Saturday, February 26, 2011

You all know how it works by now...

I disappear for a month or more, return sheepish, apologize profusely for disappearing, and rinse and repeat after that post.

Well, I had more or less planned on having a hiatus last term. That is, I hadn't thought about it beforehand, but when it ended up happening I was okay with it. That's what happened my first year at CCM as well. But this term I had not planned on it. I have a post in the works on culture shock as a musician, but alas, it may have to wait for two more weeks, until the end of this term.

I have been, and remain, so busy. Last term I played in orchestras, workshops, chamber groups. This term I've played in an opera, an orchestra concert of Rachmaninoff 2 and Dvorak Cello Concerto, and broken very briefly into the world of church gigs. Then another oboist at the university had to have his appendix out, and there suddenly was an oboe shortage! I've picked up three gigs from him, and between now and March 11 I'm playing in my college orchestra, Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, another orchestra concert, Bach's St. John's Passion, a chamber orchestra, and Brahms Requiem.

And I still have to get my school work done!

So my apologies, I'm very sheepish, please forgive me. In short, I am loving my course, and Oxford is fantastic oboe-wise as well; there is so much music here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The City of Dreaming Spires

Hello from Oxford!

I feel that everyone, upon moving to a new country, should have a week, if possible, to wander around lost and confused. Well, I have been in England for a week, and although my term doesn't officially start until Monday, I feel I should start moving in the direction of work. (Though I would like to note that the University, Department, College, and Graduate Common Room have all been incredibly welcoming and helpful. I may be overwhelmed, but I am not appreciably lost or confused.)

Although I have yet to meet my supervisor (an email for tomorrow!), I had department orientation, known here as induction, on Monday, and met the other first year graduate students. It seems like a really nice mix of people, doing really interesting things. I'm the only MPhil in Music History, but there are quite a few MSt Music History students, and our degrees are the same for the first year. So I will have some company! The department's in a nice building, with a Graduate Center (full of coffee, tea, and computers) out back and some practice rooms. We also had a library orientation, and got to see the Bate Musical Instrument Collection. The library's a nice space, with good resources only marred by the fact that there are two cataloging systems running side by side. Well, that and the fact that only 20-30% of the sheet music and scores are cataloged online. The rest are only found in the physical card catalog. Nevertheless, it's a nice library.

The Bate Collection is somewhat less helpful for my research, but incredibly exciting. As a student, I can play nearly any instrument in the collection, within reason. Of course, "within reason" means, for me, all the oboes. Such as the 18th century oboes, the 19th c. Viennese oboe, the Brod or Triebert or 19th c. Loree oboes, not to mention the English horns! I'm incredibly excited to take my reeds down there some day and see how the instruments are doing.

However, the Faculty Library isn't my only library resource. I also have the main Bodleian library. Normally the music reading room is in the New Bodleian. However, that's just been closed for extensive renovations, so we've been relocated to the Duke Humfrey Reading Room in the Old Bodleian. A hint: if you've ever been on a tour of the library, it's that room.

I'm incredibly excited to start the term. I'll be taking a language, having meetings with my supervisor, attending a two lecture series and a discussion series, and hopefully playing in at least one large ensemble as well as a quintet. 

Now to finish organizing my room...

Oh, well, before I go. I'll have my orchestra audition this weekend; I'll find out more tomorrow at the activities fair. I'll be playing some combination of Bach and orchestra excerpts, as yet to be decided exactly. Wish me luck! The first orchestra concert is Tchaik 5 and Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, so I'm crossing my fingers that the audition goes well. (A side note for those who have trouble visualizing the size of spools: having just bought three exciting new thread colors from Forrests, I can say that they sell absolutely gigantic spools of thread. It makes it a fairly good buy, but be forewarned!) I hear that my college will be putting on Barber of Seville next term, so I hope to be playing for that as well.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Spending 5 weeks in Italy playing beautiful music with talented people was a truly amazing experience.

It was the first year of the festival, so there were a few wrinkles; our housing was disappointing as the festival staff had been mislead as to what would be available for us, we had no cooking facilities, internet was spotty, and schedules sometimes very last minute. But the town of Spoleto is very excited that we've based the festival there, and so they are on our side to make next year run more smoothly. There were some personal wrinkles, too. I, and the rest of the oboe studio as well, had some very trying reed times, in part because of the airplane trip, in part because of the slightly different climate and altitude, and in part, I think, because we all felt so frantic about the whole thing. It's always harder to make a good reed when you feel like you need one immediately right now or else! Of course, by the time I returned to the US, I had some really beautiful ones which were in turn ruined by the return flight. A shame, but I'll just have to make some more!

