_ / ` INTERNET CELLO SOCIETY © | www.cello.org -|- | \ _/ 'TUTTI CELLI' Newsletter, November/December 1996
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Janos Starker is known throughout the world as a soloist, recording artist,
and teacher. Born in Budapest in 1924, Janos Starker came to the United
States in 1948, where he subsequently held the principal cellist's chairs
in three American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Fritz
Reiner. Starker then resumed his international performing career in 1958.
Since then he has performed thousands of concerts with orchestras and in
recitals throughout the world. When not touring, Janos Starker holds the
title of Distinguished Professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, where
his classes have attracted talented string players from around the world.
"TF: I also noticed that whenever the score says "Molto Appassionato," you tend to play with a fast bow and with your narrow vibrato, sounding almost like an "authentic" player.
JS: Everybody knows that "Molto Appassionato" means crying or sobbing. Again, how one expresses this is debatable. There are some people who cry such that their whole body shakes, while some people cry crocodile tears. I cry in my own way."
"TF: Do you feel that musical performances have become too homogenized, lacking in distinct personalities?
JS: I can only answer as I have many, many times. One of the worst statements on the subject came out of the mouth of one of the most admired pianists of all time, Artur Rubinstein, who lamented, "What happened to yesteryear's greats?"-- the Rachmaninoff's, etc. Today there are thousands and thousands of pianists who play fast, accurate, and loud, but "what happened to the greats?"
The fact is that the numerical increase in the population of musicians has produced an incredibly high standard, which means that today we have thousands of cellists who basically play the instrument better than the majority of cellists who played 50 years ago. But that doesn't mean they are all great. Listening to young people who graduate from the conservatories and the universities, we still wonder why they aren't as great as Casals, just as we have for decades. There are still those handful of greats today just as there were in the past, except that the rest of them, the thousands, are incredibly high in standard. I rejoice in them because that's the reason why the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, as well as the thousands of civic and community orchestras, can produce quality performances.
I think we are living in a golden era of cello playing, and, as I said at the outset of the Cello Congress, there has never been so many fabulously gifted musicians -- cellists who are instrumentally and musically well-trained. But, out of this multitude, the same small number of great performers will emerge. So rest in piece, Mr. Rubinstein."
!!! A handsome photo is included in the Web version!!!
"I am sitting with my cello, clearing my head of the mundane stresses of everyday life. Nothing else matters, only my cello, my bow, and my own sense of quiet contemplation. Concentrate on breathing. Concentrate on relaxing. Concentrate on the feelings of tenderness and love for music and love for this wonderful instrument I have before me."
I start with the bow. I look down at my cello and count the strings. There are only four. (What a relief -- sometimes it feels as if I am playing a sitar!) No matter how fast or slow I play, I am always playing on one of these. But it's more challenging to play fast because it's more difficult to keep track of which string I'm on. This leads me to suspect that many perceived left hand problems are actually right hand problems. If I really want to learn a passage, I should play it slowly first and figure out which string each note is on.
I begin to play a passage from a concerto [see example at the Internet Cello Society Web Site] with the left hand 'shadow' fingering above the fingerboard, while I play the corresponding open strings with the bow. As I play the open strings faster and faster, a pattern reveals itself: A-A-D-D-A-A becomes a repeating sequence. It's the famous passage from Saint-Saens' Concerto no. 1 [measure 297]. Repeating this until it becomes internalized, I add back the left hand. What a difference--it's so much cleaner! Of course many passages are not this regular. But the general principle holds: always know what string you're on.
I then note that whatever I play using my bow, it is either traveling up or down-bow. This observation may seem trivial, but it becomes crucial when playing fast, when it's often difficult to keep track of the direction the bow is supposed to be going in: always know in what direction you are bowing.
Looking at my bridge I notice that the strings are at different elevations above the cello body; the D and G-strings are higher than the A and C. I alternate between playing the A and D-strings. Because of the difference in heights, I tend to have a broken sound as I switch from one to the other. How can I achieve a smooth legato? Michael Tree, violist of the Guarneri Quartet, solves my problem:
"When one hears an unwanted break in the line at the moment of string crossing, it's usually because the arm doesn't prepare for it in advance. The arm has a wide potential latitude of vertical movement. You can raise it to play on the left side of the string or lower it to play on the right, or you can play dead center. If the arm anticipates the string crossing by leaning in the direction of the note that's coming, a more fluid, circular motion is achieved. The difference of a quarter of an inch may be enough to put the arm in position; the wrist can do the rest. But many players will do the exact opposite and lean the arm in the wrong direction; the result is an abrupt, angular movement." (4)
"This means the more economical my motions are, the easier it is, and the better I sound. This is definitely a step towards my goal of simplicity."
