Creating a supercharged atmosphere on CD is a no small task. In live concerto performances, one plays with focused intensity for perhaps thirty minutes, which is strenuous enough. Now imagine sustaining a manic energy level for ten hours straight, two days in a row, like sprinting in an entire marathon ... twice. Members of the orchestra continued to send Bailey enthusiastic e-mails for days after the sessions ended, expressing their astonishment at his stamina.
Bailey invited me to witness the recording sessions for his Russian Masterpieces CD, which took place over two long days at Skywalker Ranch, a sprawling 3,000 acre facility tucked deep in the rolling hills of Marin County, north of San Francisco. The property was acquired by George Lucas from his Star Wars earnings, and is sparsely populated with understated buildings that discreetly contain state-of-the-art audio and film production facilities. The main recording studio building feels like a rustic lodge at first, but a wrong turn reveals a futuristic computer room that is the technological heart of a catacomb of editing suites. The entire ranch was eerily tranquil as the employees diligently edited top secret projects in their sound-proof rooms. We rarely saw anybody other than roving security details, but we sensed we weren't alone. Security was extremely tight and one was never sure where the cameras were that must have been watching our every move.
The recording facility at Skywalker Ranch, Skywalker Studios, is managed by Leslie Ann Jones, a Grammy Award-winning producer and daughter of the late Spike Jones. She hires high-level Bay Area professional musicians for recordings, usually movie soundtracks. Outside organizations can also rent the recording studio, as was done in this case. The 50-person San Francisco Ballet Orchestra was brought in, including their conductor, cellist Martin West, who knew the pieces intimately, which saved valuable time.
What follows is a behind-the-scenes view of how recordings are made, though the process for this one was more manic than most. There was a sense of managed chaos due to the quantity of music being recorded in very little time and due to Bailey's desire to create a live performance feeling in the end product. Recordings by other artists, though often beautiful in their own way, can have a feeling of being too much in control, perfectly worked out, and polite, even. Bailey went for something much more visceral by playing every take as if he were in concert, something that the great artists of yesteryear also strived for prior to the advances in recording and editing technology that forever altered and perhaps dominate today's recording process.
(Click here for the complete transcript.)
Much of Starker's teaching career has been centered in Bloomington, Indiana. Indeed, the school's musical infrastructure is due in large part to his, and a few of his closest colleagues, influence. Along with such artists as Josef Gingold and György Sebok, Starker worked tirelessly to build an environment where young musicians, whether their interests be solo, collaborative or orchestral, could amass the most complete body of information and experiences for every possible aspect of music making. Students who recognized and took advantage of the unique possibilities found three distinctly different artists and personalities, coming from three completely different directions, who were united in their determination that the celebration of these collective differences would produce students that…"not only could do but would know" (Starker, personal communication, 2006). In the early 80's I became one of these students and for me the recognition of this extraordinary opportunity was almost immediate and completely total. Along with hundreds of like-minded string players and pianists, my week consisted of long hours in the practice room interspersed with the Monday night chamber class of Sebok, the Tuesday night violin class of Gingold, the Saturday afternoon cello class of Starker, my individual lessons, and numerous chamber ensemble rehearsals. This intensity and immersion led to a body of information, experience and knowledge that even twenty-two years later I have not yet come close to exhausting.
The inspiration and motivation for this article was in fact born during my graduate study at Indiana. I had chosen Indiana after taking auditions at what was a litany of the best schools on the East Coast and with some of the most prominent artist/teachers known. At each school I had asked the artist/teacher for a lesson after the audition and, with one exception, all were eager to comply. The consensus after my auditions seemed to be what those of us in the profession have come to know as the standard selling pitch of every artist eager to attract a full and diverse studio. I was collectively told that I was talented, accomplished, and well on my way to a successful performing career. My study with them at their respective schools would inevitably be the impetus toward achieving my goals. At all of the schools, I received substantial scholarships and was somewhat gratified by the words of encouragement and acknowledgment that I had heard.
(Click here for the complete transcript.)
On a recent surf of the internet, I came across some amusing comments about cellists and their breathing from a radio listener: "I always find that 'cello players breathe loudly, even on recordings! I wondered if perhaps it is a symptom of having to lean over the front of the 'cello to bow." Our public notices (perhaps more than we know) a habit that is overlooked by many of us. What Alexander called a conspicuous defect is all too common amongst students and professionals.
