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Happy . . . uh . . .

Karen Allendoerfer

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Published: January 21, 2014 at 2:40 PM [UTC]

This morning I wrote an email to a friend I hadn't seen since my birthday in early December, hoping to schedule a lunch date for next week. I started it off with "Happy New Year!"

Given that it's already heading towards late January, and I haven't written a 13 instead of a 14 for a couple of weeks now, that greeting sounded a little off. Happy MLK day? That's over too, and alas, we didn't go skiing for that weekend this year, the way we have in the past. Happy snowpocalypse? There is another one on its way. I should probably make time to hit Trader Joe's this morning before the storm hits us, so that we have enough food in case there's another snow day tomorrow.

This has been an exciting winter so far here in the Boston area. Probably the biggest, or at least the most noticeable, disruption to my life was the fate our "Almost-Winter Concert," originally scheduled for December 15th, 2013. We were planning to perform Brahms' "Gesang der Parzen," Schumann's "Adventlied," and John Kramer's musical setting of Longfellow's "The Poet's Calendar," but the polar vortex and the Town of Arlington Parking Authority had other plans. I spent that weekend relaxing and getting ready for Christmas. Which seems like an age ago already.

We managed to have the concert instead on January 12. Aside from the oddity of performing a piece called "Adventlied" in January, it went remarkably well. (And that was in German, so most of the audience--except for my husband--didn't understand every word anyway).

The Brahms, in contrast, was sung in English translation. I found it the hardest to play, technically. It has intervals and modulations that are not natural to my ear, unexpected and not entirely pleasant surprises. During my lesson, my violin teacher had said to listen to the text as the chorale sang it, that an understanding of the text would make the occasions when the bottom seemed to drop out of the musical logic make more sense. I tried that. The text, even in English translation, is something that might be well called "Germanic." It's a cry in the dark of despair, a hope for justice, a resignation that it will not be achieved in this life.

I was the most concerned about this piece deteriorating over the month off. But, surprisingly, it didn't. If anything, it got better with time. I did have to go back and review the hard parts. For example, there is a passage with a shift to a high G that I always missed back when I started working on it. My ear wanted--no, insisted on--an F#. I shifted too low every time and was flat. Only the tuner, silent and nonjudgemental, made me realize what was going on, and I labored to fix it, to get it properly in my ear the way it was supposed to be. But the month off shook those cobwebs loose. I became more open to and ready for the G, hitting it gloriously for a beat, before the Fates cast all of us, musicians and audience alike, down into the "deep dark of night."

And, it was especially interesting to hear the Kramer performed in January rather than December as originally planned. His movement for December is cheerful, tuneful, in a major key with scales up and down, leading to safe, familiar, and cozy places. It's meant to evoke a Messiah Sing, and ends with "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men!" His movement for January, on the other hand, is stern and dramatic in the choral part. And the first violin part is, well, a little boring but also challenging, providing a menacing rumble of syncopation underneath. It's the wind, maybe, or the snowplows scraping on the streets.

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.

Happy Tuesday everybody!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 21, 2014 at 11:54 PM
Karen - I enjoyed your latest. I am sorry not to have been at a concert of interesting-sounding pieces with which I am totally unfamiliar. I hope there are youtubes of them. Brahms can be harmonically challenging (after all, Schoenberg called him a "progressive"), so I sympathize with the issues you ran into.

I don't mind playing pieces in a season for which they were not written. After all, we all like to do the Messiah (at least those of us who like to play the Messiah) at Christmastime even though it is an Easter piece. So, I think a piece played "out of season" can work well, as you found with the Schumann.

Congratulations on a fine concert!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 22, 2014 at 12:32 AM
Hi Tom, It's always great to hear from you! These pieces are probably not that familiar to violinists because they are choral pieces first and foremost, with full orchestra. The Schumann features a soprano solo and a quartet as well. In contrast to the Brahms, it was not too much of a stretch technically for the orchestra, but it did require endurance.

We also started rehearsing our new program, with our new conductor, this month.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 22, 2014 at 12:36 AM
Good luck with the new conductor!

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