Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hello everyone!

You have all heard, I am sure, the familiar phrase “Practice makes perfect.”  This is true!  However, there is a myriad of ways to effect perfection from your practice, and it is crucial that musicians utilize as many effective, efficient practice techniques as possible.  Learning to practice well is a long, sometimes painful process fraught with frustrating trials and errors, but if one’s approach is positive, attentive, and objective, then this process can be accelerated!

Unfortunately, I can not speak for all string players (not even cellists!), as our exploits in the practice room are intensely personal, but rather I can only offer my own tips and lessons-learned in hopes that they may be of some assistance to other frustrated practicers out there!

I recently found myself in the precarious position of having to learn and memorize Shostakovich Concerto in Eb in an alarmingly short amount of time.  Oddly enough I am glad to have had this experience, distressing though it was, because this extreme situation necessitated extreme measures in the practice room, and in fact brought about a significant change in my practice techniques.  The first lesson I learned was that especially when learning something new, make it your mission to never play it wrong.  Of course mistakes are inevitable, but making them enough times will negate your practicing entirely.  Therefore, take special care to activate your mind and analyze every physical aspect as you are making the first steps in learning a new piece.  Mental engagement and analysis will assist the acceleration of the muscle memory process, which can take a very long time if executed blindly, as it requires repetition.  If your first five repetitions are correct, you have increased by a tremendous amount your chances of accuracy on the sixth, seventh, eight…This also means going as s l o w l y as is necessary to ensure accuracy.  A great test in patience more mental discipline than most of us would care to exercise on a daily basis, but it will shorten the learning process.

Please let me know if this is helpful to you, and if so I will post a Part Two shortly!



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hello everyone!

Happy March! Spring is nigh, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is impatient for it to arrive! It’s such a wonderful season because everything begins anew, and it is a chance to gain fresh optimism for the future, thus inspiring new ideas and plans for the coming months. Madalyn and I have many new and exciting things to look forward to, such as the completion of our third CD, which is comprised entirely of NEW MUSIC.

I have been playing new music aplenty as of late, and my exploits in this uncharted territory have led to fantastic discoveries and experiences, and profound learning. Most recently I performed two super pieces for solo cello, both written by students here at the Jacobs School of Music. The first, a real gem, is entitled “Garshira,” or “Early Evening,” by Gavin Duffy. It is based loosely on Indian ragas, and the added element of amplification makes it fun to both play and listen to! The fabulous colors and ideas, and the variation thereof, that Gavin created are so engaging and exciting. I have had the great pleasure of performing it twice, and I look forward to presenting it many more times!

The second is called “G1, Torbenite,” by Aaron Stepp. This piece was a joy to work on because it has a fabulous progression with a strong sense of direction, creating a solid cohesion while simultaneously having a strong emotional impact. Kudos, Aaron!

In addition, Madalyn and I are both enjoying immensely participating in the New Music Ensemble at JSoM. Our conductor is David Dzubay, who is chair of the composition department and was just awarded a 2011 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Music. Playing in the New Music Ensemble and working with Dr. Dzubay has been a tremendous learning experience. Many composers have traveled great distances to attend our rehearsals and performances of their pieces, so we have had the great pleasure of meeting and working with Joel Feigin, Louis Karchin, Philippe Hersant, and Bernard Rands, to name a few.

Back to our CD. It has sprouted another limb (!) in the form of “Three Semblances,” a duo written for us by Gabriel Gutierréz, another superb JSoM composition student. Gabe approached us sometime last semester about composing a piece for us. Of course we were delighted with the prospect, and then the end result! We love its unique style, with its inventiveness in texture and color, and the different influences which each movement reflects. Truly masterful!

You may have heard some of the many stories of great composers, such as Bartok, Barber, and Shostakovich, whose music was deemed “unplayable” and sometimes shelved for years. What a shame! Playing new music is such a joy for me because I feel that I am participating in and making a contribution to the future of classical music. How can one argue with that?


Monday, January 31, 2011

From left, Tim Kantor, Madalyn, Professor Ik-Hwan Bae (our stellar quartet coach), me, and Gerry Varona.

Good day, all!

After a whirlwind of a winter break, I am back at Indiana University, enjoying the busiest semester of my life!

Madalyn and I began the New Year with an energetic duo concert in New York City at the New York Musician’s Club (also known as “The Bohemians”), which is held in the gorgeous Kosciuszko Foundation House. In addition to the many enthusiastic and interesting music lovers who comprised the audience, Madalyn and I had the great pleasure of meeting composer Seymour Barab, whose boisterous (and groovy!) Partita for Violin and Cello was on our program. We had contacted Mr. Barab in December in hopes of playing his piece for him before performing it publicly, but we were surprised to find that he was perfectly content to wait to hear our interpretation at the concert itself! In the end he was delighted with the performance, and is eagerly awaiting our recording of it!

