Saturday, November 19, 2011

Scheherazade with MYA's Symphony Orchestra

On October 30, I played with MYA's Symphony Orchestra.  We played Scheherazade, which was my favorite concert that I've ever played in.  It was a busy day.  I played with Concert Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, and Honors Wind Symphony as well as Symphony Orchestra.  I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday.

Master Class with Bill Buchman, Assistant Principal Bassoon for the CSO

Today I attended and played at a master class at the MYA center taught by Bill Buchman, the Assistant Principal Bassoonist for the CSO.  Mr. Buchman has a physics degree from Brown and a music degree from Yale.  How cool is that?

This was a very informative master class.  He covered some of the most important ideas in wind playing and musicianship in general.  He emphasized making the time signature more obvious and playing technical sections more smoothly.

I started the master class with Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet.  I've been working on this piece for many months now.  Mr. Buchman stopped me after the first half of the introduction.  The first thing he talked about was making sure that all of your playing is smooth.  This can be hard on the clarinet, because the resistance is very different between some of the notes.  This is because some notes you play with all of the holes on the clarinet open, and some notes you play with all of the holes closed.  Going between these notes is very difficult, so you need to work to make sure that the notes are smooth.  You do this by pushing the air through the phrase and maintaining a steady flow of air.  When you are playing these difficult intervals, and you are playing quietly, it is even more difficult to keep your sound steady and full.  Mr. Buchman said it seems surprising, but you actually need to use just as much or more air on the quiet notes so they can resonate just as much as the forte sections.  He had me play this section again several times with these ideas in mind, and it made a big difference.

Then Mr. Buchman had me play the Theme.  This section is quicker and more technical than the Introduction. I played it, and after I finished, he had me play the very beginning again.  He asked the other kids in the master class guess what the time signature was, and where the downbeat was.  Only one person could tell, and I think that's because he was looking at the music.  The point Mr. Buchman was making was that I wasn't making it obvious to the audience where the downbeat was.  This is a problem, because it makes you sound disjoint and out of tempo, and it makes it hard for your audience to understand the music.  He said it was really to establish this right at the beginning.  He revisited this idea many times during the master class.

Many students played after me:  Julia, Clayton and Marissa played bassoon concertos, Vince played a baroque sonata on his oboe, and Yoon and Steven played the 2nd Weber and the Rossini on clarinet.  And finally Theo, Tamara and Julia played a trio.  Mr. Buchman covered several ideas through the rest of the masterclass.  First, he worked on how to practice a technically difficult articulated section.  He suggested working on the fingering and tonguing separately.  You can do this by slurring the section and slowing it down.  This lets you work on your fingers without having to worry about the tonguing.  He also said it was important to keep your air flowing through the articulations.  You do this by not stopping the air with your tongue, but simply lightly tapping the reed with your tongue to briefly stop the reeds vibrations.  Another point he made was to practice slowly.  He said if you can't play it slowly, then you will sometimes crash and burn when you play it fast.  That happened to me last year at the Walgreens when I was performing the Weber Concertino!  My piano teacher makes this point quite often.  You don't really know a piece until you can play it slow as well as fast.

When Vince played, it was clear to Mr. Buchman that Vince was quite nervous.  He had some advice to help with this nervousness that everybody feels.  He said to acknowledge when you're nervous.  You can use the extra adrenalin pumping through your veins to help you play better.  It all depends on how you think about it.  You can  respond to the nervousness by saying to yourself that you're terrified and you're going to fail.  Or you can see it as an advantage.  You can say to yourself, I'm nervous.  That's good, because I have more energy, and this can help me have an exciting performance..  My concentration will be at a higher level than normal.  However, when you get nervous you see time differently, you will tend to rush.  You need to be aware of this and consciously hold yourself back and play slower than you feel is the tempo you normally play at.  I'm going to try this when I play at the Walgreens next month.