The verbs 'to breathe' and 'to inspire' have the same Latin root: inspirare. The various meanings of the verb 'to inspire' are associated with the intake of a vital sustaining power or emotion:
The question to ask here is this: how can we move without straining for breath? We have a force to contend with -- the downward force of gravity. How do we learn to play up against this force, to use it according to what Alexander called the principle of mechanical advantage. What idea of a 'correct position' can compare with a dynamic equilibrium which permits us moment to moment changes as we shift our weight, breathing freely to do so? The true principles of equilibrium are simple but not easy to put into practice, as they contravene our habits.
(Click here for the complete transcript.)
The Orchestra at San Petronio was Bologna's most important musical group. This orchestra attracted famous composers, performers, and conductors, and helped to set the stage for young composers like Gabrielli and later, Torelli. Its chief architect, Andrea Manfredi, designed the basilica at San Petronio to be "the largest church in Christendom."3 This massive structure was completed in the fifteenth century, and by the mid-1600's, there was already a small orchestra in place, numbering between ten and twenty musicians, depending on the occasion.4
Bologna was also home to an innovation that would forever alter the course of string playing, and therefore the writing of music for stringed instruments. In the 1660's (a clear date is not readily available), Bolognese string makers developed the wire-wound strings to be used for the cello's C and G-strings.5 These new strings afforded the cello with a clearer tone, and allowed for a smaller instrument to be used without sacrificing the tonal benefits of the larger cellos that were sometimes used for continuo playing. Anne Schnoebelen's article points out that some of the manuscripts left by San Petronio composers called for violoncello continuo and violoncello spezzato. She notes that the continuo instrument was likely a larger-sized cello, or the older violone, while the spezzato instrument was more likely a smaller instrument, capable of handling more soloistic material.6 These new wire-wound gut strings would have solved this issue. By allowing for a quicker response, the smaller cellos (now strung with these new strings) would have been able to handle both roles. As this study moves to a direct look at Gabrielli's composition, we will see just how important these strings must have been for him.
Gabrielli's Ricercari are fairly free in terms of compositional structure. Rather than falling into the category of the structured, fugal ricercari of G.B. Antonii, or those of his teacher G.B. Vitali, Gabrielli's compositions can be grouped into three structural types. The first is the 'ritornello type.' This style contains some elemental subject that returns in a regular manner, thus affording a real sense of organization. The second type is the 'through-composed' style. In these ricercari, Gabrielli utilizes an almost improvisatory style. The musical ideas seem to naturally arise out of the preceding material, and there is little melodic repetition. In this style, rhythmic ideas and cadential formulas are the main connective tissue. The final formal type used is that of the 'canzona-type.' In this style, Gabrielli moves through larger sections, using tempo and meter changes to indicate demarcate sections. This third style is surely a precursor to the method he employed in his continuo sonatas, which are very sectional.7
(Click here for the complete transcript.)
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>> Bach 3rd Suite Prelude
TomWolf321: I just started working on the prelude to the 3rd suite, and I have a question. When the arpeggio part comes in, should I play every note individually, or play it more like a series of double stops? If you listen to the Casals version, he does the "double stop" thing. If you listen to Maisky's recording, he plays every note of the arpeggios individually. What should I do?
Bob: This is about you and Bach, not you and Casals/Maisky/Bylsma/Starker, etc. Just from your one example you see that there's a difference of opinion, as is natural. You will find your way in this (and every passage) by playing it many different ways yourself. I promise you, eventually one way will become your preference, and you will see that you don't need any of those guys!
>> Bach 5th Suite Prelude
ElaineinNM: I've started working on Suite #5, and I find that I'm overwhelmed. I'm curious as to how you pros approach a new piece.
My teacher has recently been having me 'go at' a new piece (or a section of a piece) on my own, and then, after I have the notes in pretty good shape and some idea of how I want to play it dynamically, we go through the piece carefully. She suggests fingerings that might work better, we work on specific passages and notes that are difficult for me and so on. Since I've spent some time on the piece I usually know what areas 'really' need help.
I started with the Gigue, and played it for her last lesson. That went ok...she suggested that I lighten my tone, exaggerate the dynamics, pay more attention to the rhythm--you know, the usual! How the Gigue should sound is pretty obvious to me. I know how I WANT it to sound, and so I know what to work on.
However, the Prelude and Fugue don't seem so obvious to me. I've been listening to the cd's of Fournier and Bylsma. They are very different interpretations, and I like them both. I love Fourner's warm tone, his caressing of notes, his slow deliberate playing. I love the quick attacks of Byslma-the speed, the aggressiveness, although I'm not sure that my over-50 fingers will ever by able to fly like that! But the problem that I'm having is figuring out how 'I' want it to sound---what does it mean to me. How do I make this piece 'mine.' I've got the notes down and 'mostly' can get smoothly to the chords...I've taken the Prelude and sung it out loud, listened to the cd's, tried to play it dynamically.
