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 Gutierr├ęz, 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!