I wrote this blog to give prominence to what I felt was an unfair response to Eugenes enjoyable commentary on the Sendai competition.
With all due respect to the four who sent it, I thought the following was lacking in thought and somewhat impolite.
>From four of the Sendai International Music Competition contestants: Are you a musician?
It is quite obvious from his writing that Eugene is a musician or at least, that he knows his music.
>In order to judge honestly and fairly you need to speek from the perspective of a contestant of any major violin competition
First of all, Eugene`s comments are completely honest and fair as far as the medium allows. There is nothing destructive or impolite about what he wrote. If the four of you can`t take that level of commentary then you won`t survive in the music business for long. Then, why does he have to speak from the perspective of a contestant? I challenge you to think a little more carefully about that.
It is you who are standing up on stage and offering your talent and gifts for the enjoyment of others from -their- perspective, and if the message recieved is one of boredom, albeit through a limited medium, then that is your problem and it is worth taking home as a lesson in either how to change things so that you come across better or accept that some things cannot be changed and learn to live with it. It is not up to you to tell people how to receive your message.
Rather it is for you to accept this is how someone reacted and move on from there because that is all we can hope for in any medium of human communciation.It actually takes some humbleness.
Full marks to Eugene. Keep it up!
It’s always been a mystery to me why Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler et al. had the sheer effrontery to move on. Fortunately there are a few players around who can offer a couple of hours of utter magic in the concert hall. One such player is Gil Shaham. Yesterday I heard him play a program consisting of a Mozart d major sonata (as good a key as any), the Bach a minor unaccompanied sonata, a sonata by some dude called Pimpante and loads of Spanish stuff.
There are very few players who can actually play a decent Mozart sonata (I consider that an indictment of the music education business ;)) but Shaham can. He was as whimsical, intense or poetic as each changing moment demanded.
The Bach was thoroughly enjoyable. Shaham plays Bach in a very free form, romantic, in your face way, adjusting bowings and fingerings in very personal and even eccentric ways. The slow movement for example was played with many more bow changes than is normal in his striving for the biggest sound possible. If anything this approach tended to occlude the actual structure of the work at times and a few more moments of absolute peace and repose would have been nice. Incidentally, Mr. Shaham, if you are reading this, the left hand side of the hall responded very negatively to you turning round to the left so far that you were facing backwards into the piano for a lot of the time ;) Not been involved in robbing banks recently?
I’d never heard of this pimp piece but I think it was pretty good music. The first movement seemed to me to be somewhat influenced by the well known Prokofiev sonata for some reason, and the last barnstorming movement a rather blatant pastiche of works by Sarasate. Nonetheless, it seems well worth some good player (it’s a damn hard work) giving it an airing. Shaham played it like an angel. Playing like that, he could have been playing the Carl Flesch scale manual and we would have still been in heaven.
The following performance of Zapateado was, in my opinion, but perhaps not the audience, the worst thing on the program. At a tempo –markedly- faster than Heifetz at his most manic, the sense of the music was lost and some intonation in the higher positions was frankly dodgy. LH pizz at this blur is inaudible and uninteresting. Romanze Andaluza was absolutely gorgeous tonally and with artistic use of vibrato etc. Just too brash and in your face for my taste. It kind of lacked perfume. A romance like that would require taking weekends off or a lot of Viagra. This is Japan so of course at least one of Japan’s favorite hackworks has to be played: Zigeunerweisen. He played it well but all the scales passages were so rapid one was left with a somewhat uneasy sense of so what. Overall, my feeling was that Sarasate is not quite Shaham`s kettle of fish although he has the equipment to play it better than just about anyone else on the planet. I couldn’t help feeling I’d rather hear him playing Paginini and maybe Ysaye.
He finished up with a couple of Brahms Hungarian dances that I have never heard better anywhere, live or on disc. Awesome sound, flawless intonation, and the most demonic rubato and phrasing. Yep, that’s what I felt I was seeing: something demonic. Best recital I’ve been to in years.
I have always loved Japanese Calligraphy, and if there is one aspect of the culture I would really like to master this is it. When I first got interested in it I received permission from some schools to attend the students regular classes in the art. In order to prepare myself for these I bought a book by a renowned master and pondered it for many hours. One of the most important things in it was his emphasis on the state of mind needed. In order to get there one first learns to sit well. Then one prepares the ink by rubbing a solid lump of it against a slate ink well until the right consistency is achieved. This preparation takes about one hour and was stated to be vital. I was somewhat disappointed whenever I went to classes and found students slumped in spine destroying chairs with convenient little squeezy bottles of ink. Bang went another fantasy about Japanese culture and mind...
In the same vein, I have come to believe over the last few years that in spite of the plethora of information on how to practice, not to mention the very wise references to stretching and warming up, there is actually very little thought given by most players as to how to get ready to practice with maximum efficiency and enjoyment.
We all pay lip service to the idea that anything we do in the practice room will –inevitably- manifest itself in performance blah blah blah. But then we continue to rush to the instrument carrying either our neuroses about playing, the world or all the crap our boss has been giving us all day long. Violin playing, we claim, is our medicine, so as we play the days cares and tribulations begin to wear off. Except although that may be true, one has still successfully integrated them within our technique for at least part of the duration of our practice.
Warming up and then stretching are vital but not the whole problem by any means. They don’t really do much to put the whole person where it needs to be. Alexander Technique , which can be defined as the precursor to any activity (that would include warming up) is sensible. But I am not convinced it is enough either. It is a way of making us do things better but it is not the thing in itself and it is certainly not designed to be practice for half an hour. It is more of an ongoing and largely subconscious process after studying it for a while. Also it is primarily concerned with the physical response to stress not the underlying trauma, phobia or whatever.
What does that leave us with?
Over the last few years I have been trying to define what state or criteria are ideal. My reasoning was that by working the problem backwards a solution would pop up sooner or later. Thus, I felt that before I picked up the violin I wanted my mind to be calm, I wanted to be completely in the present, utilizing the complete minimum necessary muscular tension, well oxygenated, have the widest field of vision, and be able to switch freely from an awareness s focused more on the immediate environment to one focused internally. What I discovered was that meditation fitted the bill perfectly. The type I use establishes all these criteria for the price of about thirty minutes work. The first time I did this and picked up the violin it blew my mind. A very strong reminder that the approach to practicing so current these days, based to my mind, very much on a kind of competition to see who can clock up the greatest number of hours is far less useful than considerably less done with forethought and intelligence.
PS(If you are interested in the CD I use for this purpose then check out www. Wildmind. Org)
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