However, the negatives of the festival were overwhelmingly eclipsed by the positives. There's really too much to say, but I will try a little bit. I played an orchestra concert in a 19th century opera house, chamber music in a chapel-turned-recital-hall, and an opera in a 17th century opera house. I was also able to sight-read a ton of woodwind quintets with some really great players, sneak in a few extra reed lessons with my teacher, and go on trips to Rome, Assisi, the beach, and a vineyard, not to mention exploring Spoleto and mountain behind it.

I think that Annunziata Tomaro, who conducted the orchestra concert I played in as well as the opera, is fantastic and inspiring, so I was very excited to get to work with her again. I was also excited to play The Rape of Lucretia again; it's a beautiful and incredibly moving opera. I actually had a chance to watch part of it in a piano dress rehearsal, and it brought me to tears. Credit to Britten, but also to our singers. 

I got to do some reed work with my teacher with some last minute "wait! before you leave..." tips and hints, and although I'm still struggling with my English horn reeds, I've never made better oboe reeds - "grown up reeds," as my teacher calls them. The halls helped with that. The Teatro Nuovo, where the orchestra played, has a tall and deep stage with no shell, and reeds have to project and ring more than anywhere I've played. Of course, Caio Melisso is completely different. The pit has an extremely low ceiling (perhaps 5 foot 10?), and as such, everything ricochets off the floor and ceiling; reeds have to be extremely covered and very, very soft. The latter is much more challenging for me than the former! In the end, I was able to spend some time in the pit working on reeds, and I'm not sure I could have made the reeds I did otherwise. I'm not quite sure what I did differently - I was more careful around my tips, I think, and my tips were longer, with a hint of the "double tip" my teacher prefers. My definition was more pronounced, and my rails more even. I suppose what I really did was concentrate and do the right things, rather than the wrong things. Easy, huh?

I loved playing in orchestra, and I loved playing in the opera, but one of my favorite parts of the festival was my woodwind quintet. I didn't have a regular quintet this year at school, and I missed it! I loved playing Summer Music, and I also loved the time we spent reading quintets for fun. I probably played more quintets in those couple of sessions than I have in the whole rest of my life! Well, perhaps not quite. But I had a lot of fun, and I got to read through pieces like Ligeti 6 Bagatelles, D'Rivera Aires Tropicales, some arrangements of Mozart and Rossini overtures, Milhaud La cheminée du roi René, and other pieces with really fantastic chamber musicians. 

Spoleto is also, of course, home to the very prestigious Festival dei Due Mondi, founded by Gian-Carlo Menotti.  There is a distinct, and very exciting, possibility that in the future CCM Spoleto will become more strongly linked with the Festival. However, this year although we picked up about a week after the Festival closed, and were only in our first year, our chamber music concerts were consistently standing room only, and we had very good turn out for the opera and for our final gala concert. I intent to return next year if at all possible.

I will put up a few of my pictures so you can see the city and concert halls!

Unrelated to Spoleto, I have two new recordings on my youtube, both Bach with soprano, one on oboe and one on oboe d'amore. I played on the singer's recital in the spring, and I had a lot of fun. Beautiful music.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I have two pieces of news.

First, a week ago I graduated from CCM with my MM in oboe performance! Technically, graduation was on the 12th, but my oboe written exam (16 pages, single spaced, on history, pieces, performers, techniques, teaching, etc.) was due last Wednesday. We were each given a CCM Alumni hat following the graduation ceremony.

Second, in the fall I will be attending Oxford (New College) for a MPhil in Musicology. I'm incredibly excited, and pretty nervous both to move to England and to go to Oxford. When I applied in the fall I never truly expected to get in, and while I received nice offers from both Case Western and Tufts for their masters programs, I couldn't turn down Oxford. It's really a dream come true for me.

Well, hello. I don't know that I've ever been as busy in school as I was this last quarter. In some ways it was great, and I got to play on a couple recitals, in the pit for Die Fledermaus, and in an extra orchestra concert, but I felt pretty overwhelmed the last couple weeks of school, working on a presentation, a paper, two exams, an excerpt board, and an opera.

