Saturday, June 19, 2010

The End of the Beginning

Last night the Academy musicians, with occasional help from BSO musicians, performed an informal chamber music concert. It was a joy to watch and listen to them perform such a variety of works, many of which I didn't know. The lobby of the Meyerhoff made for a beautiful setting (as the sun was setting) for this event, and there were excellent desserts and drinks.

I particularly enjoyed listening to my group, Steve, Xiaobin, Naomi, Suzanne and Nancy, perform the first two movements of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. They did a beautiful job of not only getting almost all the notes, but of playing musically with each other. It sounds as if they are interested in returning next year, perhaps!

This afternoon is the orchestra concert. Fun!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mozart Clarinet Quintet

Last night I coached the group playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet for the second time. They got four coaching sessions altogether from my friend Ivan Stefanovic and me.

Wow, what amazing progress! Steve, the clarinetist, has a beautiful sound and knows the piece well. This serves as somewhat of an anchor and helps everyone else. The string players, (Xiaobin and Naomi on violins, Suzanne on viola and Nancy on cello), have really worked on their sound, their overall tempo/rhythm/ensemble (their pitch was already quite good the first time I heard them!) these last few evenings. Noticing each others' dynamics, type of sound and articulation for given passages as well as rhythm, they now sound more cohesive as a group, though they were already accomplished instrumentalists to start.

They are now ready to perform the first two movements of the Quintet in an informal concert in the JMSH lobby tonight. I am excited for them, and looking forward to hearing them and other chamber groups play.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The BSO Academy Is Here!

Yesterday we had our first orchestra rehearsal for the BSO Academy, our brand new week long program in which amateur adult musicians come to rehearse, perform and hang out with the BSO. I met several Academy participants, and it is a pleasure to work with them. My stand partner Sue has clearly played in orchestras a lot; I can tell by how she listens to everything going on around her. Our first piece of the rehearsal yesterday was the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, a challenging piece for professionals. Marin was her usual professional and jovial self, and it actually was very much like a normal BSO rehearsal. Of course there were moments that were less together than usual, but you would expect that even if you added a few dozen new professionals to our mix. Partly it is a matter of getting used to how to play in our hall. When do you play with the other parts you are hearing, and when do you need to try to "play with the stick (baton)"? Because the acoustics can confuse you a bit. These are the questions I'm sure the participants are facing, because we also deal with those issues every week at JMSH.

Last night I coached a group playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Three of the five of them work at the National Institute of Health! Another is a piano teacher, and Suzanne, the violist, came the furthest. She is from New York, and she is an editor. They are very nice and good players. Steven, the clarinetist who studies with Eddie Palanker, our bass clarinetist, has a beautiful sound. We covered a lot of ground in two hours; going through the third and fourth movements, working on articulation, quality of sound, keeping the tempo. Then we went back to the first movement and concentrated on the first half. I love coaching chamber music. I was ready to continue when I finally looked at the time and realized that we had already gone ten minutes over. They had had a long day, and the shuttle was waiting to take them back to their hotel.

I'm really excited for the rest of this week. The BSO Academy is off to a good start!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Season Finale!

What an amazing way to end our regular season! (Don't forget about our summer season, with lots of variety.) It is impossible to put into words the beauty of Janie Chandler-Eteme's singing. She has sung with us many times over the years, and she is always outstanding, but her singing in Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 last night at Strathmore is as good as it gets.

There are a few tickets left for tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at the Meyerhoff and you absolutely should not miss this performance. Stephen Powell, bass soloist, is also excellent, and the Washington Chorus, who sing Brahms' A German Requiem, sound wonderful too.

See you at the Meyerhoff, and Oregon Ridge, Strathmore or Pier 6 this summer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tennis Season, My Favorite Season!

Who caught the womens' final of the French Open this morning? I love watching womens' tennis, maybe because I can relate to their game more than I can relate to the sheer power of the mens' professional game. Also, tennis on clay is very cool. I get to play on clay once a year at my family reunion in Mountaintop, PA. And we play on Har-Tru, which is artificial, but very similar, at the Roland Run club when David Coombs, BSO contra-bassoonist extraordinaire, hosts us here. Clay slows the game down just enough to give us amateurs a little more time to hit decent strokes. And it is easier on our bodies than hard courts, too.

Anyway, I thought both Schiavone and Stosur were amazing. I was rooting for Schiavone, I guess, because I love the variety of her game and the joy with which she plays. Fun!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Strange, Frightening, and Often Very Beautiful World of Bartok

This week we are rehearsing, performing and recording Bartok's Music for Percussion, Strings and Celeste. I have never performed this music before, and being a huge Bartok fan, I am really looking forward to it.

Yesterday was our first rehearsal, and it is quite a learning process. In Bartok's melodies, he often uses intervals based on Hungarian folk music which are somewhat foreign to our ears. There is a lot of chromaticism, changing pitches moving in close range. For that reason, we spent much of yesterday playing sections of the piece under tempo.

First hearings of Bartok can be daunting; I remember going to a concert in college and hearing one of the more dissonant Bartok string quartets. I thought it was noise. Just a year or so later, when I learned one of the quartets, I began to appreciate Bartok's musical language. Now I believe that his quartets are right up there with Beethoven's.

Despite the strangeness of his melody and harmony, there is always a tonal center, a note or a chord around which Bartok builds. And with repetition, the listener begins to understand and wants the music to return to that center. For my taste, of all of the early 20th century composers who used non-traditional harmonies/intervals (like Stravinsky or Hindemith), Bartok is the one who speaks to me most vividly.

It is a strange, frightening, often very beautiful world to which he takes us. I am told that some of this music was used in the movie The Shining with Jack Nicholson. You can always count on Bartok for something scary.