Yes, I did say “recording!” Madalyn and I are currently working on our third album of duos, tentatively entitled “Living Music 2010.” We are particularly enthused about the repertoire on this album, as it will consist entirely of music by living composers. Our first recording session took place in early January at IU, and we began our project with Mr. Barab’s piece, as well as William Bolcom’s stunning Suite for Violin and Violoncello. We are incredibly grateful to our producer David Dzubay, the conductor of IU’s New Music Ensemble, of which both Madalyn and I are members, and Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, Konrad Strauss, for agreeing to be a part of this project. Our next recording session will be in March, but in the meantime we are taking advantage of the precious opportunities available at JSoM.

Such opportunities included string quartet masterclasses with the Pacifica Quartet and the Johannes Quartet. Madalyn and I are enjoying immensely working with Tim Kantor and Gerry Varona, violinist and violist respectively, on Schubert’s incomparable Quartet in d minor, “Death and the Maiden,” and Bartok’s enthralling Quartet No.5. The experience of playing such powerful music for such superior musicians is simply inexpressible.

Next on the agenda is a concert at the Kennedy Center on February 27th (yet another priceless opportunity provided by IU), which will be streaming live on the Internet! I will post a link to the website, along with the particulars, as the event draws nigh, so please tune in if you can!

Best wishes for a wonderful start to the New Year!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jacobs School of Music!

Tim Kantor, Kati Gleiser, Me, Sharon Robinson, Jaime Laredo

Me, Gabriel Gutierrez, Madalyn

Hello everyone!

Madalyn and I have had a few months to settle into life at Indiana University in Bloomington, and already we have had the infinite pleasure of meeting many wonderful people and superb musicians at the Jacobs School of Music.

Most recently, an extraordinary student composer named Gabriel Gutierrez attended JSoM’s New Music Ensemble concert, of which Madalyn and I are proud members, and contacted us soon thereafter, saying he would like to write a duo and dedicate it to duo parnas. Naturally, we were thrilled! With just four days of preparation, we presented the world premier of the duo, entitled “Three Semblances,” in JSoM’s stunning Auer Hall. The piece itself is masterful, rife with varied textures, intricate rhythms, and captivating characters. Wonderful composer, wonderful piece! We are looking forward to performing “Three Semblances” again in the near future.

As a result of a series of very fortunate events, I am currently working with another spectacular musician – pianist Kati Gleiser. A student of Menahem Pressler, Kati is a beautiful person and player, and her enthusiasm and commitment to the art of music-making are positively infectious. We have begun tackling the sonata repertoire and are planning a recital for next semester. I am deeply grateful to her for her generosity with her time and talents. To read more about Kati, please see her biography on Menahem Pressler’s website:http://menahempressler.org/?page_id=302

Perhaps the best part of being at the JSoM is that Madalyn and I are lucky enough to be able to study under two such marvelous people as Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, whose technical mastery and consummate artistry is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Dedicated to their teaching, they take a personal interest in each of their students, pushing us to be better musicians and artists, while at the same time allowing us room to grow at our natural pace. Being the wonderful people they are, they are more than just teachers – they are our mentors and supporters, and we could not be more honored to be in their studios.

The JSoM is a musician’s paradise. The opportunities to be found there are life-changing, and the palpable excitement of making music, whether it be old or new, is inspiring beyond what words can express. Madalyn and I are absolutely delighted and honored to be a part of it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Hi everyone!

Madalyn and I have just returned from a two-week trip to Europe, my very first time “across the pond.” In the short time we were there we were determined to see and experience as much as we possibly could, and I daresay we were in admirably good shape after so much walking! We also made valiant attempts to record as much of our first European trip as possible, as our poor camera’s exhausted memory card can attest to.

We began our adventures in London, a beautiful and fashionable city with an impressively efficient (and clean!) public transportation system. In addition to stepping through the amusing film “Movieum,” exploring the Tower of London (my favorite!) and wandering across the Tower Bridge, we also observed that the natives there are polite and friendly; seem to be committed to preserving and caring for their city; and are concerned with its appearance. For instance, putting up posters or flyers on lampposts is prohibited because it is considered littering. Most everything is well maintained and looks attractive – yes, even McDonald’s, which, due to the stylishly modern chairs and tables with decorative flowers, we almost mistook for a classy restaurant (an embarrassing blunder!). We also loved the old wooden telephone boxes.