But how do I keep what Bach wrote, and yet find and play the uniqueness in this piece that is me? How do you pros approach a new piece?
joinsthecircus: I'm not a pro, but here's a link you might find interesting:
Tim Janof: With such a wide diversity of approaches by great artists, I don't know how anybody decides how they are going to play the Bach Suites these days. One major decision point, of course, is whether or not you are going to try to use a more Baroque approach. For example, are you going to play the opening of the prelude in the manner of a French Overture?
The general consensus among cellists seems to be that this suite is dramatic. Isserlis imagines that this suite is about the Crucifixion. Tortelier talked about a "prophet speaking -- a prophet who has experienced injustice, who has known deception -- a man of God who yet expresses indignation and anger."
Tortelier also had a wonderful image of the fugue in the prelude as depicting Creation, "The first two notes represent the embryo -- the origin of all life. How delicately it begins ... gradually the cells multiply and life starts to germinate." This doesn't seem consistent with his previous general comments, but to see him demonstrate this imagery in person was a revelation.
Regarding imagery, Anner Bylsma cautioned against it:
TJ: Paul Tortelier visualized the G Major prelude as a flowing brook or stream. Do you think this use of imagery is appropriate?
AB: Mr. Tortelier was certainly entitled to use imagery as he pleased. But what if I have a different image? Maybe the prelude makes me think of scratching my foot, the itching being represented by the use of separate bows. The problem with this type of interpretational approach is that it comes from outside the music, not from the score. You cannot attack or defend a person's imagery, since it is very personal. It certainly doesnt help one understand the composition in an objective manner.
TJ: When you play the cello suites, are you just trying to play what's written, or are you telling a story?
AB: I may have a story, but I would never share it with anyone, since it is my business. I wouldnt want to ruin a piece for someone by planting my imagery in his or her mind. I want people to understand Bach in their own way, not mine.
This reminds me of a nice story. Years ago I soloed with an amateur orchestra in Holland. One of the cellists was an old bachelor farmer with large red hands. During the intermission, he came up to me and said, Do you know the second Bourre of the fourth suite?
Yes, I know it.
When Bach wrote it, he was in a happy mood.
Well, I loved this little conversation. But I must say that it told me more about the farmer than it did about Bach. I could see him on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in his farmhouse, struggling with his big red hands to read the score, and then deciding that Bach was in a good mood. And so what Im saying is that Mr. Tortelier gave us more of a look at who he is, rather than a look at who Bach is or his music."
I suggest you listen to a recording of the 5th Suite as played by a lutenist. Bach wrote a version of this piece for lute. All this talk of drama, anguish, and pain may not ring quite as true when you hear it on a lute. The "descension to the depths of your soul" when playing the open C string in the opening of the prelude is just a simple plucking of a lower string for a lutenist. You will also get a better sense of the harmonies of the piece, which are actually less dark in certain movements than one would gather from the comments of the great cellists of the past and present.
After you have finished listening to the lute version, I suggest that you stop listening to recordings of this work altogether for awhile. Only then can you start to formulate your own concept.
I also suggest you ponder the piece away from the cello. Play it in your head and notice how it affects you emotionally or intellectually, depending on your leanings. Take a crack at analyzing the harmonies (getting your hands on the lute version will save you time). Maybe you will come up with your own imagery or stories.
After you have worked on the piece in this manner for a long time, then maybe go back to your recordings and listen for ideas that you might like to incorporate into your own playing. You'll notice so much more in others' playing when you have been trying to work out things on your own.
Jon Pegis: One of my high school piano teachers told me that no other composer thrives on the "back burner" as well as Bach. In other words, it has to simmer in your fingers and mind for a long time. I'm learning this Suite for the first time as well, and what I generally do is listen to several recordings initially, and then I don't listen to recordings while I'm really learning the piece. Once I have the piece memorized I will spend months playing without music and watch how my bowings, articulations, dynamics, and fingerings evolve. There is no right or wrong way to play the Suites, and it's a true measure of their greatness that they can sound wonderful played in a variety of styles. Don't rush yourself to come up with your own personal interpretation. It will develop over time and will continue to broaden and change as you play these wonderful pieces. Best of luck!
ElaineinNM: What is making this particular piece so interesting for me is that I'm approaching it with a 'blank slate'. I haven't listened to it much, don't really know it as I know the first 3 Suites, and have just heard it played live once (BA played a lovely rendition last winter in El Paso). I'm learning it without a deeply ingrained feeling for how it should go.