It was a great masterclass, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend and play at it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

City of Tomorrow Master Class

A couple of weeks ago, my piano Trio played for City of Tomorrow, last year's winner of the wind division of the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.  It was a good experience.  They gave us feedback about a number useful things when playing chamber music.

We played the first movement of the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio for viola, clarinet and piano, and they had a number of comments to make about how we could improve our performance.  One thing was the turns that happen many times throughout the piece need to all be exactly the same no matter who is playing them.  They also talked a lot about the style of playing Mozart, and how it should be very even and very lyrical.  In a way Mozart can be harder than more complicated pieces, because everything has to be perfect or it really stands out.

They talked a lot about communication.  They said we should look at each other more, which, of course we know, but we don't always remember to do as much as we should.  They pointed out that we should look like we are enjoying each other's performance of their parts, as the audience will pick up on how we view each other.  That was something I haven't heard very often and a really good point.

Playing for City of Tomorrow was a great experience.  I hope shows in our performance on Sunday.

City of Tomorrow

The city of tomorrow is a wonderful woodwind quintet who were awarded the first prize of the wind division for the 2011 Fischoff National Chamber Competition.  The members consist of flutist Elise Blatchford, oboist Andrew Nogal, bassoonist Amanda Swain, clarinetist Camila Barientos, and hornist Leander Star.I saw them perform at MYA’s Music at the Fort Concert Series. It was an outstanding performance, one of the best chamber concerts I have ever seen. 
They opened with Summer Music by Samuel Barber.  They dominated the first part with their expressive playing.  I especially like the runs in the flute, clarinet, and bassoon.  They did not seem forced at all, just flowing out like it was the easiest thing in the world.  The transitions between the different sections in the piece was flawless.  It starts out very smooth and flowing.  The second section is repetitive and angry.  The third section is pure bliss, with hopping sixteenth notes everywhere.   There are many more sections and all of them have to be very played differently.  They didn’t enjoy this piece as much as they enjoyed other pieces but this was my personal favorite of all the pieces they played. 
The next piece they played was wind quintet number 4 for George Perle.  I didn’t like this piece as much as some of the others but the quintet did.  You could see in their faces and body movement that they liked this one the best.  It is an extremely modern piece with a muddle of the instruments in the first movement.  The second movement starts with the French horn playing quick notes and the clarinet comes in with a few notes here, a few notes there, nothing consistent.  The clarinet is soon followed by the rest of the group.
The last piece of the concert was David Maslanka’s third wind quintet.  This piece is supposedly based on themes Bach.  It was bewildering, how well they played together in all the pieces, but especially this one, I really noticed their communication.  I loved their musicality.  I couldn’t find a single thing wrong with their performance of this piece if I tried.  I hope I get a group which can play this well someday.  They finished the concert with this colossal performance.
This was an awe-inspiring chamber performance.  I am very happy that I got a chance to see the City of Tomorrow play.  I hope I get to see them again some day!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Clarinets Were Stolen!!!

Last week, my clarinets were stolen!  I was on the way to vacation and my family and I stopped at a hotel in Findlay, Ohio.  It was three A.M. at night and my mom said we could leave our instruments in the car just this once, because we were all so tired.  I woke a few hours later to find out that someone had broken our car's window and stolen my clarinets, my sisters cello, and my friends french horn.  In my clarinet case were my R13 A and Bb clarinets, a Backun bell, four barrels, a Walter Grabner custom mouthpiece, seven legere reeds, a neck strap, and a couple neck strap extenders.  Some of these were very hard come by.  Insurance is paying for all the losses which is good but I have my Midwest Young Artists's Symphony Orchestra seating audition coming up in a month so I need my clarinets back soon.  I am trying out a Bb clarinet but I have yet to find an A clarinet.  Hopefully I can find one soon so I will be prepared for the audition when it comes around.  The moral of this story is to never leave valuables in the car overnight.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Making Symphony Orchestra at MYA

I made the Symphony Orchestra at Midwest Young Artists!

