Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I'm sorry, I haven't quite gotten to the commenting on other people's blogs stage yet.

Last Tuesday, I had the hearing for my recital. What this involves is (theoretically) playing your whole program through for a panel of three professors, who ensure that you won't embarrass yourself at your recital. This is also what you are technically graded on. What this comes to in reality is closer to a coaching, at the end of which your teacher signs off. Or at least that's how it goes in the oboe studio. At any rate, I played my two accompanied pieces for both my teacher and Dwight (with piano), and was checked off by both.
I offer proof:

The week before your recital, the scheduling office, which is in charge of printing programs, prints a copy of your program and pins it to a bulletin board. Now, as I have posted a picture, you can see that my program clearly states "Rachel B*, oboe" and that one of my pieces is titled "Three Piece Suite for Oboe and Piano." This wasn't clear enough for the office, however. They've printed my program as "Rachel B*, flute." Tomorrow I shall go to the scheduling office and Have A Word with them.

On Saturday we had our orchestra concert, at which we played Saariaho's Oltra Mar, which I liked, and every other person in the orchestra and choir hated intensely. They also did the Mozart C minor Mass, which I didn't play in. The concert went just fine, and we're all excited to be moving on to Mahler 1. And the soloists in the Mass were really fantastic, particularly the mezzo.

I'm feeling intensely melodramatic now, as I do for approximately two weeks preceding my recitals, but in reality my recital prep is going just fine. I've managed to run through my program one and a half times in a sitting, and it's quite reassuring that I have that endurance. This week at some point I'm going to run through the whole thing twice in a row- what I've been doing mostly is running through the piece once and then working small spots. And my accompanist is great- there's always a risk, of course, working with a new pianist, and even more when you've asked them because they're your friend, but she's very good and everything's going really well with putting the parts together. This week we've finally reached the point where we can start being musical together, rather than just counting furiously to avoid coming in at the wrong place.

I had a lesson yesterday with the second oboist in the symphony, and my schedule from now until my recital looks something like this:
Thursday: lesson, dress rehearsal

Saturday: dress rehearsal

Sunday: quintet performance

Monday: midterm

Tuesday: two lessons

Wednesday: midterm

???: writing program notes

Thursday: RECITAL.

I really liked working with Lon, the second oboist, though he's very dry- so much so that it was a bit hard for me to tell when he was being complimentary and when he was being sarcastic. I wouldn't say it was one of the most helpful lessons I've had, but that was more because I'm at the point where I'm a) only playing recital stuff and b) know exactly how I'm going to play those pieces. 9 days before is no time to be changing anything substantial. As a result, it was mostly a "let me play for you to get over my nerves" lesson. Those are good too, but I wish I was able to have a lesson with him that wasn't two weeks before my recital. I think I would have gotten more out of it. I felt very much at ease with him; he's very unassuming, if that's the word I mean, and so it's easy to talk with him in a relatively equal way.

I had a very small lesson last week with Petrea Warneck, who came to do a masterclass. I was meant to play in the masterclass, but we ran out of time, and instead I had a half hour lesson with her directly before my hearing. We worked on interpretation of the Bach, as I do with every teacher I encounter, and she, Chris, and Lon have been really helpful in helping me find ways to moderate the conflicting interpretations which I've been trying to mesh in the piece. She's coming again on Monday, and I'll have another lesson with her.

My goal for between now and my recital is being more fluid and lyrical. I know all of the notes, and I can play them. I know what my interpretation of the pieces is. I know how my part fits with the piano. Now to get just a little bit closer to that higher level, that last layer of finesse that makes everything sparkle and sing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Don't eat a pink marshmallow Peep before playing.

They do unfortunate things to the color of your reeds.

Last week I had a lesson with the symphony English horn player, as we're rotating between teachers. I unfortunately didn't play any English horn rep for him, just recital music, but it was a pretty good lesson nonetheless. We worked on Bach, and he helped me merge some of my (rather more Romantic) ideas with some of Dwight's (rather more straightforward) ideas, which was really helpful; I have trouble sometimes finding the middle ground. It was also nice simply to play the piece for another person, because it definitely shows all of my nerves, particularly in the Allemande, the opening movement.

The lesson was a little awkward just because I had never worked with him before. He didn't really have a sense of how I usually play, and so he tended towards overly explaining concepts, but it was still certainly a helpful lesson. Plus, he gave me a reed, though it is dramatically different from mine and very short, and he let my lesson run for an extra half an hour. I think that I would really like studying with him if we had more time to get to know each other; his specific comments on the Bach were really musical and also very individual. We did a lot of work, for example, on finding less predictable and more intuitive breathing spots.

My recital is in two and a half weeks, and while most of last week I was feeling very pessimistic about my playing, in the past week I've done two run-throughs of my program (alone, not with piano) and had two more rehearsals with my pianist. I feel really good about how the music is going together with the piano, which is wonderful. On Tuesday I have my recital hearing, where I will play all or part of my program with my accompanist for Dwight, who is standing in as my professor, and have my program signed off. By Thursday I then turn in my signed program and program notes to the office.

I'm very excited to have orchestra rehearsal tomorrow, and not only because we're rehearsing with the choir. I haven't gotten to play in orchestra since the 8th! That is far too long.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On Monday I had another really great lesson with Dwight. I definitely like working with him. I played some more Bach for him, and we did work on my ornaments; he helped me edit them so that they add to the line and direction of the piece rather than just overwhelming it. Although both my professor, who was sitting in on about half of the lesson, and Dwight liked a lot of them to begin with. I'm glad that I'm doing this, because I really have no previous experience in ornamenting music, and it's certainly a useful skill to have. (...upon listening to the absolutely fantastic recording of Alex Klein playing the Bach, I appear to have spontaneously used about 75% of the same ornaments. Dr. O actually commented on this in my lesson, but I didn't know what he meant. I suppose there are only so many different ornaments that you can feasibly use in any given spot?) We worked on the Dring some too, and I have since been spending most of my practice time working up very specific parts of this, a half hour on those 4 measure, 20 minutes on those 5, etc. I need to get all of my fingers more automatic so that I can concentrate more fully on making music.

I can't articulate exactly what it is, but Dwight is a really good teacher, and regardless of whether or not I agree with his larger interpretations, his smaller musical ideas are always spot on and really well articulated. Plus he inspires me to practice a lot, though some of this is from the fact that my schedule this quarter is much more convenient than last quarter's, and so I can space out my practicing more effectively. Still, I want to impress him, and I feel he's likely to notice if I'm not playing my best.

On Tuesday, I had a lesson with Scott Bell of the Pittsburgh Symphony, who was visiting this week and conducted our masterclass on Monday. We worked on the Bach and Dring, and I got some really good feedback about all important issues like not losing the line. Mostly just basic things, but he phrased all of his comments really well, and I needed to be called out on all of them, particularly in the Bach. I get so caught up in all of my as yet conflicting interpretations in the Bach that I forget to maintain on my tone and phrasing and all of the good stuff that makes the piece sound, well, musical rather than like a bunch of crazy notes. (This is also why I've been doing very specific practicing. I need to be confident enough in my fingers that I can think on my feet. Obviously by the time of my recital I will have a specific interpretation, but right now several different versions are warring in my head and trying to trip up my fingers.)

When I first came in he had me just play a fairly slow scale (E flat, two octaves) to get a sense of how I played, and he was apparently really impressed by how I sounded on that. Unfortunately, he was then...disappointed in comparison by my actual playing (he said "when you played the scale, I was like, this is a real oboist, a real musician," and then he sort of trailed off in a loaded way). So, yay! But darn. It's no good to be able to play a scale with great tone and phrasing and control, but to then be unable to replicate that in anything else. I have actually sort of noticed this as I begin to be more confident in the Bach and the Dring, as well as in the Castelnuovo-Tedesco, that I can have trouble maintaining my tone and the line of the music. This is definitely something for me to fix. Some of it is the stage I'm at in learning the music, but there's certainly a larger lesson here. I think on the whole, though, he thought I played well. It was a little hard for me to get a sense of that, though, since I was sort of on high alert after his comment.