I'm also at the point technically where I can enjoy playing it. Not perfectly, not without 'issues', not fast, not without realizing that it's going to take months and months of work, but well enough so that I can see 'potential'. This is a quantum leap and very exciting.
Jon, the idea of memorizing it, and seeing how it feels and how it wants to be played is a good one. I'll do that. Memorizing is not so easy anymore, but I'll try!
I came across a couple of Tim's articles on the Suites which are fascinating and aprops: Interpretational Angst and the Bach Cello Suites and Baroque Dance and the Bach Cello Suites .
BA: Bach is difficult for us poor cellists because we think usually melody first, then harmony and rhythm. It works well for much of the repertoire we are likely to encounter. In Bach however, the harmonic and rhythmic movements generally trump the melodic ones. If one approaches Bach merely following your melodic instincts it can sound extremely 'seasick' and amorphous (and there are many recordings that do sound that way, to me) The harmonic counterpoint that is the lifeblood of Bach is more hidden in the cello suites than in almost any of Bach's other music, which is one of the reasons I find the violin Sonatas and Partitas more organic and natural Bach than the cello suites. That said, the fifth suite is probably the most contrapuntal and so in a way the simplest and natural, particularly the prelude.
Rather than listening to cellists, you might benefit more from listening to great keyboard players play Bach, and then to the violin Sonatas and Partitas to understand Bach's writing for an instrument he was more familiar with and for which he wrote more contrapuntally (Szeryng is the accepted gold standard, though I have to admit I love the Heifetz, despite certain eccentricities).
I find for myself, that I must first be able to play Bach 'straight'- with metronomic rhythm and a very straightforward approach, before I can add in phrasing. If I don't get it 'honest' first, than the phrasing I add I find to be too overdone and exaggerated. I also find that it is a great help to occasionally practice the movements faster than tempo. It gives me a much simpler and clearer perspective of the progressions and forces me to get rid of some eccentricities that arise from technical issues.
Because of the harmonic, contrapuntal and rhythmic elements needing to often overrule our normal melodic instincts, I find that Bach is a very, very difficult thing to play well. I avoided playing Bach in public (successfully avoided, until last January) for many years simply because it really does need to sit and percolate.
As far as the tuning, I had originally intended to tune down, to follow the 'correct' orthodoxy, but when I played it this way I felt it was ridiculous and out of context to be playing such a loose A string paired with three high tension steel strings at modern pitch. The effect seemed almost comical and didn't match across the cello at all. One string sounded Baroque and three sounded Modern. So as a compromise (since I am very much not HIPP) I used normal tuning, but played much what would have been on the A string on the D instead, creating something of the darker color I assume he was aiming for.
Just remember that is nothing is ever good enough in music. So you may as well enjoy yourself.
zambocello: BA says things that are super right and super important:
gamera99: In my Barenreiter edition of Bach Suite 1 BWV 1007 Minuet II, the last note in measure 3 is an E natural, in Suzuki Vol 4 it is E flat, and it sounds to me like Maisky is playing it as a flat here: http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=ulMpKxednQc (at 1:33). The phrase is repeated in measure 7 and in both books it is marked as E natural. I wonder if anyone has an opinion on this one.
Bob: The confusion stems from the early baroque practice of omitting the flat (from the key signature) that applies to the 6th scale degree in minor keys. The purpose was to always raise that degree to effect the melodic minor mode. Bach's music was far too complex to fit neatly into such conventions, and he used the proper key signature in most of his later works.
But we have to grapple with conflicting primary sources for the Suites, and the Menuet II from Suite #1 and the Bourree II from Suite #3 are rife with problems. The two earliest (and sloppy) copies that have come down to us disagree on many of the 6th-degree notes, and one must use one's ear, judgment, and overall knowledge of Bach's style to settle the disputes. Suzuki, Barenreiter, and everyone in between are simply opinions.
>> Bach Fourth Suite Prelude
cellotx: I've been working on the 4th Bach suite since the school year started, and have been stuck on the prelude for a while in terms of phrasing and musical direction. I feel like the way I'm playing it now is so typical, unoriginal, and predictable. But if I try it another way, it just seems...well, wrong. But I don't want to be stuck in this rut forever! Help!
zambocello: This prelude is a tough one to bring off, for the reasons you mention: controlling the time and doing something creative in a movement that is one-dimensional for most of its duration.