Living in a small logging town in the middle of the Cascades has is advantages and disadvantages. Among other things, being Roberta Morton from Morton gives me an instant conversation starter . Anytime I want to go hiking, fishing, canoeing or any other outside activity, I need look no further than my backyard. Unfortunately, being a classical musician in such an isolated area can make it difficult to attend the concerts and other musical activities that enrich the lives of those who live in more populated areas. Participation in the Tacoma Youth Symphony meant spending all day Saturday in Puyallup, Tacoma and Seattle so that my sister and I could take violin, cello and flute lessons in addition to playing in the symphony. Living an hour and a half to two hours away from these cities also made frequent concert attendence impractical on any day other than Saturday evenings. Even so, we managed to attend a few wonderful perfomances, returning to Morton around one o'clock Sunday morning.
Going to college at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma created new opportunities for musical enrichment that were previously impossible for me to explore. My fellow students and I discovered the joy of sightreading string quartets and playing chamber music. Faculty concerts, the Tacoma and Seattle Symphonies, Seattle Opera and the Pacific Northwest Ballet were the new attractions outside my backdoor. As a sophomore I was given the opportunity to attend a Rostropovich recital at the Opera House. I was so excited that I arrived at the concert two hours early. When I finally found the upper balcony the doors to the seats were locked because the performers were still warming up on stage. I spent the next two hours reading the program. Of course the music was wonderful, and even though my seat was unbelievably far from the stage, projection was not a problem for Rostropovich. After the recital I managed to escape the post-concert traffic jam. Since I arrived so early I grabbed the very best parking spot in the Seattle Center.
In the spring of 1996 Janos Starker performed the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Seattle Symphony. As a junior at the University of Puget Sound I was beginning to wrestle with the first movement of this piece and my teacher at the time, Cordelia Wikarski-Miedel, happened to have two extra concert tickets. Not only would I be attending the concert but my friend and I had free BOX SEAT tickets. I didn't even feel bad about paying extra for a close parking space.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the seats and the performance. After the concerto, during intermission, Mrs. Miedel found our cluster of UPS students and led us to Starker's dressing room. My teacher began her introductions while he leizurely smoked his cigarette. My introduction went along the lines of "This is Roberta, she is just starting the Dvorak so she was listening for mistakes! [chuckle]" I think I shook his hand and told him I was counting them all (as if there were any to count). The encounter was very brief, but memorable.
I have now graduated from UPS and am currently pursuing a masters degree at Central Washington University, studying with Mr. Internet Cello Society, John Michel. Seattle and its music scene are a little farther away here in Ellensburg, but I pleasantly surprised to find a rich musical community centered around the University. This proves that even in a relatively isolated area, such as central Washington, one can find a variety of wonderful musicians devoting their lives to music.
Violinists, eat your heart out! On October 1, 1996, cellist Laszlo Varga
premiered his latest tour de force, a transcription of Beethoven's Violin
Concerto in D, Opus 61. Appearing with the Woodlands Symphony, a professional
chamber orchestra based in a remarkable planned community to the north of
Houston, he performed the demanding work on his violoncello-piccolo, a five-stringed
cello with an e string. Varga, a distinguished professor at the University
of Houston and internationally recognized artist, has amazed his audiences
with his virtuosic performances on this five string instrument. Among the
works that this listener has heard him perform on it are Schubert's Arpeggione
Sonata and Bach's Suite No. 6, each quite astonishing in its technical execution
But beware, undertaking a cello-piccolo performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, a work which still confounds most violinists with its technical and musical demands, is not for the faint-hearted. Varga was more than up to the task. He gave a remarkable performance that was rich in musical textures, contagious in its warmth of phrasing, and absolutely dazzling in its technical conquests.
Although all aspects of the performance were satisfying, the second movement, Larghetto, was especially eloquent, and the final Allegro was imbued with particular charm and elegance. The sound of the cello-piccolo was clear and strong, and the e-string somewhat reminiscent of a super-viola.