I'm so happy that I got to play so much this year; a recital of my own, pieces on four other recitals, my orchestra rotation, a conducting workshop, Schubert Symphony 5, and 3 operas. I feel that I've improved a lot this year, both as a solo and chamber player and as an orchestral player. The Schubert concert was among if not the best concert I've ever played, despite the fact that I am utterly terrified of Schubert. (Everything must be exact, clear, simple, and beautiful at all times. That's a lot of pressure!) Less seriously, I played in a reading of Mahler 6 with two string players and 12 each horns and trumpets.

I've also learned a lot about what I need to work on. I feel like I've got a much more solid basis for tonguing, and I know how to work on that, and I also have a solid start to circular breathing and double tonguing. I'm also much more confident in an orchestral setting, in large part from playing in three chamber operas. And my tuning has gotten immeasurably better, though I'm still often nervous and mistrustful of it. However, I need to work on more accurately hearing the sound I produce. I was unaware of the positive qualities of my vibrato, and find it very hard to judge my volume accurately. In general, I need to play much louder when in orchestra, and even when playing in a chamber group. I also need to work on finessing the beginnings and ends of notes.
Something that Dwight said which really stuck with me was "Oboe playing is like a book - even when what's in the middle is beautiful and interesting, the beginning and the end are what hooks people and what they remember." I thought that was really clear imagery as well as a great combination of compliment and critique.

This quarter I got to work with several teachers: three of the oboists in the symphony downtown, and another teacher from out of town. They are all fabulous teachers, and although I missed my professor, I really enjoyed working with several different people. Sometimes it can be frustrating going back and forth between different view points, particularly if one of them falls much more in line with your own views, but at the same time it's nice to get a lot of different view points, especially on the pieces, including really big audition excerpts, which are being played downtown. So even though I only worked on excerpts for my board nearly all quarter, I feel that I got a lot done.

The Master's excerpt board is the excerpts from 20 pieces, though as I was doing some very oboe heavy pieces I only did 18 on my prof's suggestion. Here's what I played:

Bach - Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra
Beethoven - Symphony 3
Bizet - Symphony in C
Brahms - Symphony 1
Brahms - Violin Concerto
Mahler - Symphony 3
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition
Ravel - Tombeau de Couperin
Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade
Rossini - La Scala Di Seta
Schubert - Symphony 9 (The Great)
Shostakovich - Symphony 1
Shostakovich - Symphony 5
Strauss - Don Juan
Stravinsky - Pulcinella
Tchaikovsky - Symphony 4
Tchaikovsky - Symphony 5

I was also able to work with some great professors in my academic classes this year. My best class was probably one on American Symphonies in the first half of the 20th century. The topic isn't my general area of study, but the professor was articulate and engaging, and the class was truly interactive. We had some great discussion, both serious and a bit more frivolous - I must admit I love a class in which you can compare a symphony to a fantasy movie score and not be laughed at.

I'm fortunate enough to be going to CCM's opera program in Spoleto, Italy (which kind of piggybacks off of THE Spoleto Festival) for 5 weeks in July and August. I'll be playing The Rape of Lucretia again, so I'm going to spend the next several weeks working at my highly convenient desk job, practicing like crazy, and making reeds. Oh, yes, and learning Italian. :-)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It is finished!

I gave my second Masters recital on Friday, which means that although I'm technically only half done with my degree requirements (I have an excerpt board and a written exam left), I have finished my recital requirements!

I'm fairly happy with how I performed. I frankly don't know why I programmed the music I did, given that my two main issues when performing are endurance and missing notes from nervous fingers, because my program was long and quite technical. Both problems did crop up in my recital, but I will say this. I loved all of the music I performed. I never got sick of it, and I didn't only like the music, I liked playing and performing it as well.

I had some dramatic reed problems in the week leading up to my recital, and although I made a very large number of reeds, I ended up playing my recital on a reed which my teacher helped me with. Although I'm disappointed about that, I was very happy with my tone throughout, even as I got tired. I did get nervous about endurance during the second and third pieces, but there were really only one or two places that it affected my sound. I was mostly able to keep in tune as well, though there were a few jarring notes. I feel that I communicated the affects of all the pieces and I was confident on stage. In general everything went well, and I didn't let my mistakes unduly influence the rest of my playing.

