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.

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