The Woodlands Symphony, opening just its fourth season, played with conviction under the expert baton of the young American conductor, Dagang Chen. The other works on the all-Beethoven program were the Overture to Fidelio, Op. 72b, and the Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Op, 80. Pianist Vania Pimentel, soloist in the Fantasy, gave a compelling performance, and the new Woodlands Symphony Chorus, Joseph McKinney, director, was more than adequate to the demands of their first performance.
David J. Tomatz
***For more information about Varga's arrangements for solo cello and
cello ensemble please contact WWW http://members.aol.com/vcello1/.***
This article discusses the collected works of cello pedagogue and composer
Rudolf Matz. Who is Rudolf Matz, you might ask? Gospodnetic explains:
"Until recent years most cellists needed no introduction to the name of Rudolf Matz and his legendary accomplishments. For example, Leonard Rose called him, 'perhaps the greatest cello theoretician in the world.' And Janos Starker says that 'Rudolf Matz's dedication and expertise has produced much needed material for the young cellist.' "
An ongoing serial story of the most influential cellist of the early
20th century. This issue explores Casals' life long relationship with Bach's
***The ICS Forum format will be changing in order to better fit our
members' needs. Our goal is to simplify the process of addressing your
questions and the issues of importance to you. All of our forum directors
will still be available for discussion and the new format will give you
the opportunity to hear different perspectives about your concerns. Please
check the ICS forum web page and let us know what you think. Roberta Morton
will be coordinating future activities of the ICS Forum.***
Report of the Cellists-by-Night:
We tackled important technical issues such as how to practice octaves, and how to improve one's ability to play fast. I was also asked the following important question:
"I began playing the cello five years ago at the age of 17. I love playing the cello and would like to make it a side career. I will be graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in Materials Engineering and I have a degree in Chemistry from Spelman College. Although I love science, I also love music. My playing has been continuously improving but I need some encouraging insight on finally becoming a great player. Do you know of any professional players who got such a late start? Are there any books I can read on this topic, or on cello technique in general?"
If your heart is telling you that you must give music a shot, then I would suggest you listen to it. The world is full of people who are doing something that they don't want to do, who are full of "what if's." They are doing what their brain is telling them to do, instead of their heart. When you consistently listen to your brain instead of your heart, you can waste away many years of your life and can cause an emotional "death." Of course there are times when you need to do the practical thing, like when there are children involved. But you are 22 and you have your whole life ahead of you.
I understand your drive to go into music. Music is such a wonderful,
life-enriching art, that it's hard to understand why EVERYBODY doesn't try to make it their life. I understand very well.
I would be negligent if I didn't share with you some realities of the music field, however. The music business is VERY competitive. The job market is saturated with excellent musicians who can't find jobs. There were 200 applicants for a position in the Seattle Symphony recently. Also, classical music is a shrinking market: only 3% of record sales are for classical recordings, and this number is still going down. Some orchestras are going bankrupt, others are on strike (Portland and maybe Phoenix soon), and others are losing their recording contracts (Philadelphia Orchestra).
If you are still intent on pursuing a music career, you cannot do it alone. I could suggest books, but books are not the answer. You must find a great cello teacher. And you must dedicate your life to cello for several years, practicing hours and hours every day, practicing scales of all types, etudes, etc. You can't do it half way. You must become totally emersed in music. Then and only then will you have any chance of success as a performer.
You asked about age. This is a delicate subject. I can only answer from my own experience. All of the people I know who have found orchestra jobs or professorships showed talent back in high school, with no exceptions. Though they weren't playing perfectly back then, they were definitely the leaders of my peer group.
But then again, my teacher told me I was too old when I started with her at your age. Though I don't have a performing career, I have a solid "career" in music as a writer and teacher.
Which leads me to my point about what constitutes a music career. There are many parts of the music world. There are soloists, orchestral players, teachers, historians, composers, theoreticians, writers, listeners, amateur players, recording engineers, critics, talent agents, record companies, record sales, and so on. All of these are extremely important, since without any one of them, the others will suffer. So, if you are unable to find your place as a professional performer, there are many other niches that need filling.
I hope I have given you a balanced presentation. You have a right to want things in life, and you have a right to ask for them and to work for them. I enthusiastically support your decision, no matter which way you go. As Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss."