this week, I had the pleasure to see Greek violin virtuoso, Kavakos, play Sibelius violin concerto with the the Philadelphia Orchestra. I went to the concert twice, once sitting in the front row, the other sitting on tier 3. Kavakos has a long history with this concerto, having won the Sibelius competition before the age of 21.
At the beginning of the concerto, the subtle orchestra accompaniment and the tender solo remind me of the wind blowing, which Kavakos brought to life with no grit in his sound. This movement has many technical challenges which Kavakos tackled with apparent ease. It was clear he had made good musical choices as well, although I believe those choices would have been enhanced if he had shown the phrases with his movement. Instead, he maintained a rigid and stiff form for the whole movement.
The second movement of the Sibelius concerto is meant to invoke emotion and to convey images. Although Kavakos’ performance was technically flawless, he did not convey the strong emotions I wished for. The orchestral accompaniment was trying to draw this out of kavakos by playing more musically themselves, but his performance was lackluster and slightly dull.
The third movement is a technical nightmare, which Kavakos dealt with beautifully. He made it sound easy, while loosening himself up to enjoy the performance and show his medical ideas more. This was by far his most successful movement, combining technical accuracy with beauty and flash.
Overall his performance was good, but only the third movement stuck out to me as being fantastic.
In the musical world, competition is something you might expect. We willingly sign ourselves up for competitions, and go to concerts to hear other musicians perform. Every time we hear someone else play the violin, we instantly think “I want her intonation!” ‘I want her sound quality!” “She can play so fast!” What we don’t realize everyone looks at us the same way when we play. When I am performing, I see the worst aspects of my performance magnified and I truly believe everyone else see’s this also. In fact, others see the performance the way it really was, which probably isn’t as bad as you think. Even if you don’t have a great performance, others will be much more forgiving of you than you will be.
What we also don’t realize is what goes on behind the scenes of the performance. Maybe your friend who you thought played amazingly, practices six hours every day. That is the reason she became amazing. If you only practice two hours a day and are upset because your friends who practice more are improving faster, their practice is the reason for the improvement.
I want to be a violinist more than I have ever wanted anything in my entire life. Sometimes I don’t want to do my homework, so I wait and do it Saturday night or Suanday afternoon instead of Friday afternoon. Sometimes I don’t want to go for a run, so I do it later. These things are important to me, but I don’t have as great of a motivation to do them. With music, it is easy for me to get up and go practice because I know I have to. I know that if I don’t, everything I dream of could go away. Even at 5:00 in the morning when I really don’t want to get up I do because I have a dream that my life will one day be great. My life will be great because of what I am doing today. This day of dedication and work, and ultimately joy is the reason that I will ultimately achieve my goal.
Instead of comparing myself to other students who may be better than me, it is importnat to realize the work that I put in and the improvments I am making in my playing slowly every day, every week and every year.
Last night I had the amazing opportunity to not only hear the amazing violinist Gil Shaham play, but also meet him after his performance! He played Bartoks second violin concerto wonderfully! His performance packed a huge amount of personality into the 30 minutes he was given, and here are some of my other thoughts on his performance.
When Gil Shaham walked on the stage, and he looked happy to be there, not at all nervous as I might have expected.He had great communication with Yannick, the conductor,which was fun to see. In the first movement, he used a number of different techniques that were all executed perfectly to share his idea of the concerto with audiences. At times he played so softly that he was barely heard, but the audience was quite in these special moments and he was heard throughout the hall. Other times, his playing was rough and heavy, but to audiences further away, the toughness went away and all that was heard the was the power and evenness of his eight notes. His cadenza was well planned and executed and was very techichally flashy, ending this movement with a real bang!
The second movement begins with a beautiful theme, and then goes into hysterics. Gil passionately showed all of the characteristics of this movement with perfect technique. This whole concerto was very clean and perfected so that his musical ideas could really shine through. Overall his performance was a success, but what intrigued me most was not his technical skills but his pure enjoyment of his time on the stage!
When I play in a chamber music group, you can be put with many different personality types. I have been with players who are very shy and quite and won’t give their opinion or ideas, then there are those who take complete control and make the decisions for the group. In both of these situations you should take some control of your group, making sure rehersals are going the way you want also. Here are some pf my tips.
When the others in your group are shy and won’t make decisision about what to rehearse, you must be th one who keeps the rehearsal going. I know that you don’t want to seem like the tyrant type of leader, but continue to check in with them and ask if they have any new ideas or sopts they would like to work out. If you don’t take the leadership role in this situation, your rehersals will be spent doing nothing. As long as you continue to make sure your group mates are content with your choices as leader, this approach works very well.