Stanley Drucker Teaches a Master Class

I got to meet the Druckers!!
Yesterday, I went to a master class that was coached by Stanley Drucker, the former principal of the New York Philharmonic. It was an amazing experience! There were four students who played, two undergrads from Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Champaign and two graduate students from Northwestern.

Mr. Drucker was a very intense teacher. He worked the students very hard, and he wouldn’t let anything go until a student had corrected or improved the section to his satisfaction. He varied his standards from student to student according to their ability, which he was able to discern by hearing them play just a few notes. He kept coming back to a few key themes in his teaching. First, the music must sound musical, and even technical parts shouldn’t sound like a technical exercise or an etude. Soft notes need to be focused and played just as beautifully and strong as louder parts; they should never have an airy tone. He said anyone could play well loud, the challenge was to play well quietly. Another point he made on several occasions was that all the registers should sound the same, and you shouldn’t be able to hear a difference while playing over the breaks. Another important thing he said was to play your notes in groups of eight instead of groups of four so that they would flow easier. He also suggested that while you’re practicing, you should try closing your eyes, because then you would be able to hear yourself much better. I noticed that John Bruce Yeh, who was there with his wife, often his eyes closed as he listened to the students play for Mr. Drucker. Mr. Drucker said that when playing in an orchestra, you needed to understand how your part fits in with what the rest of the orchestra is playing while you are figuring out how you should make your phrases.

He ended the master class by taking questions from the audience for a half an hour. He talked about a lot of different things in his career, and it was really interesting. Mrs. Drucker also some great things to say. One of the things that really stood out was, “Life is too short for long tones, play scales and music instead.” During this time, someone asked what Mr. Drucker practiced, and he said, “I practice what I’m going to play.” There’s no point in practicing things I’m not going to play, which I thought was funny.

Miguel Hernandez Plays the Mozart Concerto

The first student, Miguel Hernandez, played the Mozart concerto. Mr. Drucker stopped Miguel soon after the exposition. Then he went through a wide variety of different things about Mozart’s music and clarinet playing in general. He told Miguel that while you are playing Mozart you have to chose some of the articulations because Mozart did not put them all in. Mr. Drucker told Miguel that he should make longer phrases, and he could do that by carefully connecting notes and tapering the end of each phrase. When Miguel played a slow lyrical part, Mr. Drucker warned him to not lose his notes in the quieter passages. He said that the you need to use as much breath when playing quieter sections as when playing louder sections, but it had to be focused in a different way so as not to lose the quality of the playing. He also told him to swell the long notes. During another difficult section, Mr. Drucker said that Miguel should play his notes in groups of eight instead of in groups of four so the music the music could keep moving. He warned Miguel not to let the Mozart sound like a technical exercise, but to play musically and to vary the dynamics. Another point Mr. Drucker made, was that Mozart put in impossible articulations that would sometimes need to be changed. To illustrate this, he had Miguel articulate a section the way Mozart wrote it instead of slurring the section. It was clear that the passage was unworkable and unmusical when articulated the way it was written without editing. While he was playing a part which included arpeggios from low notes to high notes, he told him to have the right fingerings for the high notes and worked a lot with him on that. Also during the arpeggios, he pointed out that Miguel needed to make all the registers sound the same – something that I know from experience can be quite difficult.

Amanda Eich Plays Beethoven and Brahms

The next player played excerpts from Beethoven’s fourth symphony and Brahms’ third symphony. During the Beethoven he told her that while she was playing orchestral music you always have to fit in with the orchestra. It was a very quiet section so while she was playing he told her to have longer phrases and to start phrases quietly. Mr. Drucker also told her that in Beethoven, dolce means louder. He also said never to scoop into a note and to connect the different registers. While she played the Brahms’ he reminded her to connect large intervals and not break the music up.