Having not heard you play, it's impossible to give you direct advice. My own check list of features for this piece include doing something interesting with the bass notes and/or moving notes from one harmony to another, but without distorting the time too much.* Part of that is accomplished by getting in and out of stretches in time gradually and proportionately; don't suddenly hold a note for extra time value. Find expression in the harmonic progressions; there is a drama unfolding in those harmonies, almost a narrative. Find ways to make it meaningful, i.e. create interesting progressions of dynamics that match the progressions of harmony. In other words (as with all Bach) don't play so damned loud all the time! There's no piano or ensemble to compete with.
* A big shot, non-cello faculty member at a big shot school once came to me after juries, after hearing the 4th Prelude for years in juries but only recently having looked at the music, surprised to learn that the piece wasn't in 9/8 time!
Jon Pegis: Another tip to help you understand the harmonic direction of the movement is to play each measure as a chord on the piano. We get so distracted with all the technical problems that we lose track of where we're going. I played this movement for Yo-Yo Ma when I was at Eastman, and he made a great comment. He said "I can tell you know where the music is going, but you need to make it clear to us." That was a long time ago but I never forgot it.
>> Bobby Knight
Despite battling ferocious personal demons and alienating just about everyone, Bobby Knight won more basketball games than anyone in NCAA history. So I pay attention when he says "I have never allowed myself to dwell on games we won. I"ve always felt winning is what you"re supposed to do. Winning is a by-product of preparation and work at practice, all the things leading up to a game."
To me, this is applicable to the cello, at all levels. When you practice a shift, the goal should be identifying and solidifying the entire apparatus necessary to coordinate the perfect combination of motions, not simply hitting the note. You can do everything wrong and still hit the note by luck, but you will certainly miss it the next time. If you focus on your career instead of focusing on being totally ready when you step out on stage, eventually all the networking and publicity will avail you nothing.
Getting good is a matter of noticing and learning from smaller and smaller mistakes.
>> Recital Notes from BA's recital honoring Feuermann
BA: Even the educated modern concert goer, well-acquainted with the names of Yo Yo Ma, Rostropovich and Casals could be forgiven for being unfamiliar with the name of Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942) But during his brief lifetime, Feuermann was almost universally recognized as a peerless master of the instrument. Artur Rubinstein said "Feuermann became for me the greatest cellist of all time", Jascha Heifetz accepted him as the first cellist worthy of serious collaboration, and would not play with another for nine years after his death. He was the cellist of choice for conductors including Toscanini, who described him as "the greatest" and said that "there is no one after him" and Szell, who said that he played with "...noblesse and distinction, and with the complete equipment in the service of an artistic purpose. His premature death during routine surgery in 1942 at the age of 39 brought his career to an end before he had a chance to establish the type of widespread fame that Heifetz and Casals secured, but even today -more than 60 years after his death- there is a clear consensus, among cellists who were privileged to hear Emanuel Feuermann play and among those familiar with his recordings, that Feuermann was a cellist without equal. His graceful, elegant playing shows both a warm, Kreislerian musicality and a fluid and facile command of the instrument that many cellists believe has never been approached since.
Feuermann's career contains numerous milestones- appointed a professor at Cologne at age 16, world-renown in his twenties, the first cellist to record the Dvorak concerto, the first to revive the original version of the Haydn D major concerto, the first to premiere the Schoenberg concerto, the first to perform a concerto marathon (16 concerti in 4 days)- the list of accomplishments could be virtually endless. But these are just historical details; what has always made Feuermann so compelling to me, from the time I first heard his recordings at 12 years old to this day, is the incredible fluidity, elegance, beauty and ease of his playing. Though he was recording onto 78 RPM records with no editing possible, Feuermann presents cello playing with no musical compromises necessitated by technique. Today there are scores of cellists who can play bravura technical pieces, but no one to my mind has ever partnered those technical gifts with the incredible musicianship, beauty of sound , elegance and grace of Feuermann.
After finding his recordings and hearing in them a new world of possibilities for the cello, Feuermann became a life-long obsession for me. I memorized his recordings, attempted to play along and imitate them and eventually wrote my Juilliard dissertation on his playing, meeting his sister and his widow and talking with many of his former students (My own teacher, Zara Nelsova, also studied briefly with Feuermann) The idea for this recital arose this summer while visiting his gravesite in New York. A 'tribute' recital or CD such as this usually unintentionally demonstrates the honorees' greatness by showing just how far short of their standards the tributees play, and I expect this one to be no different in that respect! Even the students of Heifetz who could skillfully mirror his technique and phrasing showed only more clearly that the secret of Heifetz's musicianship was something beyond what could be imitated. For me this program has little to do with trying to anoint myself in Feuermann's mantle- I learned long ago that my abilities could never do that justice. But I find that the more I learn about the cello, the more I understand the greatness in Feuermann's playing- it is like pursuing a mirage that is always on the distant horizon no matter how far you travel- and preparing this program gives me the opportunity to better understand Feuermann's musical choices and how he played. I am truly grateful that the advent of recordings has allowed my life to be changed by a man who died almost three decades before I was born, and unendingly indebted to Feuermann, who remains there on the horizon, opening our imaginations to the possibilities of the instrument and the music.
