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!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

WebMD and war

Date: 03/29/14
Orchestra: Chamber

So I was finally able to get my hand looked at by a doctor yesterday. It was great that I found a clinic a block away from where I live. I showed up at 10:30 for a 10:45 appointment, but of course, I don't get the honor of seeing the doctor until after noon. It is as if I was waiting for the audience of a great king. I kept wondering why it had to be a 10:45 appointment, but I could not find the answer, other than letting the patients be "patient" and make it seem that they are busier (hence more important? ) than us.

My great nobel king looked at my hand and my body carefully enough, but then turned around and went on google... Of course, he had much more expertised knowledge than I had on that matter, so he was looking something specific up, and was very good at finding what it was that we needed to know than I had been in the past three weeks or so... but still..., I couldn't help but to be slightly disappointed...

I was hoping my mighty king would have asked me questions until I had no ear, and utter some strange words of knowledge to answer my answers I provided and give me some magical potions... I mean I felt like I waited enough to be treated that way...

I mean he wasn't mean or anything, and was very helpful, and gave me something useful. Just a bit plastic. And of course I was once again treated like the 156th peasant that came asking for a piece of bread at the pharmacy. And they would tell you anything, a complete lie and utter random nonsenses just to get rid of you if you dare ask them a question.

Anyway, in the end I got what I wanted, and I think it is already working quite well. But their attitude is making me hard to appreciate them from the bottom of my heart.

I guess I learned that, a human being is appreciated by not what they provide, but by how.

Anyway, I kept thinking back at our chamber rehearsal when we started it off with a conversation about WebMD, and war (at least my mighty king did not go onto webmd and diagnose it as cancer...)

And war of course can only happen when there is a complete lack of respect and appreciation. Hard to be sincere when you are so busy, but one must always try his/her best, because hate can spread rather quickly.

A rehearsal that starts off with random conversation topics are my favorite kind :)

So the Bach is already coming along, but obviously we just started it, so we have much much more work to do, namely crafting it for dynamic effects, chiseling out technical imperfections, and shaping it like a sculpture. And once we have the shape down, we can express it, SINCERELY, because it will be OUR product, and no one elses.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Things to consider

Date: 03/27/14
Orchestra: CYO

It had been a while since I heard the whole ensemble play together, but it is quite obvious that all the sectional work is paying off!

And I would like to take a moment to congratulate myself in actually being able to do what I wanted to do, which was to rehearse all three pieces and spend decent amount of each, and yet still be done (more or less) in time! :)

The Satie is sounding a lot more mature and much more atmospheric, which is great.
I would still like for you to listen to a recording of it as often as possible. And when you listen to it, I want you to pay attention to these particular things:

1. To the orchestration in general. How is Satie achieving certain effects. Specifically note the diffenrence in the first time the main melody appears (mm.5) ("mm." means "measure", by the way. not sure why, but that's how it is), and the second time which is at Reh. B (mm.31). Which instruments are playing what? What would you say is a "characteristic" difference between the two sections? 

2. Note the structure. Between each melody entrance, there is always 2 to 4 measures of space. What are the characters of these measures. What are the instrumentation/orchestration in these places? What do you think they are for? What effects do they provide?

3. Note the way the performers in the recording "perform" it. How do they play each note? What kind of sound are they making. How together are they within their instrumental group? How together are they as an orchestra? Do you think they are matching each others sounds and entrances?

So every time I hear you guys play the Bizet, I am surprised by how great you guys sound. It is as if you all have played it many times before. Still, there is always room for improvements! To start things off, I would like for you to start thinking about "how" you can make the section at Reh. D sound much more "passionate"?

I won't give you a specific assignment for Beethoven, because I want you to concentrate on what I mentioned above for now. But please keep being diligent about listening to a recording often. You may even apply the same kind of listening that I am asking to do for Satie, especially #1 and #3. listen to different orchestras, different conductors. Orchestras from different parts of the world playing the same piece. Note the differences. Note your favorite ones!

I have a mind for making "official" assignment for Beethoven next week. Yay, aren't you so glad???