Rebecca Graham Plays Dances of Galanta and Pines of Romes

The next player was very confident while she played and she gave a really good impression. She played Dances of Galanta and Pines of Rome. Mr. Drucker told her to be careful not to rush. During the Dances of Galanta, he also told her that if the phrase after the phrases you are playing is soft and the one you are on is loud, end strong. During a quick section, he told her to play in eight note groups and that she needed to always make sure that she was playing in the right style for the composer. He also told her to make the long notes sing. During the Pines of Rome, he reminded her that she had to make fewer, but longer phrases and to fade out at the end of quiet ones. The last thing he told her was that when there is a sequence, make each time louder than the last.

Andrew Hudson Plays Capriccio Espanol and Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony

The last person who played in the master class played Capriccio Espanol and Rachmaninoff’s second symphony. Andrew was really funny. When Mr. Drucker asked him why he was rushing the third phrase, he said that was because he was terrified. During Capriccio Espanol, Mr. Drucker told Andrew to bring out the bring out the first note but to keep all the other ones less. He also told him not to make space in between a trill and a note. While playing this piece, Andrew should think of a Spanish dance. Mr. Drucker told him to be lyric, even when playing a quickly moving section. The last thing he told him about this section was to accent the first note of the trills and to play in time. The last piece that Andrew played for Mr. Drucker was excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s second symphony. During this piece he told him to make good connections and to make faster parts more lyrical. Soft notes need to be as full as loud notes, and he should be careful not retard to much until the end of a piece.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Playing with the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble

About a month ago, my teacher, Dileep, asked me if I wanted to perform with the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble. The Chicago Clarinet Ensemble was founded in 2007 by Dr. Rose Sperazza who teaches at Northeastern University.  The performance contains mostly college students and adults so it is really exciting to play with them. Everyone has been really nice through the rehearsals even though I'm a lot younger than everyone there. Also, Stanley Drucker, the former principal of the New York Philharmonic, and his wife Naomi Drucker, also an accomplished clarinetist, are playing with us. Stanley Drucker was the principal clarinetist of the Philharmonic for more than 50 years and he has played in more than 10,000 concerts. He even played under Leonard Bernstein! We are performing tonight.

The concert should be a lot of fun. We are playing are Pursuits of Happiness a sextet by Eric Mandat, Hasty Fragments by Edward Yadzinski, Ruth, Rubric-Rational; Realisms-Relationals by Jeff Kowalkowski, Mendelssohn’s duo concerti for two clarinets, which will feature the Druckers, Molly on the Shore by Grainger, and Jupiter from the Planets by Holst. The Mandat, the Yadzinski, and the Kowalkowski are all premiers. I am playing on the Holst, the Grainger, and the Kowalkowski. It is a really fun selection of pieces.

The Pursuits of Happiness is a sextet by Eric Mandat. Performing this piece are Mr. and Mrs. Drucker and Rose Sperazza on Bb clarinet, John Bruce Yeh playing Eb clarinet, his wife Teresa Reilly playing basset horn, and Mr. Tuttle on bass clarinet. There are three movements. The first one is fast and happy and features the Druckers. I especially like it when the Druckers play sweeping notes up and down the clarinets' range extremely quickly while the bass clarinet plays a very low and light harmony. There is one part in the first movement when no one plays except Mr. Drucker. I love this movement. The second movement is slow and intense. This movement seems to probe your mind and look into your deepest hidden feelings. It features Mr. Yeh and his wife very prominently. I can't wait to hear it again tonight.

Yesterday I got to sit on on the Druckers rehearsing the Mendelsson and the sextet.  The Mendelssohn duo concerti are being played by the Drucker being accompanied by the clarinet ensemble. The Druckers are amazing!  Just listening to Mr. Drucker warm-up before the rehearsal was cool. He played five arpeggios in the time it would take me to play one. It was really inspiring to watch him and his wife working with John Bruce Yeh.  I loved every movement of the Mendelssohn concerti, but I especially liked the last movement of the second concerto, the polacca. It was amazing how they moved from register to register without any change in the color of their sound.  I find this really hard to do. They moved beautifully though each register of the clarinet, each dynamic and the different styles of the compositions. I cannot wait to hear him perform tonight!  May I'll even get up the courage to ask Rose to introduce me to the Druckers tonight.  They are legendary clarinetists after all.

