Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Up is up and down is down" - Caldwell

My least favorite place to get water? Probably the G key (or the A key, if you name that way). The one that allows you to play a tuning A for the orchestra. In rehearsal the other day, I went to tune, and instead played "ffffgurglethp AAAA gurglesdffffffff AA ffthss". I actually had to have the second oboe tune for me.

The Shostakovich 5 concert, was pretty amazing. There was a full, enthusiastic house (so much stomping on stage, and shouting in the audience), and we played really well. We did have some tuning issues, but the performance turned out to be so emotional and forceful and musical that it hardly mattered. I was really happy with my performance. I hadn't played badly in rehearsals, but I'd never really been happy with my solos. I had a hard time getting the glassy, smooth sound needed for the first and third movements, as well as finding the proper depth of emotion. At the concert, though, I absolutely could not have played them better. I was really satisfied with my performance, and I got reassuring feedback from my teachers and fellow orchestra people. It's certainly among the best concerts I've had, or maybe even the best performance; it's rare that everything goes the way you want it to. I had one person tell me that my solo in the fhird movement made her tear up, which is an incredible compliment, and very unexpected.
(The oboe does not fare well in Shosty 5: after getting "punched in the face" in the second movement, in the third movement I was to play as if I'd been stranded in Siberia and was contemplating committing suicide before I froze to death. I spent all afternoon trying to figure out how to play the solo so it sounded like I wanted to die. But it seemed to work.) It's amazing how powerful music can be.

Last week I played second in a Mozart double piano concerto and in Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. And let me tell you, I got some payback for being so pleased with myself about Shostakovich. The Rachmaninoff is probably the hardest piece I've played in orchestra, aside from Daphnis et Chloe. I spent most of my practice time last week making pained and frustrating noises. That said, I loved the piece, particularly the second movement, which is a Tim Burton-esque waltz. The Mozart was obviously much simpler, but we had a lot of tuning troubles which only ended up half resolved. Or, rather, they were resolved until my reed cracked on stage immediately before the concert and I got water in all my keys. I feel that the Rachmaninoff was a poor choice for this situation, but while the concert was certainly not the best we've played, it was still fairly hypnotizing. I only wish we'd done the piece justice.

Mr. Ellis left camp early to perform in the Mostly Mozart festival, so Katie Young is replacing him these last two weeks. I had a funny moment in last week's lesson where she complimented my sound by telling me "you don't sound like you play a Howarth!" I was a bit non-plussed. I was hoping to work on reeds with her, but unfortunately didn't have a chance. I enjoyed my lessons with her; she was very nitpicky, but in a nice way. She was complimentary of my tone, but told me to work on being more expressive, particularly in Bach. I have a problem finding the middle ground in Bach. I tend to either switch off and play far too squarely and pedantically, or to go to an extreme. And while I'm perfectly comfortable with being dramatic in, for example, the unaccompanied Bach piece I played on my recital, I'm much less able to interpret cantatas correctly. I also discovered that my interpretation of one of the phrases in the Vaughan Williams concerto is something that only I do. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

I'm taking a class here called "The Business of Music," taught by Karen Birch Blundell, the EH faculty. The class is really fantastic. We've covered resumes and publicity materials, community outreach, freelancing, orchestral auditions, and keeping your orchestral job once you've won it. On one hand, I can practically hear people's bubbles bursting, but on the other hand, I find the number of jobs, the number of quality gigs, the fact that so many people are able to play music in a way that makes them happy all very reassuring.

Last night we had an oboe studio dinner, which was pretty awesome. So much insanity in so small a space. If you have never tried playing excerpts (for example, Haydn Variations, Concerto for Orchestra, Don Juan) on only your reed, you are missing out. Plus, Susan Eischeid, the 2nd oboe faculty, made us all personalized oboe reed cupcakes.

Lastly, if you have not listened to the Curtis commencement speech by Robert Levin, you should as soon as possible. "The real question is, “what do you have to say?” [...] Your job is to keep people up at night."

