an inspiration thing. Sometimes inspiration hits at 6am and sometimes at 10pm. You get the point? In certain scenarios playing at those times would be unheard of and rather looked down upon, whether wholly or in part.

It is a notion that I am not used to and still need to make mental and attitudinal adjustments that I can get the most out of my current situation. It makes me think back to times when I actually had the freedom to take up my cello at any time of day or night. Sometimes I would play until 10 or 11pm simply because I was enjoying myself so much. It wasn't practice, per se, just playing for the pure pleasure. Or I could just as easily play some Bach at 7 or 8am just to get the day going in a very positive way musically speaking.

When an ideal environment cannot be reached the mind has to overcome displeasure and find the strong points in the situation, overcoming what was at first perceived as a negative scenario. In the end however, the importance of finding one's environment cannot be overstated. It can have amazing positive influences on the work one does in the practice room.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Memory: Part 1

How does memorizing a piece work for you? What methods do you employ? Or is it just the faith that many, many times through it will render the music incapable of escaping from your brain? I have certainly seen the latter but it never quite stuck there as a permanent solution to the problem. At least not in my experience and not from those immediately surrounding me.

Well, I've been working out my own memory problems for the past year and have come up with something that works pretty well for me. It certainly is a huge step ahead of the previous haphazard non-method of ramming through a work and hoping that it sticks. 

This is a list of what I've been able to memorize using this new method:

Bach Suite 4, Dvorak concerto, Schumann concerto third movement, Scilienne by Marie Theresa                            von Paradis, Cassado suite first movement, a TV commercial jingle I played in Taiwan, Franceour sonata in E major first and second movements.

Any thoughts are welcome. Please comment. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Vaudeville Performance

Saturday, February 2, 2013

9:30 a.m.

Arrived at New Life SDA English Church in Taipei. Held in the auditorium of the Adventist Hospital. Played along throughout the congregational singing for both Sabbath School and the Worship Service. This weekend was communion and so I happened to miss the closing hymn but that worked out very well. They are used to hearing only a piano and a song leader anyway. (Soon they will be used to the addition of the silky voice of the cello.)

This was not a vaudeville performance. ;)

5:30 p.m.

Arrived in Zhubei in Hsinchu county at one of the plethora of the so called "event restaurants". These are big open spaces with cafeteria style round tables with a small stage at the back of the restaurant. Waiters bring in the food and drinks while the organizers of the event speak ad nauseum about the happenings of the past year and what will go on at the event.

I stepped up to play around 6 p.m. Just two short pieces. The Habanera by George Bizet and the Prelude from the first Bach Suite. Could anyone hear that I was playing? Yes, the people that sat directly in front of the stage. Despite a microphone the sound simply could not penetrate the loud chatter among the hundred or more guests. I thought that it might be that they were simply not interested in the cello or the foreigner playing it. As the meal wore on it became clear that the mass people were obviously not going to quiet down for anyone or anything.

No hard feelings. Just another experience in playing and a time to experiment with sound production and how to get just a few more people interested enough to listen to the music.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Auditions Sharpen Skill

Auditions are often viewed by many as a necessary evil to advancing oneself in the performing arts career. They are certainly no walk in the park, otherwise everyone and their mother would be doing them. They were perceived and described to be vital parts of one's career. No problems with that perspective. But they were so often regarded as hard, scary, stringent exercises in one's will to succeed regardless of the reception the one auditioning got from the panel of judges. Again, I don't disagree fully but perhaps they could be perceived slightly differently to benefit more the performer's efforts and career.

Recently I was listening to some motivational CDs. In the middle of one CD the man mentioned a crucial thought to improving one's career. He had been speaking about the necessity for employees to increase their own worth in the eye's of their boss. He said something like this: (paraphrase) Go take interviews as a way to sharpen your skills and continue learning and growing.

As a musician I equated this, of course, to the audition (really an interview but with a different name). Having recently taken an audition myself I began reflecting on my thought that I had improved since the last one. This could be a part in the perspective that I have been missing all along, making auditions a dreaded and fearsome experience for me?

Interviews, auditions in my case, can really be looked upon as exercises in improving skill, adapting to surroundings, finding out how to play better, what to do before hand, how to act while in the room with the judges, etc. Those auditions are meant to make me a better player and person. They aren't there only for me to win, as it were, but to sharpen my ability.

For me, it was a revelation to think of those feared moments in a new way. This paradigm shift has implications well beyond any audition but also to the career itself where we performing artists are seeking to hone our skill every day. The audition is just another tool in the kit.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Johann Gottlieb Graun

J.G. Graun (1703-1771)

Graun held a position of high esteem in the Prussian court as Konzertmeister to King Frederick's orchestra. He was composed at great deal especially after moving to Berlin where he was a particular favorite of the King. His concertos and chamber sonatas for flute were well received.  For his efforts he was paid handsomely, as King Frederick was an accomplished amateur flutist. The higher salary was much to Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach's consternation whose contributions were also substantial to the Prussian court. (More about C.P.E Bach later.)

Graun did have two brothers who were both musicians, but neither were as productive as composer as Johann. He wrote nearly 400 compositions in many genres including sonatas, concertos, overtures, and symphonies. His musical tree includes the great Italian violinist/composer Guiseppe Tartini.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Georg Christoph Wagenseil

The only know likeness of Wagenseil is this silhouette (1746?)
Wagenseil was a composer to the court in Vienna. His own composition teacher was Joseph Fux and was widely favored at the time. His operas were played in Italy and the rest of Europe. Composers such as J.C. Bach, W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven were familiar with his works.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Johann Christian Bach: J.S. Bach's Youngest

I am currently reading a biography about J.S. Bach's youngest son, also a composer, by Heinz Gaertner. It is titled, John Christian Bach: Mozart's Friend and Mentor. This book has gotten me thinking. I'm half way through this veritable list of composers most have never heard of or heard only because of the music history courses offered through university. Try these names: Graun, Hasse, Martini, Abel, Wagenseil, Gassmann, et. al. Heard of them? Better yet, heard their music?!

Johann (John) Christian Bach

The youngest of Bach's sons is not known today as anything more than a son of the great Bach who composed a little and played keyboard. It's interesting that I picked this book up off my Dad's shelf and began to read simply because I knew nothing about him and thought that I could glean some more information about J.S. Bach via his son. It turns out that I found myself more interested in all the other composers mentioned in the biography who knew the Bachs in some way.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Richland Auditorium

The Richland Auditorium is one of those old turn of the 20th Century venues that are falling apart due to lack of funds and/or neglect. This place is like walking back into history about 50 or 60 years. The renovations done to the original building are so old that they are even crumbling. The theater seating is falling apart and looking up at the ceiling makes one wonder if there won't be some surprises dropping in on the audience.

Despite the state of disrepair the building is a fascinating acoustical space. It's played operas, plays, political events, women's suffrage rallies, classical concerts and even Liberace graced the "at that time" state of the art venue with his presence.

My Dad and I were asked to play for this fundraiser. Here is one video of just me playing Bach Suite No. 4 in E flat major, the Prelude. It was fun to play and basque in the reverberant acoustics of the Auditorium. I felt like I was playing for only myself and it came across not bad either.

It was recorded on an NEX 5 with only the internal microphone from the balcony.