Monday, June 2, 2014

Simple Symphony and and it's Alluring Alliterations

Hey chamber,
So let's not worry about the Sentimental Sarabande. We will concentrate on the Playful Pizzicato.
It was coming along quite nicely towards the end of last practice, so I think we can do a pretty good job with it in the concert.

Now, the movement does have a cute title, but I think it can use a little more help. Let's add these words to it.

Fierce Fingers
Dramatic Dynamics
Intensely Inspiring
Powerful Performance
Colorful Characters
Happy Happenings
Sparkling Sounds
Levitating Lightness
Creating Connections
Exquisite Ensemble
Emitting Excuses
Persistent Practicing
Practically Perfect
Positively Profound
Definitely Dance
Drastically Different
Sonically Spectacular
Casual Creativity
Pretty Pretty
Cuddly Cuteness
Ridiculously Resilient
Never Negative
Fearlessly Feisty
Pure Passion
Tremendous Teamwork
Alarmingly Attractive
Affectionately Addictive
Irresistibly Intelligent
Enormously Entertaining
Contagiously Confident

and the last three

Truly Talented
Always Awesome
Great Group

These ARE words that also describe you. 
Let's prove it.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

mystery in Erik Satie (hmm didn't quite rhyme...)

Hey guys,
So as promised, I wanted to post the poem that was the inspiration for Satie to write the Gymnopedies.
But before that, I guess I never mentioned to you that these pieces (there are three of them, and we are only doing the "first" one. Actually the order of these three pieces are not exactly standardized but we will call it the first one because that's what it says in our printed version...) are originally written for piano solo, and as far as Satie was concerned, he would've been happy with just the piano version.

It is thanks to his friend, Claude Debussy, who took it upon himself to orchestrate these pieces, that us orchestra musicians can enjoy them. And we should be especially thankful for Debussy was of course, one of the best orchestrators (and a composer), to ever walk the face of this Earth. Of course for our purpose, I had to fiddle around a bit with the orchestration, so our version is slightly "tainted" by me...

Anyway, here's the poem:
Oblique et coupant l'ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d'or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d'ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie
(for those who know a little French)
Slanting and shadow-cutting a flickering eddy
Trickled in gusts of gold on the shiny flagstone
Where the atoms of amber in the fire mirroring themselves
Mingled their sarabande with the gymnopaedia


by J.P. Contamine de Latour (1867–1926)

Pretty image, right?
Was this close to what you had in mind?

It is interesting because the music, to me, reminded me of snow falling, rather than fire flickering...
But the slow dance ("sarabande") part is the same. In my imagination, those snow flakes would twirl around in a happy slow dance before it hits the ground and melt away.

So the poem compares the flickering of the light to that dubious word "Gymnopedie". I guess, in a way, that is another reason why they are beautiful (both the music and the poem),Becuase we don't know what the word means, everything is entirely up to our imagination.

Now do this. Read the poem and listen to the piece at the same time.
See if it changes things. See if it (either the music or the poem, or even both) has a clearer image.


One more rehearsal to go! Let's do this!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reflections on Chamber's concert last week

So I thought the concert went really really well last week. You should all be super proud of what you accomplished.  I hope you gave yourself some kind of small reward for it for you deserve it. I did :) (I treated myself with good food while listening to good music)

I thought the way we opened the program (by starting Prokofiev without waiting fir the applause) was pretty effective and cool. It was a tad faster than I really would've liked it (completely my fault, as I was affected by the adrenaline), but it wouldn't have made any difference to the audience.  Maybe it was a good thing,  for I thought we sounded energetic and impressive.

Bravo to the quintet! You guys pulled it off amazingly despite of the almost impossible circumstance. All the technical stuff were there.
But a small ensemble like that needs to be more intimate, and more personal. In order to achieve that, a group really needs to spend a lot of time playing together.

The Bulgarian Song was awesome. Good energy, good ensemble (despite the unusual meter), first violins nailing the high notes,  great various sound effects through out, and great tempi (that's plural of "tempo", just in case you are confused...), I think the audience was quite impressed by that number!

With the Ravel, I realized that I just can't play solo comfortably in a tight physical space... I need more room... But that's a good thing to realize so I can tell you that, next time you need to take a solo for anything, make sure you have enough physical space around you, so you can be physically comfortable :)  Other than that, the change of pace seemed effective, so that was nice, but I think we need to pay more attention on starting and ending the phrases together. It is way more noticeable when the music is slow.

I do love collaboration of any kind. It just spices things up and give new inspiration and unique experience to all parties involved. I think those Rockit! kids were really cool. I just love their willingness to be involved with things. It is perfectly ok to be impressed by kids your own age. I am positive we impressed them tremendously too. Let's keep this good cycle going!