Molly on Shore is a quick light piece with a repetitive Irish theme. I am playing fourth clarinet in this song and so I get mostly the beat and the harmony under the melody. This is a great piece, because there is a counter-melody always going on at the same time as the melody. The theme is always consistent but the counter-melody changes and moves in interesting ways. This piece is really good for a clarinet choir because of the beautifully light, pure sound of a a clarinet. John Bruce Yeh is conducting both Molly on the Shore, Jupiter and the Mendelssohn.

Ruth, rubric-rational; realism-relationals is an exotic piece for clarinet choir and synthesizer by Jeff Kowalkowski. It changes time signatures constantly so you always have to be on your toes while performing it. It is a very otherworldly radiant composition. I especially like that there are a couple of duets in the middle of the piece for synthesizer and contrabass clarinet without accompaniment. This makes a really fun combination. I also like the way the composer has combined the Contrabass and Eb clarinets -- not a common pairing! The stark differences in the range of these two instruments create an odd but strangely ethereal effect. At many places in the piece everyone is playing similar parts but not at the same time. That made it very difficult for me to play it yesterday at the rehearsal because I was the only second Bb clarinet there. I think it is an outstanding work.

I love how the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble can sound so much like a full orchestra, especially in a piece like Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from the Planets. Jupiter is a grand and festive piece. I am playing second clarinet on Jupiter and I get a lot of melody which is exciting. The piece is extremely light and carefree for much of it. During a slower section, the clarinets imitate the low strings and brass very well, who play this part in the original version. I love the ending where the clarinets are like a torrent, flying up and down arpeggios. Jupiter has a great ending with a restatement of the original theme in a fast tempo which keeps crescendoing until the last note.

Monday, May 9, 2011

MYA's Spring Concert: Be Heroic

Last Sunday, MYA’s youth orchestras all performed at Pick-Staiger at Northwestern University. At the first concert, which took place in the afternoon, the Reading, Cadet, Concertino, Philharmonia and Concert Orchestras played. The evening concert featured the Symphony Orchestra, which played a Concerto with Mathieu Dufour, the principal flutist of the CSO, and a performance of Strauss' Ein Heldenlaben. It was the last concert of the year.

I played in the first concert, because I'm in the Concert Orchestra. During this program, the younger orchestras in MYA performed. Concert performed the entire Dvorak 8th Symphony, which they've been working on for much of the year. I really enjoyed playing with all my friends in Concert. They're a great group of kids. All of the orchestras did a fabulous job, and they all showed a lot of improvement from the fall. Concertino's winds really stood out this time and sounded really great. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see some of the performances, because I was backstage. I was especially disappointed to miss the Concerto played by Natalie Clarke with Philharmonia, but I hear it was wonderful. I was also sad to miss the chance to listen to Philharmonia's excellent brass section. All in all, this concert was a great way to end the year.

At 6:00pm, the Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Alan Dennis (aka Dr. D) took the stage. The first piece they played was a flute concerto by Jacques Ibert , a composer I really like. This concerto featured Mathieu Dufour, principal flutist of one of the best orchestras in the world. It was a marvelous performance. While Mr. Dufour was playing he had such expressive movement. Also he danced through the technical parts with apparent ease. His phrasing was phenomenal! During the fast parts, his playing was quite beautiful, but during the slow parts his expression was so emotional, it seemed to stop time. I was completely entranced. One thing that really stood out while he playing were his eyebrows. How can a person's eyebrows be expressive? It seems extraordinary, but it was almost as if he had extra muscles in his eyebrows that normal humans don't possess, and it really added to his playing. The Symphony Orchestra, played an exceptional accompaniment to Mr. Dufour. Sam Mattenson, principal clarinetist, really stood out with his many solos, and he played exceptionally well in this piece.

