May 2009

Pain and Ecstasy

May 21, 2009 13:51


at the end of year graduation ceremony at one of my schools  I didn`t recognize one of the teachers saying goodbye.  I assumed either she or I had turned up in the wrong building that day but it turned out she had a year off with pregnancy.  The gist of her speech was `I am no good at anything but I am a fantastic singer.` She then sang the most horrible a capella version of amazing grace I have ever heard.  The singing style is a peculiarly Japanese one of `I am very small so I must fill my diaphragm (!) with air,  contract the whole body and yell.  I run out of breath every two words so I stop and have a long gasping refill.`  Apparently it was in English but I couldn`t hear a word through the six inch vibrato.   One of the more painful experiences of my life.  A few weeks later I turned up at the opening ceremony of my other schools and it seems she wa s transferred there so I got the same thing.  Terror!  Then my other school suddenly decided that I would be attending the music club.  Sure enough she was the visiting guidance person and she sang.....Satre was right.

Quote from Elizabeth Green `Practicing Successfully.`

`There is a split second of timing- the difference in movement between the two hands- something of which the player is totally unconscious.  How do we know this?  Because when professional string players type rapidly there are so many errors here and there in the reversal of letter pairs.  Instead of `it` the string player types `ti@ for example.  When this mistake happens in any word,  the left hand letter is invariably typed before the right hand letter.`

One of the most mind blowing Beethoven concertos around is the relatively newly released recording of Milstein playing it with Boult (available from Shar).  It combines fiery,  swashbuckling playing with perfect technique and an awesome conception of how this concerto should be. Not only that,  but the London Philharmonic provides an incredible demonstration of how good an orchestra can be.  Perhaps not the greatest solo players around but watch the unanimity of part of bow use.  Reminds me of how good the Czech Phil is in that department.

What I like in a great performance is when something stops you in your tracks because it is different  but not obviously wrong ;)  One then has to sit back and figure out what might be the reaosoning and in the process ones own ideas are stretched and altered.  This performance is mind altering.  Just one example:  after the cadenza is one of the most sublime tunes ever written for the violin and I love heairng it as a plaintive voice in the distance.  A kind of sweet pain about the meaning of it all or whatever.  Milstein plays it rather loudly and directly as though he has no other thought than demonstrating a theme for a musically clueless TV interviewer.   It kind of threw me a bit.  Then he starts the second movement and its quite fast and unsentimental but beautiful.  Refreshing rather than grimacing in some kind of heaven snet constipation.   Then near the end suddenly `wham`out of no -where he slips into the sound I have always assumed was right for the first movement after the cadenza and it is just painful.  The whole picture just comes into focus and I realize that the sound may not be right in the first movement all the time.  A bold ,  masculine and probing 1st movement ending with the plaintive cry of a jilted lover? Perhaps not!   And when one does hear that sound in the slow movement where it belongs it is the first time and it offers up a truth to ones ears that one can never forget.





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Ida the Prune

May 20, 2009 18:24


is it just me,  or does the new Google logo featuring Ida just look like someone spattered their computer after consuming too many prunes?



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Great to be great or not.....

May 6, 2009 04:45


apologies to Laurie,  I still don`t know how to do the links to all the stuff I mention...

Reading interesting article in the Guardian world news classical music blog .  The writer has an epiphany about Mendelssohn in which he realizes the composer really isn`t a sort of light weight and pleasant accompaniament to tea and prunes.  He presents a moderately interesting account of how he music and Philosophy of Wagner caused this to occur.   The earth shattering change came upon hearing the Emerson quartet playing Mendellsohn`s 6th quartet.  That made me sit up because if you`d asked me how many quartets there are I would probably have said four and I have only ever learnt the first one.  The writer raves about the power of this quartet which was written right at the end of Ms career so somewhat dubiously I you tubed recordings and decided to try the New Zealand Quartet version.  Like this critic I was gripped from the very opening and had to listen through twice.  It was I think very influenced by Beethoven`s quartets but still a unique and powerful voice. An extraordinary work.  I hope it is played more and more in the concert hall.

It helped to be played by such a wonderful quartet but that raised a few more questions.  I had never heard of them so I looked at their home page and found my assumption this was a young quartet was way off the mark. In fact I was at the Royal College of Music with the viola player which makes it er...better not go there.   What ws also striking about the biogs of the players was just how incredibly well trained they had been.  All s udied with the cream of the violin world and played in either previous great quartets or the Berlin Phil or whatever.  So how come such a bloody good quartet is not exactly a household word?  I am sure they do very well for themselves and have a powerful following around the Pacific rim since they also seem to be directing some important festival etc But how many times have you seen them mentioned on v.commie when discussion of favorite quartets come up?  Never,  if I recall correctly!  I guess the classical world is simply full of superstar people doing there own quiet thing in a superstar way and there really is only a finite amount of name recognition and sponsoring by Nike to go round.