The works heard tonight are all works associated with Feuermann, either from his recital programs or recordings. The Valentini sonata was originally written for violin and continuo. The cellist Alfredo Piatti arranged it for cello and piano (one reviewer referred to it as a 'de-rangement'...) While Feuermann recorded only the second and third movements, he regularly programed the entire sonata . Like many of the Italian classical sonatas, and particularly because of the Valentini's very romantic arrangement, it has fallen out of favor in concert programs in recent decades, but it is a charming work and fiercely difficult. I am amazed to say that I am still finding this sonata the most difficult thing to play on the entire program. A reasonable guess at Feuermann's cadenza in the fifth movement was taken from the recording of his former student, Edgar Lustgarten.
The Grieg sonata is another sonata considered 'old fashioned' in some circles, though it has made something of a comeback in recent years. Grieg wrote it to perform with his cellist brother and later also performed it with Casals. Though Feuermann never recorded it, he was an advocate of this sonata and, along with the Stravinsky Suite Italien and the Brahms F major sonata, it was one of his most frequently programed sonatas.
The Hindemith solo sonata is a masterful work, and Feuermann's recording of it is arguably unequaled. Feuermann played in a string trio with Hindemith as the violist, and several of their collaborative recording are available, including a fiercely difficult Scherzo for Viola and Cello composed and recorded in just over 3 hours to fill a blank 78 side. The solo sonata was written before Hindemith worked with Feuermann, but Feuermann presented the New York debut of this sonata and performed it frequently.
The Chopin Introduction and Polonaise is probably Feuermann's best known transciption. Many cellists have arranged heir own virtuoso versions of the originally unassuming cello part, but Feuermann's is the best known. It is generally played in the unfortunate International edition, in which editor Leonard Rose both truncated and altered the transcription of the recording and then failed to give credit to Feuermann as the arranger (a slight which resulted in a lawsuit from the Feuermann family but was again repeated with the cadenza for the Haydn D major concerto.) Today a somewhat more accurate rendition is available from Kunzelmann, but inexplicably still with no credit to Feuermann as the arranger.
The Chopin Waltz is a beloved Feuermann recording that I transcribed. As hurricane Ike destroyed the best laid plans of mice and me, we were unable to finish a printed piano part to the transcription so, with my eternal gratitude, Evelyn is reading from the original piano part, visually editing out the melody line and transposing it all down a fifth at sight. I owe her....
The Chopin Nocturne is generally taken from the Popper transcription. Feuermann re-arranged it a bit and added his own cadenza (which owes much to Casals' version), but he listed the arrangement on programs as his own (You may notice a theme of cellists merrily stealing without attribution...)
The Sarasate Ziguenerweisen (Gypsy Airs) is a piece that Feuermann programmed regularly- either it or Sarasate's Zapateado (in its original key) were frequently closed his recitals. While he appears to have performed the entire piece in concert, he recorded only a severely truncated version which seems clearly to have been to cut to fit onto one side of a 78 and which doesn't include the final fast section. I've opted to restore the full piece here, though keeping certain registral choices from the recording. It may well be that Feuermann never recorded the last section because even he was unable to get a satisfactory take of it- it's ridiculously hard on the cello and it's hard to imagine anyone, even Feuermann, getting though it without something going wrong. Nevertheless, we've left it on, following the advice of the great Jacha Heifetz, who told his student "Why don't you go for it? If you miss it will only hurt once!"
For further information on Feuermann, you can find many of his available recordings on Amazon and also a very thorough biography by Annette Morreau. Online, you can find my own dissertation as well as the only existent Feuermann video on Youtube.
>> Idiomatic Cello Works
avorgan: I'm a graduate musicology student and cellist at Indiana. I've been doing some research on the Barber concerto and something has struck me as very odd. In several reviews from the 40s-50s, critics claim that the piece is idiomatic and even "sympathetic" to the cello despite its difficulty. Personally I can't think of many pieces with so many awkward, un-idiomatic spots. Do others find the piece to be particularly un-sympathetic to the layout of the fingerboard in comparison with other thorny concerti?
cbrey:I'd say that depends on your definition of "idiomatic." Mine is: that to which the instrument is naturally adapted.