A short plane ride and several pounds of luggage away was Paris, the dream city. It did not acquire its reputation as a city of romance without basis! Exception must of course be made for the catacombs… Despite the number of young couples found braving the network of underground passageways lined with human skeletal remains, the atmosphere is far from romantic. Anyway, charming outdoor cafes and restaurants line the narrow, cobblestone streets, where one finds people who are all united by one defining common factor: that they are all French. I was particularly struck by the strong presence of nationalism among the Parisians. They share a pride in their beautiful city, country, and culture, which includes their language, their history, and their exceptional food and wine. The city is full of beauty, and one is surrounded by fine art, gardens, and architecture. I could describe more fully the other fascinating and gorgeous qualities of Paris (like Nutella crepes!), but I would also like to address the last and certainly not least segment of our trip, namely, Berlin.

Berlin was for me a fascinating experience. Very much a young person’s city, it is brimming with energy and life. In a travel guide I perused, Berlin was described as “noisy, dirty, and overcrowded.” The guide’s author had obviously never been to New York, because I found Berlin to be in comparison very clean, uncongested, and if the Berliners had not been busy celebrating Germany’s World Cup victory against England at the time of our visit, it would have been very quiet! What becomes apparent is how quickly and beautifully the city has grown since 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Also what was fascinating was to see buildings under construction because they are being built to last. Unlike the speed construction seen so often in America, the materials used to construct the buildings of Berlin are hardy and substantial and will last a few centuries. This was a revelatory observation. Berlin is also an exciting city because it takes quite a while and quite an effort to become familiar with it. It has much to explore and much to divulge to the explorer.

An eye-opening and perspective-altering experience was this trip, and my dream to become at least trilingual and live in Europe is now a goal towards which I will be working. I do hope you enjoyed reading this entry. If you have reached this point, thank you for reading!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hello everyone!

This blog is inspired by my new cello student, Teddy.

Teaching is a very inspirational experience for me, because the concept of passing on my passion for music to someone else I find very exciting. It is such a rich experience, watching someone else begin on the same path that I am following, and being there to help and be a part of it.

Of course, along with teaching comes a rather important set of responsibilities. As a teacher I have substantial influence on my student’s first introduction to music, and it is crucial that this introduction be a positive experience.

As luck would have it, Teddy and I seem to have “hit it off.” She is ten years old and came to me with no experience playing any instruments and no knowledge of how to read music, but in just three weeks time, her progress has skyrocketed. She now has perfect understanding of bass clef and basic rhythms, and can play “Twinkle” almost fluently, and from memory! Not only this, but she is also enthusiastic about playing the cello and asks relevant, interesting questions. What a rewarding process!

I also am a bit nostalgic when it comes to teaching because I am reminded time and again of my first teacher, Erica, who is responsible for making my first introduction to music and the cello wonderfully fun and encouraging. I hope to give Teddy as positive an experience as Erica gave me, so that she will continue with the cello even after I leave for Indiana! (But hopefully she will play for me over winter break. J )

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Art of Winning

Hello everyone,

I thought it would be interesting to write a blog about music competitions, and I invite anyone who wishes to share their thoughts and comments to do so.

The tricky thing about competitions is that while they are an avenue to getting heard by people whom one would not ordinarily meet, they are perhaps better in theory than in practice. I say this because music, after all, is art, and art is subjective. In such a case as this, it is nigh impossible to say if one musician is better than another. (Who is to say that a Monet painting is “better” than a Renoir?) Therefore, due to the subjectivity of the endeavor, the winners of these competitions are chosen based on a few variables: the political connections of the competitors; the judges’ biases; or to whom the judges simply and inexplicably take a fancy.

Interestingly, a very similar situation is found in the equestrian arena. Some judges are particularly endeared to gray horses – others not – and the end result is the manifestation of their psychological quirks. Imagine picking a musician to win a competition based on the color of his or her instrument – ridiculous!

This little blog obviously does not fully examine the many gears of competitions’ inner workings, but in summary, nearly all of what happens in the competition world is determined by politics and bias, because there is no definite measuring stick with which one can judge art. One must decide whether it is worth it to gamble one’s time and resources on an endeavor with an unpredictable outcome. So much is the luck of the draw. However, my personal advice to anyone who is interested is to participate if you are able, but to remain emotionally uninvested; you will drive yourself crazy if you care too much about others’ opinions of your playing!

Happy New Year!