Tuesday, October 12, 2010

free but alone

In the economic downturn I have gone back to music making and music education as best as I can. As the other avenues of gainful employment dry up, it seems that music takes over.
So with that mind I work diligently at my craft. Improving my technique. Renewing my acquaintance to the viola, playing old rep to get it back in my fingers and of course learning NEW rep.

Yes even at this advanced age, I learn new repertoire. When I was young, there was nothing I wanted more than to play Paganini, and when I was a teen there was nothing more that I wanted to play than the big pieces like the Brahms Concerto or the Sibelius Concerto. Now with some level of maturity I find that I gain great pleasure in the little things. A sonata by Mozart is perfection in a small box.

One such example of perfection is the Schumann Intermezzo. The story goes that Schumann came up with the idea of writing a collaborative work with his student Albert Dietrich and the young but talented composer Johannes Brahms. The work was to be a gift for the celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim. Dietrich was to write the 1st movt, Brahms the 3rd movt and Schumann the 2nd and 4th all based on Joachim’s personal motto “Frei aber einsam” (free but alone), thus represented by the notes FAE. Joachim was to be presented with the work and then asked to play it and figure out who wrote which movement.

Joachim sightread the work and without much difficulty figured out who wrote what.
The movement we all have played as violinists is the Brahms Scherzo

The roughness in the slashing nature seems to fire up the younger instrumentalist. However now that I am older I have no interest in this movement.

But then I found the Schumann Intermezzo

To me the small 2 minute piece is pure beauty.

Joachim kept the manuscript private and did not let the work be published till after the death of all the composers. Schumann actually took the two movements he wrote and cobbled them together to make another sonata of his own. However as a single entity, I find the Intermezzo curiously satisfying.

Even when I face the difficulty of forging ahead with a music career that lacks horse power in a market that is ever shrinking, such music provides me with enough joy to continue.

Friday, October 8, 2010

ay marimba

Many years ago, when both Sir Arthur and Mr Spiggott were doing our undergraduate work in the Greater New York area (Mr Spiggott at Columbia and Sir Arthur....ahem elsewhere), I went to Manhattan to visit Mr. Spiggott. We were to go to Juilliard to watch the Juilliard orchestra perform one of their numerous concerts. The soloist was to be a marimba player. Now as musicians we know there are VERY few CLASSICAL pieces for the marimba. As a jazz instrument its cousin the vibraphone has a much bigger range and for me the timbre of the instrument is much BETTER suited to the jazz idiom.

So it was that we would be listening to, for the umpteenth millionth time, the Paul Creston Marimba Concerto.

I looked it up, the year was 1993 and since then i have still heard no other marimba concerto OTHER than the Paul Creston.

So it came as a surprise when I saw the following link on Youtube:

Certainly this young lady does a GREAT job trying to convey the spirit of the piece, however it is hard for me to take seriously the repeated notes.

It does however work better on the accordion:

I have come to be good friends with a number of REALLY great accordion players and have heard them play mozart sonatas, Bach Chaconne all manner of crazy things on their instrument.

As a violinist I do love transcriptions, but please tell the marimba players to stick to the creston and let the transcribing to the accordion players or the Yamaha Electone

I think I want to hire this lady to accompany me the next time I want to play a concerto

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

the viola matic

Violists are indeed the butt of most music jokes. When we were in college, we had thought about assembling all the viola jokes and finding someone to publish them. If I had found a publisher, I might have made a quick buck but I might also never get hired for a gig with a violist again.

In this small video I can assure you no violists were injured:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

see no evil, hear no evil

I was rehearsing today for a church service today when the church secretary started to talk to me about her disappointment at a concert she had gone to. It peaked my curiosity so I stood and listened.

She had paid real money to go to Carnegie Hall, to hear the New York Philharmonic accompany Andrea Bocelli.

How do I describe Bocelli? I hate him. I personally can’t stand his voice or his inability to phrase or sing half the music he attempts. His is a very small voice, with little carrying power. So of course my first question was “WAS HE MIKED?” Her answer was NO, which did not bode well. She said that from the first balcony at the front, she could not hear Bocelli, and that the orchestra was too loud. I beg to comment that the orchestra was just fine, Bocelli was too soft.

A number of years ago, I read that the Metropolitan Opera was getting bombarded by people writing them to ask when Bocelli would be singing at the met. RIGHT! Bocelli can undoubtedly fill the Met with people, however only a fraction of them would be able to hear anything that he had to say, sing, hum whatever.
Bocelli is a singer, nothing more nothing less. He does not possess a voice for opera, and should stay as far away from it as possible. His recordings of full opera are little more than curiosities, which are to be laughed at and played during parties as part of some obscene listening game.

When Pavarotti died, I was rather upset to see Bocelli singing at the funeral. First of all, he sang badly, second of all, this man HAD a career. He has sold more records as a “classical artist” than he had any business doing. What he should have done is stepped aside and asked that a young tenor from a small Italian town be given the honor of bidding the grand maestro good-bye. Thereby insuring that a new generation of operatic singer be given a good push onto the world stage. No, instead the media hog stood in and sung himself.

A number of years ago, my sister had a birthday party at Mohegan Sun. The room reserved was the presidential suite at the hotel. It was quite nice with a panoramic view and steps and all sorts of furniture and accoutrement. The people were trying to impress me in that Andrea Bocelli had been there the night before. I looked at them and said what a waste. This is a death trap for a blind man. What does he need with the view from the top of the building. His seeing eye dog will have a fun time peeing on the leg of the piano! You could have given him the first floor and he would have been none the wiser!

If Bocelli wants to sing his italian songs and make pop albums, that is fine with me, but leave the New York Philharmonic out of it. Don't let the youth of today believe that this is "singing." Trust me there are plenty of singers out there who have better voices than him, unfortunately for them they have their vision.

Monday, June 22, 2009

the Horrible Staccato

Great violin virtuosos are supposed to have a great staccato but for some this technique is quite elusive. Even great violinists like Milstein or Kogan didn't have the greatest staccatos.

However I give you that acid test of staccato...the Hora Staccato.

First we have the composer himself. Dinicu was a wonderful violinist whose one ethnic background peppered his playing and his compositions. No one can really copy this performance and really do it HIS way:

Of course Heifetz heard this and wanted to have a go, so he made his own arrangement and did both up and down bow staccato just to prove that he was, IN FACT, THE man!

Many people prefer the Michael Rabin recording which has an incredible velocity, however one wonders if Rabin's stacatto is only one speed.

whatever your choice i suppose it is still one of those guilty pleasures

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Train Robbery

Two differing views of the Great Train Robbery, by some of the greats of British comedy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I happen to have performed this piece and know that both parts are fraught with technical problems. I find this amusing that the cellist plays the violin as he would a cello, unfortunately, as a violinist, it is highly unlikely that I will play the cello the way that I hold the violin.

There are other attempts at duets like these. Some instrumentalists like to play both parts of the Bach double violin concerto (Heifetz) or the Sarasate Navarra (Rosand), however the most interesting one is probably the recording that Artur Grumiaux made of himself playing the violin AND the piano part to a Mozart and a Brahms Sonata. Grumiaux was a great violinist and a very good pianist. The story goes that he excelled at both as a youth and his grandfather made the decision that he would study the violin at the conservatoire since there were lots of pianists.

The piano worlds' loss is the violin worlds' gain.

Then of course there is Ethan Winer who came up with this ditty.

maybe it is a cellist thing