It all can be made to sound good given enough skill and patience, but a lot of it stretches the limits of technique. Fingered thirds of the kind found here are very difficult to bring off on the cello, no matter who you are. They sound great, and are easy to execute, on the piano; I would say they are not idiomatic writing for the cello. The same could be said of Leon Kirchner's writing, for example. The cantilena of the slow movement, while demanding, is something that comes more naturally to the instrument. Some of the passagework in the last movement fits the hand easily and, while impressive to hear, is not particularly difficult. That's idiomatic.
I've performed the Barber, Schumann and Brahms in concert more times than I can remember, but would classify the Schumann as far more idiomatic while the Brahms has some peculiarities in that sense. The latter contains, within a D-minor episode in the rondo, a passage for fingered thirds which is not particularly problematic, while some of the register problems elsewhere present an almost insuperable difficulty, not because the notes are hard but simply because the cello is not a trombone. Unless you're Glenn Miller, that's not idiomatic.
>> Harvey Shapiro Dies at age 96
ShapiroStudent: It just seemed that he'd always be there. The door to his apartment always open, him sitting in his recliner facing the door in his blue sweater, chewing on a cigar, seemingly in a half-dazed state yet surprisingly always possessing a crystal clear memory, unaffected by age. His black phone would ring, the phone he'd probably had since at least the 1980s. He'd pick it up. No one would answer. "Argh," he'd growl. "People don't want to talk to me. They just want to know if I'm still alive. Those sons of bitches! They call, hear me pick up, and hang up." I'd always try to comfort him: "Oh, don't say that! Someone just dialed a wrong number" I knew he was right, though. Many years after I had left Juilliard it occurred to me that I almost did the same once. I knew that if he were alive he was doing fine, or at least he'd never tell you if he wasn't. I just wanted to know if he were still alive. I'm glad I never stooped that low.
I had a chance to see him in August. I made sure to stop by and see him every time I would come to New York City, at least once or twice a year since I did my one year at Juilliard back in 1999. Last time I came to New York was in August of 2007. Every time I went to his building since the year I left, every time I went up to the 20th floor, it felt like I was falling back into being a 16 year old boy in New York City, aspiring to be great, just like the many who'd come to his apartment.
It just seemed that he'd always be there "the next time." I knew I was taking a risk by not coming to see him in August but I was afraid to think that the next time I would come to see him he might already not be there. I wanted to think that I could postpone his demise if only I don't come to see him. Because, how could he die if I don't come and say good-bye? Apparently God had His own plan for Mr. Shapiro and He didn't consult with anyone's silly notions.
It hasn't yet kicked in that Mr.Shapiro is not there anymore, that I can't come and squeeze his hand and talk about good old times.
I long ago stopped playing the cello but to this day I remember his teachings and his approach to studying the cello and apply them to my daily life. He was the first ever teacher who had shown me what it really meant to be a musician, what it really meant to practice, how much concentration and dedication it really took - not simply repeating passages in hopes that they would eventually come out right.
He was one of the kindest men I had known. He did make good attempts to cover up that fact at times, but those who knew him well could quickly see what was in his heart. I am happy for him as I think he had lived a good life and I am honored to forever have in my memories the year that I spent in the hands of this great man.
1. Mihaly Virizlay
Mihaly Virizlay, former principal cellist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Professor at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, passed away on Oct. 13, 2008.
2. New Starker Book
Fellow cellists and music lovers, my book about Janos Starker, the cellist who has made the greatest impact on the world of cello playing and teaching in the twentieth century, is finally in print, and I am eager to share it with you. King of Cellists is how he has been described due to the many aspects of music that he mastered in his life. He has the edge of authority that comes with International touring and worldwide acclaim. As a youth he played in coffee houses, later with the Metropolitan Opera over a thousand opera performances, with Chicago Symphony, over a thousand symphony concerts, and over a thousand of his own concerto and recital performances. His performance experience has covered the gamut of cello playing!
By the age of twelve he already had five students. Over the years he has taught hundreds of young cellists who in turn have taught thousands more. He has often said that teaching has been the most important aspect of his life. Like the ever-expanding ripples on the lake, his influence has reached countless cellists and music lovers. As performer, recording artist and teacher he has set the standards of excellence, raised the bar so high, we all must reach for the sky.