If a member of your group is trying to take the lead, that can be ok. Sometimes you should let someone else step into the leadership role if they want. The problem comes in when they begin to ignore your ideas, or make derogatory remarks. In this situation, it is imperative that you tell the leader that you value his/her ideas but that you have some suggestions to that you think would improve the group. If the musician is taking over as leader, they obviously want a good performance also, so you can use that knowledge to bond together and try to become a more unified group.
If you haven’t worked witht the groupd for very long, these are just tendencies that come up that can be worked out over time. I hope these tips helped you to deal with difficult personaliy types in your own chamebr music rehearsals.
Everyone has a different time when they like to practice, and different ways they like to break up their practice. It is easy to come up with a good practice routine and do it for a few days, but sticking with the routine long enough to make it a habbit is the tricky part. I have figured out what has been working for me, so here are my favorite tips.
- Find your most concentrated time of day and do most of your practice then. I like to practice in the morning before school. I usually can fit in 2 or 3 hours before I even start school which makes the rest of my day more stress free.
- Block out chunks of time to practice certain things, so my first hour of practice is basics, like shifting, vibrato, and finger dropping. My second hour is scales, thirds, and octaves. My third hour is etudes and orchestra music, and my final two or three hours of the day are concerto and other solo repertoire.
- Keep a practice journal of what you need to work on, how you intend to fix it, and what ended up working. This will ensure that you stay interested and engaged in your practice instead of mindlessly practicing.
- If you are not focusing, just take a break. You never want to practice something the wrong way because as my teacher used to say, practice makes permanent. This is very true and is a good thing when you do good practice.
- Think like a scientist. Use your practice room as an experimentation lab and try new practice techniques, fingerings, and ways to play difficult passages. This can make even the most tedious practice better.
I hope that some of these tips helped to make you want to practice everyday. Sometimes, you still make not want to play but know that picking up your instrument in the early morning is the hardest part of the practice session.
Each instrument in a group has a certain role, each equally important. Most people make the mistake of thinking that because first violin’s usually have the melody, they are always the most important. The first violins melody should be heard above the other parts, but audiences should understand that the melody wouldn’t sound the same if the other voices or counter-melodies weren’t there.
The second violin has many different roles in both chamber music and orchesral music, one of which is playing the melody. The first violin doesn’t always get the melody. This type of writing is less common in classical era music where the first violin dominates, but in more contemporary music, the second violin takes the melody quite often.
Sometimes, the second violin imitates what the first violin or any other instrument has just played. Sometimes the imitation is just the same rhythym with different notes, and sometimes the second violins imitate the exact same line.
When the second violin has any kind of steady continuing rhythym, their job is to keep the melody in line rhythmically. This is boring to play, but so important to the whole group.
Often times the second violin will be in octaves with the first violin and then the second violin should play much louder. This helps to support the first violin as he/she climbs higher on the violin.
It is important to remember that the second violin part is important to the piece and you can have fun playing it! Think of playing second violin like a service to the group. You may rather play first violin, but the group needs a second violin! Remember to play loud and confidantly and have fun listening the group.
When you take auditions for any orchestra, you will need to know the standard orchestral excerpts. An excerpt is a small section within a larger orchestral work which usually has some sort of challenge( fast notes or troublesome intonation). Listed below are some of my favorite ways to learn orchestral excerpts.
1. Get a good fingering. When starting out learning an excerpt or any piece of music, it is important to experiment with fingerings to find the one that works best for YOU. Fingerings are very personal and what works for you may not work well for someone else. A good fingering can solve many technical problems.
2. Figure out why this particular excerpt is chosen. If it has hard intonation, you know that the intonation is the one thing you need to be flawless. If you find the skill the jury is looking for within the excerpt and make it perfect, you have a much higher chance of getting the audition.
3. This trick is obvious, but slow practice is a must. For anything to be consistantly good, it takes slow repitition.
4. You should be familiar with the work as a whole so that you can know the context of the excerpt and the character you should use to play it. You should also be aware of what the other instruments are doing during the measures of the excerpts.
5. You should know if your part is important or not. Sometimes the judges give you experts that are secondary to the main theme and they want to hear the excerpt played like an accompaniment. If you are playing the theme, bring it out and play it like a concerto.
These are my favorite tips for learning orchestral excerpts. These tricks really speed up the learning process and should make the audition process easier.
At Curtis this summer, I played the Dvorak Piano Quintet. This piece is so special and it is important to play it well.