After Mathieu Dufour’s inspiring performance, the Symphony Orchestra played Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). Ein Heldenleben is a tone poem, a continuous piece of music with no separate movements that illustrates a story or picture, with six parts -- at least in this case there are six parts. The first part is called Der Held (The Hero) and is a short, heroic beginning which Symphony performed with incredible grandeur.

The second part is called Der Helden Widersacher (The Heroe's Adversaries). This features the winds and brass at their most annoying as they mock the hero. The flutes really stood out in this movement, biting and harrassing the leitmotif.

The third part is Des Helden Gefahrtin (The Hero's Companion). This movement begins with the hero’s theme and then moves on to a new theme, the companion's theme. The companion's song was played by principal violinist, Amy Pikler. She navigated the many expressive and difficult sections with heart-breaking beauty. Symphony accompanied her so smoothly and sweetly that you couldn't guess what would happen next.

The fourth section, Des Helden Walstatt (The Hero at Battle) is a flurry of sounds. It is a very hard section to master because everything is wild and out of control. It really sounds like a battle! It must have taken a lot of work by symphony to conquer, but they did so heroically. It started with a trumpet call from the balcony. After the trumpet call the three trumpet players who played it hurried out of the balcony, and soon after they appeared on stage and rushed to the safety of the back of the orchestra. After the confusion cleared , the hero’s theme returned at the end of the section.

The fifth movement, Des Helden Friedenswerke (The Hero’s Works of Peace) is an emotionally beautiful section. Symphony could not have done it better with their expression and phrasing, which were right on target. They played it so angelically that I wanted to cry.

The sixth and last part, Des Helden Weltflucht and Vollendung (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation), is sublime. Near the end, Amy Pikler comes in playing the companion again and is joined by Zachery Popp, the principal horn. Together they set the stage gorgeously for the brass to finish off this grand tone poem.

Throughout the whole work of music, James was on the balcony, directly over the Symphony Orchestra, flipping the pages of a big Flip Thing. After the concert, he said that the giant pad of paper was really unstable, and he feared it would fall on the percussion. Fortunately, due to the heroic efforts of our own chamber music master, the percussion was spared a horrible fate.

This was another fabulous concert to end another fantastic year at Midwest Young Artists.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Chamber Music in the Spring

Wow, it has been a long time since I have blogged!

I've been very busy this spring, especially with chamber music performances and competitions.  I participated in the Discover Chamber Competition and the Rembrandt Chamber Competition with my woodwind quintet, and my trio and my quintet played in three soirees at Ravinia.

I really enjoy playing in my woodwind quintet, Calcetinos Vivos.  They are very nice and very talented musicians.  Here's a picture of us:

Some of the pieces we've played this year are Arnold's Three Shanties, a quintet by Klughardt, and Paquito d'Rivera's Aires Tropicales.

I also play in a piano, clarinet, and viola trio.  We still haven't given our group a name yet.  My brother Ari plays viola, and we play with a 7th grade pianist named Finley.  We have been working on the Schumann Trio and the Bruch Eight Pieces.  This is a really fun group too.  Here is a link to us playing the first movement of the Schumann:

May is a busy month.  There are of performances for my orchestra and wind symphony and my chamber groups.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Walgreens Concerto Competition

In December, I competed in the Walgreens Concerto Competition.  I played the Weber Concertino.  This was my first competition.  I was very nervous.  Before I performed, Dr. Dennis, my orchestra director, told me to "play like a wild man -- in a good way."  So I did.  I played really well for the first two themes, but I rushed the third one and got tangled up.

Still, I got an honorable mention, and I want to do it again next year.

Here's a video.  I think I've come a long ways over the past thousand hours of practice.