And yay! to the Brandenburg! I loved your focus during this piece! A little scary moment the day before,  but I figured that it really was just the acoustic of that dance studio that confused us. I noticed that every time we are in that space, our ensemble is weaker. Same thing happens to CYO too. So I might have been a little scared at that rehearsal, but in the end, I decided that it was nothing for us to worry about.  I hope you weren't too scared playing it. I don't think you were. The experience we had the day before was probably a good thing, for it seemed to me that we were all focusing super hard on staying together, which is what we should be doing all the time anyway!  And that piece is always just super fun to play. I'm really happy we are doing it. And we get to do it again in June! Let's shoot for even a higher level of performance then!

Great job, guys.

P.S. And thank you and good job to those who volunteered to do the MC's! 
I really appreciate your willingness to do extra for the good of the group! 

P.P.S. And Bravo! to Chloe and Anna who played every single piece in the whole concert (with Chloe on two different instruments), and double Bravo! to Anna who learned all 7 pieces of the chamber program in just TWO days!! Way to go girls!

Monday, May 5, 2014

the magic

Dates: April 24th and May 5th 2014
Orchestra: CYO

I am so glad that you guys find reading through a brand new piece for the first time with your friends in orchestra, "fun"!
Does that mean that you can now include "sight reading music" in the list of "fun activities to do with friends? I think you should! Next time your friends come over, put your video game controllers down, set your computer to sleep, put your cell phones away, and pick up your instruments!

Finding the music for The Sound of Music downstairs in the storage room among tons of filing cabinets, felt a bit more than a sheer chance to me. At first I wasn't sure, but when we started to read through it, I realized that this indeed was the exact same version I had played when I was nine years old as one of the first pieces I have ever played in an orchestra, along with the Beethoven Egmont overture, the L'Arsienne Suites (Bizet), and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (which we did last year). These are the pieces that gave me the biggest impact on me, and I remember the whole experience to this day.

I had not seen the sheet music for The Sound of Music since that time, but something led me to find it that week. For me to revisit it, and share it with people again. After contemplating on the whole event for a week, I decided that it was meant to be, and so I decided to put it in our program for this year's last concert.

I hope that this magic catches many of you. Let it affect you. Let it transform you. The magic of sound, music, and joy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the agony and the freedom

Date: 04/16/14
Orchestra: CYO

CYO members are a dedicated bunch. We rehearse during spring break, while others are napping :)
I like the mid-break rehearsals. The number of people are few, but I feel like I get to be a bit more personal with each of them.
Since the big orchestra wasn't there to occupy the theater, we took the opportunity to take an advantage of the situation in moved in there. I love using that room, because of the projector and the sound system.

I arrived an hour early to give myself time to remind myself how the system worked (I used it last year too, but wasn't sure if I remembered how to operate all those machineries), but when I got there, Maggie and her assistant were moving the curtain forward. I asked them if they had some big event going on, but to my surprise, they were moving it so they can get better lighting, just for us (the lighting situation in the theater had always been less than ideal, and I guess they had been trying to figure out what they can do to help us). Of course upon hearing that they were in this theater one hour before our rehearsal, moving big things, climbing up on the ladder, testing each lights, I had to drop my bag and help them. They are such wonderful people.

During the rehearsal, we basically just ran through the Bizet and Beethoven for the first half, and then all went outside by the pond during the break (it was a tiny bit chilly, but nevertheless a gorgeous day), and came back and watched a portion of the original Fantasia (1940). Of course we watched the Beethoven (6th Symphony) portion of it.

I was really impressed with your observations, comparing Beethoven's 6th symphony to the Egmont overture that we are working on. Even pointing out certain pitches and melodic phrases that appear in both pieces. Really great observations!

We also briefly talked about Beethoven's 3rd Symphony and how the disappointment he experienced through it sparked the birth of the Egmont overture.

Beethoven had been so impressed with Napoleon for leading his fellow country men against oppression, during the French Revolution, that he had composed a super massive (larger than any piece that had ever been written) and heroic masterpiece and dedicated it to Napoleon. On the title page of the third symphony, he inscribed Napoleon's name on it, giving the symphony a subtitle, "Bonaparte" (Napoleon's sir name).
But when Napoleon crowned himself as an emperor, Beethoven was so infuriated that he took a pen and scratched over Napoleon's name so vigorously that he tore a large hole in the title page. By the time of it's premier, he had named the symphony "Eroica" (Hero), instead of the original "Bonaparte". Beethoven must have been such a hot headed man. I love it!

But he needed a real hero. And so he found count Egmont, a Dutch nobleman who died while taking a stand against oppression. Beethoven was a true advocate of freedom.