However, I can't say that I'm satisfied with my performance. I had some fairly dramatic finger issues in a couple passages, and I did get tired a little more quickly than I anticipated. My problem, really, is consistency. I took things too fast, I was messy, made a lot of mistakes I shouldn't have. Of course I played better when practicing, and in rehearsals. But the difference shouldn't have been so drastic. I'm disappointed in myself because I feel I didn't deliver a performance representative of my best ability. I was listening to some opera a few days after my recital, and I realized that part of the reason I feel so disappointed in my performance is that I've had an ideal in my head all quarter of the fantastic, flawless opera singers I've been listening to so much. I've been basing my performance, my stage presence, and everything else on the inspiration I've gotten from these singers. I had adjusted this ideal in my head to what I thought was feasible for me, but I still didn't live up to that. Mostly because I guess I just didn't practice my fingers enough, but also because I had a much less accurate idea of how stress and adrenaline would influence my playing that I though I had.

The trio, which ended my recital, went fabulously, though.

Now that I'm several days out, I'm actually feeling more ambivalent (in the true sense of the word) about my performance. I can't let myself be wholly satisfied with my performance, but I'm very happy with how I sounded for most of it. (One of the other oboists here, told me that my tone made her happy. Which made me happy.) Am I still kicking myself for missing all those notes? Yes. Do I recognize that most of the time I played very well, and if I hadn't missed those notes I would have been incredibly pleased? Yes.

If you're interested in listening to my recital (after I've said so many disparaging things about it!), I've uploaded it to Youtube here. It will come up in reverse order: my program, as listed in the post immediately below this one, is Sonata, Signor Bach; Concertino, Kalliwoda; Fantasia, Daelli; Trio, Dring. I'm having a very hard time being objective about my performances, so any comments are welcome, though merely "you missed a bunch of notes" would not be particularly helpful. I've also added two other recordings, from last fall and last spring respectively, which I'm particularly happy with.

And now I am very excited about getting to learn some new music (another minor Baroque sonata, another opera fantasia, a couple Bach arias) and playing bel canto opera scenes in orchestra with perhaps my favorite conductor of any I've worked with.

In non-oboe news, as I've said before, I applied for musicology programs for next year. I've been rejected from several, but I've been accepted to both Case Western and Tufts and waitlisted at Cornell. I'm still waiting to hear from Oxford. Now I must begin the process of deciding which school I want to attend!

Program Notes: Recital, Winter 2010

Sonata in c, "Signor" (Johann Jacob) Bach
Concertino, J.W. Kalliwoda
Fantasy on Themes from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, Giovanni Daelli
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, & Keyboard, Madeleine Dring

“Signor” Johann Jacob Bach (1682-1722) was one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s brothers. He was an oboist for the King of Sweden, and also played the flute. While it is not known for certain that he composed this piece, which is only signed Signor Bach, it seems likely that J.J. Bach both wrote and performed this work; contemporary sources provide versions for flute and oboe.

The Sonata is simple and short, with four movements, each in simple binary form. Because it is so short, there is minimal space for development, but Bach tends to introduce each theme and then provide some gentle variation. His alternation between slow and fast movements, though there are not specific motivic links between the movements, also helps expand the form of the piece. The writing is characterized by echo effects and repeated motives, but his melodies, despite their naivety, are beautiful and evocative.

Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda (Jan Křtitel Václav Kalivoda) (1801-1866), born in Prague, was a composer, conductor, and violinist. After a touring career as a virtuoso violinist, he worked nearly his whole life in Donaueschingen, a town in southern Germany very near the present day Swiss border and eastern Austria. He was a prolific composer of symphonies, operas, masses, and, obviously, chamber works. David Hurwitz describes Kalliwoda’s music as “thrilling, and it strikingly anticipates or echoes so much of 19th century music--from Berlioz to Dvorák to Wagner, and even Sibelius,” and I can’t help agreeing. Written in the 1844, this Concertino seems to anticipate the music of Viennese operettas and waltzes some twenty or thirty years before their flourishing. Although the manuscript is lost, a contemporary set of parts exists, and the piece was evidently written for a friend, the oboist H. Reuthen.

Though it is not based on any specific operatic material, the highly theatrical sound of the Concertino cannot be denied. This is typical of Kalliwoda’s salon music, though his symphonies tend to be more dramatic and serious. Though the movements of the Concertino are all attacca, they are very clearly delineated. The first movement is a march made up nearly entirely of dotted rhythms which plod along until a passage of flurrying motion at the end; it exudes the slapstick humor of a comedic opera. The second, slow movement features beautiful and highly dramatic soaring melodic lines. In ABA form, the first theme is peaceful and calm, while the contrasting second theme is stormily but genuinely emotional. The third movement evokes nothing so much as the whirling ballrooms of Johann Strauss II and the many characters to be found within them. The movement ends in almost frenzied excitement while still maintaining the piece’s light, comic energy.