As a student at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, at a young age he was performing the string quartets of Bartok, Debussy, Beethoven and many other works with fellow musicians who would remain his lifelong friends and fellow music partners. At age fifteen, a boy in knee pants, he performed the Solo Sonata by Kodaly with the composer in the audience. The performance was so stunning, unbelievable to listeners, with technical feats never before dreamed of by composers. Rave reviews appeared in major papers around the world. Even Musical America was talking about it, calling this performance in Budapest a miracle. That was the night that launched his reputation. However, his career was delayed by the years of World War II and its devastation in Hungary, which many of his family and friends did not survive. At the war's end he was able to cross borders with some fast-talking, false papers, and dance music he played for the Russian soldiers. He landed in Paris where he made his debut with Kodaly's Solo Sonata. His recording of this remarkable piece won him the Grand Prix du Disque and launched the beginning of his phenomenal recording career, his output not even approached by any cellist in the history of the instrument. Four years ago I sent a birthday card to him congratulating him on his 80th birthday together with a copy of the book to let him know that it was going to print. He wrote back to me telling me not to release my book since his was coming out the same month. So I waited four years for the success of his book. However, that meant redoing much of my book. My approach differs form his. It comes from years as a student of psychology. I wanted to know what makes him tick. What influences in his life made him the unique and remarkable individual he is? From where did he draw his dedication to excellence in performance, recording and teaching?
As the late Eleonore Schoenfeld said about this book, "The depth of Janos Starker's artistry and passion, perpetuated in the recording repertoire like no other cellist, is brilliantly documented in this book. It will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations to come. His monumental dedication to his art, his life shaped by events in the world around him, illuminates his enormous contribution to the universal need for music." There is no other who has touched so many so powerfully in the cello world.
For an autographed copy of the book, give me a call, (818) 340-3940. Or you can order directly from BookMasters for $24.95 at (800) 247-6553.
3. First International Amateur Cello Festival
The Israel Cello Society is hosting a cello congress April 12-17, 2009, with a special nod to amateurs. Sounds like a great time!
4. Larry Corbett (1954-2008)
Larry Corbett nearly got me fired. Dozens of times. (And if you were Larry's friend, right about now you’re nodding your head.) Larry could find and savor the comedic aspects of most situations, and playing alongside him could be a transformative experience in more ways than one. If you sat anyplace near the cello section, I don't have to describe the splendid agony of stifling the laughter triggered by some remark casually lobbed out grenade-like by Larry just as the red light came on. The very sight alone of his shoulders heaving in silent laughter could take down a section.
The fact that Larry approached the world with a smile on his face threatened to obscure the fact that he could really PLAY. Though his studiously casual manner gave the misleading impression that he just couldn't be bothered to practice, when that red light was turned on he would bring forth magisterial playing. He was a student, in the highest sense, of music—string playing in particular. He had an abiding love for historical performances, especially venerating Heifetz (whom he’d dubbed "Fats" in hommage to his sound) and Piatigorsky, influences you could hear in the warmth and immediacy of Larry’s tone. He was a connoisseur of the luthier's art, and famously played a cello of his own device, an instrument that sounded marvelous in his hands, and which Larry festooned with marks of neglect almost as a matter of pride (none of us will forget how on studio breaks at Paramount, for example, he customarily stowed his cello in one of the large rubber trash cans).
In matters of principle Larry was fearless, and spoke his mind to colleagues and contractors, sometimes at considerable professional cost. At the same time, he was a master of the polished remark, something well-placed to lift the spirit of those around him. Many will recall a particular dress rehearsal for a Hollywood Bowl Orchestra film program. The day was sweltering, and the computer driving the film was misbehaving, as was the conductor. As the Bowl shell grew increasingly oven-like, once again the computer malfunctioned, and the rehearsal came to a standstill. So defeating and depressing was the situation that no one had the strength or spirit to make a sound. Into this leaden silence came Larry’s voice: "I'm MISERABLE!" In the ensuing pandemonium, even the conductor was wiping away tears of laughter.
Trying to come to grips with our loss, I picture Larry, his countenance having as many shades of private amusement as the Eskimos have words for snow, and I treasure the memory of a person of deep warmth, vitally engaged, vitally alive. It was a life too short but, I think, a life lived well and sweetly, a very good life. In speaking with Larry’s other friends these past days, I keep thinking of the London drunk who on seeing the news announcement of the death of Sir Thomas Beecham, was heard to say, "What? Tommy Beecham dead? And I’m still alive?"
But I always felt that Larry's practiced insouciance stemmed from hard realism: he was a student of life, too (and among his numerous passions was a love for reading history), and with that comes an awareness of the big picture. In confronting the big picture, is there a more sensible strategy than to greet life laughing? A few years ago, when Larry and I were stand partners on a session, he regarded me with grave solicitude: "Are you all right, Roger? You seem a little down. Are you running out of time?" That day, we kept looking at one another and breaking into laughter over that. Almost got me fired.
5. More Cello News
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