Hopefully my last aggravating reference for Laurie on youtube is `Mischa Maisky Talks about Philip Hirschhorn.`   Maisky is relatively uninteresting but there is a very large segment of Hirschorn playing the Chausson Poeme that is just too beautiful for words so I won`t say anything more.




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You just have to keep going.....(plus some Youtube)

May 4, 2009 21:55


for two months at the end of last year I carried on working with what turned out to be pneumonia.  Although I am pretty much recovered I have been aware of some damage to the lungs and problems with shortness of breathe which I decided to heal by progressive cardio-vascular exercise. This is latin for `any more of this and I am going to throw up.`  It requires a red face to pronounce correctly.

I began cycling to school a few days a week.  A round trip of 18 km.   This was definitely cardio-vascular as screaming at motorists and giving them the finger increases all over body efificency.  Then I went to the next level of everyday at work for a couple of weeks.  Once this was less maiming I added a small mountain to the return trip.  No longer needing weekends to recover by sleeping for 18 hours at a stretch I began doing the mountain on its own for my weekend enjoyment.  At first I could only crawl up in the lowest gear of my mountain bike.  the concern and compassion on the face of the geriatric hikers speeding past me was touching.   Time passed and I knew I owned the little mountain.  My cyclist friend then called me out of the blue and suggested we try a 500 metre one which is basically 5 km of steep mountain road.  Our first try last week I was back to square one although it was a round trip of forty km. Nonethless,  I got a boost from my newly returned to Japan healer friend who during our usual bodywork noted that I actually had a high level of fitness she had never seen in me before.  Since I am on vacation I have been around this course everyday.  Not only has it become easy but I found a tiny little Japanese coffee and cake shop en route which does an almost English bread and butter pudding cake and excellent tea.   Undoes all the good work, but who cares.  First time I went in after sweating up the terrible mountain I think they were glad to have my colleague and I sitting on the outside wooden veranda sticking out twenty feet up.  It used to be an old communal rice storage building so the inside is constructed of gnarly ,  dark old wood and narrow staircases that never seemed designed to endure the clambering weight of two large cyclists in helmets.  On the other hand it is run y a Jazz afficiando and is just cool enough to be full of Japanese teenyboppers screaming `Cute, cute<@ at everything (except sweaty old me) on a daily basis. The verandah becomes more attractive by the minute.

All this seems to me to be a little like the violin.  Notice a problem. Set some goals and just keep going.  But be sensible get enough rest.  Be with good friends and eat yummy dessert to reward yourself.  Just don`t give up.

What`s new on youtube this week.  For me I found myself provoked and thus expect to be provoking.   I began researching the transcriptions of Chopin Nocturnes of which two seem the most common and also Mendelssohns song without words..  One  very strong impression I got was that modern players almost never pull these kinds of works off well.  I listened to a number of very talented and recognizable prizewinners of recent years and was very impressed with things like Tchaikovsky but at the end of the day this apparent demand for the modern player to have the biggest most powerful sound at all costs has been a very heavy price to play in terms of loss of variety in color.  Even Mr Perlman seemed a little at sea with the Chopin although admittedly it was a lousy recording. Vengerov,  who has the colors, talked about this briefly in his Academy masterclass but it doesn`t seem like anyone was listening.  

The most gorgeous playing of the Chopin for me-  sweet introspective and perfect was by the last person I expected-  Zino Francescatti.   Then there was warm ,  imaginative and tender playing by Jospeh Gingold of the Mazurka.  A truly unique sound and awesome technique which seemed to offer insight into just how he was as a man.  I also looked around for a singer who might be a viable model for violinists and my favorite kept coming up as Caballe. Check out her Il Pirata.  Needing a break from all the insane romanticism I lucked on Christian Ferras playing the last two movements of the Bach E major partita.   This seemed so perfect to me I was gobsmacked.  Shouldn`t have been really since of all the recordings of the Beethoven piano and violin sonatas his I have always rated at least in the top three in terms of musicality  and sensitivity.

Finally I found an absolute humdinger simply entitled Wienaiwski 01 with Mr Vengerov. This was some of the most spectacular violin playing I have ever seen.  I confess I read youtube comments because they are so weird. This time sometimes damned him with faint praise and suggested he wasn`t in the Heifetz,  Oistrakh class.  Well, my friend,  on that day,  on that occasion it was true.   He was better....



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