The first movement begins with a cello solo, acting as an introduction to the whole piece. This remeinds me of someone floating down a river. The solo is interrupted by the contrasting minor melody brought by the second violin. The movement switches between major and minor, ultimately ending in A major. I think of these switches as multiple people having an argument. This movement has many different melodies that come in sequences or change keys. The melodies alternate between the instruments and feature odd instrument duets. The first and second violins are often in octaves. The second violin played the lower octave and should play much louder because the register of the first violin is higher. The second violin can also guide the first violin when he or she is playing very high on the violin. This movement has a rhythmic motif of dotted quarter note eigth note. The eigth note should be placed later and made very short when this rhythym is played. Near the end of the movement, you can feel the tension building and all of the instruments hold a whole note before moving to a dotted half note. This is the climax of the entire peice and this is when the key is settled in A major. Then the movement comes to a crashing end in A major.
The second movement is a dumka, which means thought or melancholy. This movement is written in an ABACABA form (the letters refer to different themes that return). The first entrance is like a funeral march and is based around the beat. Then comes the B theme which is very different. This theme, featuring a violin duet, is in major and reminds me of dancing. Then the A theme reutrns but this time, it is expanded on. The C theme is the A theme pieced together. Dvorak uses a small part of the first theme to create this folky, and new theme. Then the A theme returns again almost to show the similarities between the rhythmic structures in the C theme at that of the original theme. Then the B theme returns, this time in a differnt key. After this, the A theme comes back for the final time, and ends with another development on the very first part of the A theme.
This quintet has so many small details that if noticed, really bring out the true intentions of the piece. Dvorak had many cultural influences from European, to folk music, to Asian culture, and African American cultures.These influences are what makes Dvorak’s music so unique and colorful.
I spent three weeks this summer at Curtis for a summer festival for instrumentalists. The program included orchestra, chamber music, choir, and theory. The faculty included Curtis teachers, and Curtis alumni, as well as some other professional musicians from the area. Their were about 100 program participants.
The day began with choir at 8:45 am. I have never sang in a choir before and am not the most willling singer. But because everyone in the program is required to participate, I grudgingly sang in the soprano section of the choir. Everyone took a theory class, which covered all of the compositional era’s very broadly. During the day, we had about three hours of private practice which I used to learn orchestra and chamber music, and also to practice solo repertoire for lessons. Chamber music was a two hour block in which I played the second violin part in a Dvorak piano quintet. Three times a week coaches came to help the group make decsions and to give advice. Setionals were also part of the daily routine. One of the faculty would lead a specific instrument and help them to learn their orchestra music before the rehersal that evening. We had two hours of orchestra rehersal every night with our conductor, who changed every week.
I thought this program was well organized and needed very few changes to the schedule throught the weeks. The teachers were also very helpful and I feel they imparted their knowledge very well, although I would have liked more than three private lessons. The orchestra was so much fun to be apart of because the music was a joy, and the conductors were so great to work with. Each conductor had a different style in which they ran their rehersals, but each yielded great results. The chamber music was amazing because most of the time the group rehersed alone, which taught me how to run a rehearsal and critique the group without a teacher. Another wonderful aspect of the program is that you can ask any questions of the school or the program, which as a curious young musician, was very helpful. I live in a world where classical music is a thing of the past. That is difficult because classsical music is something so intrical to my way of life. Being apart of the Curtis Summerfest let me be around other young musicians with the same way of life. This program gave a great insight into conservatory life and was overall such a positive experience for me as a musician.
Often times when I am on vacation during the summer or have started a new piece but want to keep the old piece in my fingers, trouble ensues. I believe that family always comes first and if you are on a vacation with your family doing something special, you need that time to take a break and enjoy the company. The only trouble with that is that when you get home, practicing is even more of a drag.
Even though this may be a hassle, it is worth is to bring your instrument with you on your vacation so that it will be in the back of your mind. Even if you can’t play or bring the instrument, listen to your reputoire everyday. Bring the scores and continue to study the scores if you have your instrument or not. Everyday remind yourself of the hard parts of your concerto and how you have learned to play them well. In short, remember the certain tricks you (probably) have learened that help you play the hard parts better. Visualize yourself playing the piece for just 5-10 minutes everyday.
If you have your instrument, just take it out for maybe 10 minutes everyday and just go over one or two common problem areas with slow practice, a drone, or a metronome (or any practice method that you think would be benefical) just to keep the hard parts still in your fingers. If you have time, jsut play the whole piece through at the end of the day to make sure it stays in your memory so that you will stay ready to perform it for when you return home.