Giovanni Daelli (1800?-1860) played solo oboe at La Scala Theater in Milan, and also taught at the conservatory there. He lived in an age where copious amounts of virtuoso music, much of it in the form of opera fantasias, were being written for nearly every instrument except the oboe. (This was perhaps due to the fact that mechanical advancements had occurred much earlier for other woodwind instruments than for the oboe.) Like Pasculli some 50 years later, Daelli was perhaps frustrated with the lack of virtuoso music for the oboe, and so composed this Fantasia on Rigoletto.

The piece is undated, but was first published by Ricordi before 1855, when it was listed in a German catalogue of oboe music. Giovanni Ricordi and his son, founders of the publishing house, were close friends with Verdi, and Daelli likely knew him through his position at La Scala, so it is probable that Verdi gave permission for the publication of this piece. The fantasia consists of melodies, most notably Caro nome and Tutte le feste al tempio, and variations. Both of these melodies are played by the oboe in the opera, and are sung by Gilda, the unlucky daughter of Rigoletto. The piece ends in a dramatic rising chromatic scale and emphatic chords highly reminiscent of the opera’s final notes, but changed from a horror and sorrow filled minor to a triumphant major representative of the oboist’s efforts, if not the subject matter.

Madeleine Dring (1923-1977), was an English composer who studied with Gordon Jacob and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Most of her compositions are fairly small scale chamber works, but she also composed incidental music for the stage. According to her website, “she was also psychically gifted, which gave her a wider than usual perspective.” Dring’s husband was an oboist, which accounts for her numerous pieces for the oboe and their highly idiomatic writing.

The Trio will be played tonight with piano, but is written for either piano or harpsichord. Elements such as rolled chords and high, music box-like passages seem explicitly designed for the harpsichord, but others, such as the slow, legato second movement seem much more natural on the piano. This odd dichotomy is evident in much of the trio, which combines markings like “alla baroque” with harmonic language ranging from chant-like parallel motion to jazzily dissonant chords. The Trio is also characterized by short, overlapping phrases, and a very close partnership between all the instruments, but especially the oboe and bassoon. The abrupt endings of the first and third movement are typical of Dring’s writing, as is the light-hearted and playful sound.

For citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing racheloboes [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For a short month, February sure has a lot going on during it.

"Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

~My audition (oh gosh, was that already more than two and a half weeks ago?) for the CCM Spoleto festival went quite well. I managed all of the tonguing in both La Scala (even the low ending scale!) and the Mozart concerto exposition, and played both probably better than I ever have before. The slow Scala and Don Juan went well also. I didn't miss a single note, which should be routine, but is in fact still cause for celebration for me.

~I played Britten's Rape of Lucretia and loved every minute of it. Well...perhaps not every single minute, but the vast majority of them! Even the days with two rehearsals or shows! I can't say that I was always happy with my playing, partially because I was killing a reed about every two rehearsals, and there were a couple technical passages I never quite got, but oh, did I have fun. I love being backstage and in a (real!) pit and things like that, being in the secret working areas of the stage. And the EH solo at the end routinely went quite well. I also really enjoyed playing with the conductor, who is fun in the pit while still being consummately professional, and the singers were naturally superb. And it was fascinating playing in two different orchestras, alternating shows. The two experiences were actually very different. Playing in opera pits continues to be probably my favorite thing in the entire world.

~(Something which I would like to come back to- I felt very confident, generally, while playing the opera, and actually felt more free to play loudly and to lead. I hope that I can transfer this back over to both orchestra and solo playing. I felt very competent, in the "professional and capable" sense rather than the "mediocre" sense.)

~(Another thing to which I would like to come back- the incredible emotional power of this opera, particularly the uncomfortable combination of inevitability and agency when playing without the singers.)

~My recital is next Friday. I'm currently alternating between mildly stressed and completely terrified. Which is about par for the course, really. However, I played through my program twice today, though not straight in a row, and it went fairly well both times, so I'm feeling pretty good right now. Once was even in front of a (very small) audience!

~There has been an absurd amount of snow, and with it school closings. It's nearly like being in high school again! I only hope that the rumored snow storm on Sunday is merely a rumor- I have an auditionee friend staying with me this weekend, and she has to be able to get home!

I may not return until after my recital! If not, wish me luck (and endurance!)