I finished The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, after a 6 month long hiatus during which it got lost on my bookshelf. It was fascinating and well written from start to finish. It's a mix of:
-intense descriptions of compositions ("The swan hymn, now carried by the trumpets, undergoes convulsive transformations and is reborn as a fearsome new being. Its intervals split wide open, shatter apart, re-form. The symphony ends with six far-flung chords, through which the main theme shoots like a pulse of energy. The swan becomes the sun." p. 168),
-general and specific information about so many composers ("In his later years [Stockhausen] revealed a mystical streak, bordering on the hippie-dippy; it turned out that he had lived many past lives, and that he claimed to be extraterrestrial in origin." p. 394),
-quotes, quotes, quotes ("When music is heard, it is shot through with time, like a shining crystal; unheard music drops through empty time like a useless bullet." p. 357),
-and some bonus awesomeness ("Black-and-white categories make no sense in the shadowland of dictatorship. These composers were neither saints nor devils; they were flawed actors on a tilted stage." p. 218).
I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Well...hello again.

Spring quarter began last Monday, and with it I'm back to writing, reading and commenting. Winter quarter was stressful and a little overwhelming, and I just needed to take that little bit more time for myself. I'm sorry for disappearing for so long without any warning. My last quarter in brief: my academic classes were history, which was unfortunately simplistic, and theory, whose professor was unfortunately difficult to please. I rotated into band, and also into chamber winds. Chamber winds was really enjoyable, and I got to play second in Mozart's Gran Partita, but band was, well, less enjoyable. I did play in the Strauss competition, though I didn't make it to the second round, and unfortunately I didn't get to sub into Also Sprach. But such is life.

My teacher was very distracted all quarter, as a result of planning a "Loree Fest," featuring guest Alain de Gourdon, the head of Loree, and the oboists in the symphony. We had masterclasses, an oboe petting zoo, a couple store booths, and a concert. It was really a lot of fun and quite a success. I played the Sarabande from the unaccompanied Bach suite in the Vade Mecum, and was unusually happy with my performance.

I spent the first month or so of the quarter furiously practicing the exposition of the Mozart concerto, Don Juan, and La Scala for my audition for the Lucca Opera Festival, which is a CCM summer program, though it's open to the wider public. I was incredibly excited at the program and anxious that nothing would go wrong in my audition, playing in masterclass, etc. I was very proud to work up La Scala to 120; I seem to have finally cracked, or at least put a big dent in, my very longstanding tonguing issues. But out of the blue Lucca was cancelled, which left me scrambling to find other summer programs to apply to and other audition material to work up. I ended up applying to Brevard, Chatauqua, Sewanee, and Eastern. I was waitlisted at Brevard and, oddly, Sewanee, but I found out last week that I was accepted to Eastern. I've applied twice in the past to Eastern and gotten waitlisted, so it's fantastic to get it. I'm really looking forward to going.

This quarter, my professor is on sabbatical, so we're being taught by three of the four oboists in the symphony. I end up having 7 lessons with the principal oboist, Dwight, and 3 lessons collectively with the other two. I'm really looking forward to it. I had my first lesson last Monday, which was a little nerve-wracking simply because I'd been out of the country and away from the oboe all of the preceeding week, leaving my out of shape and playing very old reeds. But while I didn't play to the best of my abilities, I didn't outright embarrass myself, which counts for something. I played most of the
unaccompanied Bach sonata we stole from the flutes. Now, the thing about this Bach is that it tends to be very polarizing in terms of interpretations. I've played parts of it for four different teachers now, and they have alternated between interpreting it very Romantically, with a lot of rubato and such, and very straight. I had been working on it with my professor last quarter, and he'd shared my opinion, the former. However, Dwight decidedly does not see the piece that way. I'm having a lot of trouble deciding how I ultimately am going to play the piece, but I'm trying very hard to be able to play it both ways. There are a few things I absolutely refuse to give up, and in one mvt I actually really agree with Dwight, but the rest of it...well, we'll see. I'm grown up enough now to realize that perhaps my teacher does know better than I do, even if I have strong opinions, but I also know that it's all about making your own interpretation, and if you can't convince yourself, you can't convince anyone. I do recognize that his is a musical and valid interpretation. I'm just not sure that mine isn't also. We shall see. It's at least a good exercise for me to play it in what frankly is a much more period appropriate style.

This past week I worked on that, as well as modifying the articulation of the first movement and writing ornamentation for the fourth movement, which has been very difficult. I find it very hard to write ornaments for any music, and Bach (fast Bach, too) is no exception. I have another lesson tomorrow, so I'll see what input he has for me. (My recital is in just over a month, and I'm playing the Bach, Madeleine Dring's Three Piece Suite, and the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Concerto da Camera. I'm nervous, because May 7 seems very, very soon indeed, but I'm really excited about all of the pieces.)