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Do not give my secrets away to conductors! ... [diabolical laughter]" -Tabuteau

Last week I played 3rd oboe/EH in the first movement of Mahler 2 (the other half of the concert was Beethoven 5, which I was a little sad to miss out on, though I have played it once before), again under Mr. Schwarz. I was really happy to play the EH again, and Mahler (unlike some composers such as, say, Dvorak) seems perfectly capable of writing a good doubling part. Although there is a lot of very rapid switching, I'd rather that than two measures of EH somewhere in the middle. And while it's nice to play with new people and under new conductors, it was nice to have two weeks in the same orchestra. I've gotten to really like Mr. Schwarz. He's picky without being mean, offers specific compliments and suggestions, and is a fabulous rehearser. We didn't ever run out of things to work on (certainly not in a week!), but I didn't ever feel like we'd run out of time either. He also seems to work very well with students; he managed to drop a lot of information, both about the pieces and about the workings of orchestras, into rehearsals.

Our concert went well, and I got some very nice compliments on my EH playing. I feel like I'm playing much better here than at school, on both oboe and EH, and my reeds are turning out surprisingly well also. (Knock on wood!) I don't know what, if anything, I'm doing differently, or even if the difference is only in my head. I think the change in location and humidity has given my reeds a boost, though. Regardless, I'm enjoying it. I love being able to play in orchestra every day; if I could do that forever, I would. I also like the fast turnaround of new music. I'm going to be very sad to leave and have a month and a half until my next orchestra rehearsal.

This week I'm in the other orchestra, working with Jose-Luis Novo. He's a very good conductor as well, and I must say a lot easier to follow, particularly immediately, than Mr. Schwarz is. I do feel like we're a little more rushed in trying to get everything done this week, but some of that is due to having a pops concert in the middle rather than to Mr. Novo's rehearsing skills. My favorite thing about working with him is that he's incredibly evocative, both in his analogies and in his conducting. He's very dramatic and emotional, and it works for him. The fantastic thing about orchestra this week is that we're playing Shostakovich 5, and I'm playing principal. The piece is gorgeous and sarcastic and so, so sad. Plus, it has some great solos, and is a lot of fun to play. I think my favorite movement is the second, a twisted Viennese waltz.

I will say that I have never played so many tuning As in my life. I give 5 every rehearsal (winds, brass, basses, low strings, violins), which I feel is a bit much...but I bow to the will of the conductor! We had an interesting discussion in masterclass one day about giving the A; Mr. Ellis feels that it's fine to have a little bit of vibrato in your A, as long as it is still clear and on pitch. I STRONGLY disagree. I find it incredibly distracting, and also much harder to tune to. I'm curious what other people's opinions are, though.

Last week in masterclass we did excerpts; we were given several to work on, and then each were assigned one to play in class. I ended up playing Tombeau (first mvt only), and it went better than I think I've EVER played it. I wasn't expecting to bomb it, but I was surprised by the fact that it went so well. I got all of the tonguing in, all the low notes spoke properly, and I even managed to add in some phrasing and musicality! It made up for the fact that in my lesson on Tuesday, Randall handed me the principal part on Shosty 5, after which I proceeded to become completely incompetent.

This week we had a brief history of the oboe and the Tabuteau lineage, and we got to try several shawms and similar instruments, including one with a quadruple reed. It was fascinating, and a lot of fun. We got very, very silly, though. :-) The most interesting part for me, though, was getting to try a French scrape reed. It was actually very easy to play nicely, much easier than the German reed I tried. That reed had a gorgeous crow, but I had a lot of trouble controlling it and having any sort of tone. On the French reed, though, I could get a sound very similar to my own using my normal embouchure.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"The [tuning] A should be the Voice Of God" : John Mack

We had our first concert of the festival on Friday, a joint concert between the two orchestras. (There are two student orchestras, and one faculty orchestra. We rotate between the two student orchestras, and fill in the faculty orchestra if necessary. The nice thing about this is that it means there's no "top" orchestra, and we get to play with more of the studio. Plus, it gives the teachers more power to assign us to specific pieces. Normally one orchestra plays on Thursday and one on Friday, but since this week was abbreviated, we shared.) This concert was Roman Carnival and Foote's Symphonic Prelude to Francesca Rimini by the ESO, and Copland's El Salon Mexico and Ginastera's Four Dances by the GSO.

As I mentioned, I played EH in the Berlioz. I felt really solid about my solo all week, a few cracks here and there, mostly on the first G, but my reeds were behaving and I tried to follow every nuance of Mr. Schwarz's interpretation. The rest of the piece I was a little shakier on; tonguing is not my strong point, and that piece is nearly made up of only tonguing. But I did my best. Plus, the orchestra was having a lot of trouble staying with Mr. Schwarz. I know that many of the winds were playing by ear to find the tempo and the beats, rather than going off of the baton. I watched really closely one rehearsal, trying to figure out why we were having such difficulty, and I have to say, I'm not sure. Taken out of context, Mr. Schwarz's beat pattern is clear and precise, and the problem is certainly not a lack of personal force. But for whatever the reason, every time the tempo picked up, we became uncertain and confused. This isn't to say that we were falling apart every rehearsal. We certainly weren't. But there was an uncomfortable undercurrent in every run-through.

The concert went well, though. We rushed a bit in places, and ended up rather dragging the slow section, something which may have been my fault, but we sounded flashy and brilliant and completely in style for Berlioz. All in all, a very good performance. I was pretty happy with my solo; I didn't crack the opening G, and the acoustics in the hall are brilliant, but I got a little cocky and cracked that first slur to the F#. Still, I think I sounded pretty nice, and had I not cracked that note, it would have been my best performance. I know that Mr. Schwarz was very happy with my playing in general, at least. (And I got some great applause, particularly from the orchestra, which really made me feel good about it. Of course I want the audience to like my playing, but getting recognition from my peers means so much.) I've gotten out of the habit of thinking of myself as a good EH player; there are so many people in my studio who are better than I am, or who I at least percieve as being much better, but I really enjoy playing EH, and I think that I'm playing it better here than I ever have.

Speaking of orchestra, I have never played somewhere where they were so considerate of our ears! Every wind player sitting on the stage left end of the row has a sound shield, as do the back row of violas, protecting us from the brass. He also had the brass move from two rows to one for rehearsals so that it wasn't as loud for them, and he told the percussion to move over so they weren't playing directly at the horns. I still wish our strings sat 1st/2nd/vla/cello, rather than 1st/cello/vla/2nd, but at least I won't go deaf! :-)

Each student here plays in a chamber group, and I'm doing the Neilsen quintet. I'm a little disappointed to be playing the Neilsen, because I played it in spring quarter with my quintet at school, but it is a great piece. The first rehearsal was a little bit awkward, since it was coached and we hadn't received the music beforehand. I think it would have been much more productive to either have time to look at the parts before having a rehearsal or to have a coach the second rather than first rehearsal. However, our second rehearsal was much improved, and my quintet is pretty great. The flutist in particular is a really good player and a fantastic rehearser and leader. This piece does make me miss my quintet, though! Two of them graduated and are moving away.

I got to have a short EH lesson with Karen Birch Blundell before the concert. She looked over my reeds and fixed one up a bit (though I didn't end up using that one for the concert).I played the solo for her also, and while she didn't really give me any musical/interpretive advice for the solo, that was all right. I wasn't really interpreting it myself anyways, just following the heck out of Schwarz. But she gave me a few tips for making notes speak more easily, and double checked my adjustment.
She suggested that we have an EH reed making lesson after the concert when it'll be okay if I completely screw up a reed. I'm looking forward to it, because my EH reed advice has pretty much been "It's easy! Go do it!", and her reeds are fantastic. Very unique also, with a very long tip, much longer than I've ever seen on an EH reed. I'm interested to try making one.

We have masterclass once a week also. We didn't play in class this week, but we've been given several excerpts to learn for next time. He's going to draw excerpts out of a hat and have us each play one. I found out also that Mr. Ellis has subbed a bunch in Wicked on Broadway, and that the Wicked book is oboe/EH/bass oboe. Now I really want to play that show! You know how much I love playing in pit orchestras. :-)

My work study here is ushering, which I actually enjoy. All of the patrons are so excited to see us, and it's of course nice to have such an enthusiastic audience. Plus, by ushering I automatically get to see any faculty performance for which I'm working. So far I've worked a piano concert and last night's faculty concert, and attended a chamber concert. I'm trying to go to as many as I can, though sometimes I just have to take a night off and make reeds.