Now that we know the story, I hope the drama within the overture start to make clearer sense. The unpredictable nature of the battle, the worry, the suspense, then the battle itself, the pain, the anger, the sacrifice, but then the victory, the joy, and the FREEDOM. You can almost hear the music, just by talking about it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Not just a bunch of rumbling low notes

I had a revelation the other day. As i was going through and studied some scores this week, (including the brandenburg concerto), I realized something I feel like I always knew, but needed countless of reaffirmations to hit me in the head as a knowledge. Pieces of music that are considered as great compositions, or music that are fun to play, all seem to have, unique, interesting, and melodic bass lines. I'm thinking especially (but not exclusively) of music by the three B's: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (of course one can add the fourth B, Bartok too if one likes). And it is definitely not surprising that Bach and other B(s) that came before them was one/some of the major influences on the later Bs. (However, all of their sir names starting on the same alphabet is purely coincidental.... Or is it????)

Their basslines are derived of a process we call "counterpoint", meaning these baselines are treated not just as support and the foundation of the harmony, but also act as independent melody lines, operating under, or with, or oftentimes against the main melody and other melodic lines.

Even if only the baselines of the pieces by those composers were rewritten in such a way that the only thing they did we're supporting the harmony, I guarantee you that you would not have heard of any of these composers, ever. I don't mean that their baselines were the only great things they ever wrote, but it is the intricacy of the involvement of their baselines within each particular contexts, that is truly remarkable.

If you've never paid attention to baselines, next time you listen to a piece of classical music (esp. pieces by one of these composers), I strongly suggest that you do. It could change your whole experience, and give you a whole new or way deeper appreciation to the art!

I also received a great news from Bruce of Rockit! that two of their kids will be joining us on the concert at the Middletown Library on May 4th! I'm very excited about that! We probably won't be rehearsing those two songs on our own, but please keep those songs in mind, and pick them up on your own, individually, outside of the rehearsals.

And here's a link to a funny video that Annabel found :) enjoy!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

listen, watch and be inspired!

Date: 4/3/14
Orchestra: CYO

So, As I wrote last week, I was going to give you a little homework on Beethoven, by just listing up some questions that you would answer, but I decided that that would be boring, so instead, I decided to ask you to watch a couple of videos. I decided that nothing is more educational than actually doing whatever it is that you are trying to get better at, and the next best thing is to observe some of the best ways in which it is done, and always remembering those great performances. Live is of course better, but the great thing about Youtube is that, you can do it at your own time, and can also watch it as many times as your heart contends. So Youtube it is.

I would like you to watch and observe two different performances of the same piece. One footage from a long time ago, possibly before even I was born, but still think is one of the best, and one of the more recent performances. I can't tell when this was recorded but looks like it could be from within the last few years.

You know, one thing I can't stand about modern music listening experience is that it has become nearly impossible to know when the performance was recorded. Without the knowledge, it is very difficult to understand the historical context of the performances, and in my opinion, takes a lot away from the listening experience.

Anyway, without further whining...

The first one I want you to watch is the performance by Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. Despite his inability to accept and appreciate cultures and peoples that are different from his own, when it comes to the interpretation of German music, especially those of Beethoven, I can't think of anyone else that is as special as him, from the past or today.

Now, as you will see, Karajan has a unique conducting style, especially when he is conducting the Berlin Phil, which was practically "his" orchestra at the time. He will not cue. He heavily relies on the ensemble skill of the orchestra members, which he can do because this orchestra at the time was consisted of some of the best of the best performers from all over Europe, if not the whole world. He is only concerned with the musical intent, and will conduct WAY ahead, to make musical gestures which the orchestra will follow while letting the orchestra stay together all on their own. It is a wonderful approach for it gives the performers a bit of freedom (but a LOT of work for the concertmaster, and other section leaders, but I think it makes it a lot more fun to play, hence you always see the musicians of this orchestra really getting into the music!) Talk about conducting ahead of the orchestra, though...

I remember hearing an interview from an orchestra member of this particular orchestra from relatively the same time (It was the principal bassist, but I don't think it was the same guy from this video), in which he said that every single member of the orchestra is subdividing the beats in their heads (meaning they are consistently aware of the smallest rhythmic values. In this case, the eighth notes and the 16th notes.) He said that it would be absolutely IMPOSSIBLE, if even ONE of the orchestra members did not subdivide his/her beats, to stay together.

Interesting, right?

Now watch this, and please note:
Their sound (aggressive, or delicate? impassioned, or casual?)
Their body movements
What they are looking at
Their bows (esp. if you are a string player)
and lastly, their BREATHS

Karajan with Berlin Phil


The other video is a performance of Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, which is a YOUTH orchestra, just like us :)

In contrast to the Karajan clip, this is a performance of one of the greatest young talent of our time, conducting a group of young and talented, but not necessarily the best musicians (especially compared to the first video).

I would like for you to note the differences and similarities between the two performances.
How's the tempo?
What about the sounds?
Their body movements?
Dudamel's style vs. Karajan's

Dudamel with Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela
http://vimeo.com/54139266 (sorry with this one, you'd have to copy and paste the url...)

Also while watching these videos, please pay attention to some of the instruments you never paid attention to before, and learn something from them!

Happy listening!