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Adventures of an ambitious late-starter violist
Scenes from an unconventional musical journey
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (45 votes) 
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ELCBK
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October 2, 2023 - 1:45 pm
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@AndrewH -

I wasn't aware of a lot of arrangements for Violin, Viola & piano - thanks for pointing that out!

Is it possible that it's simply more profitable for a Composer to write for a full orchestra, then derive smaller Chamber Music arrangements from it?  

...or is it too different of a process?

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AndrewH
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It isn't a matter of full orchestra vs chamber music -- if it was then there would be a shortage of chamber music in general.

 

There's a lot of music for the more standard piano trio of violin, cello, and piano. There's a fair amount of music that's been arranged for violin, viola, and piano. It's just that, curiously, very little was originally composed for violin, viola, and piano.

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AndrewH
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And we're on to the next orchestral concert program, and already two rehearsals in. The concert is the first weekend of November. The program is:

Ruth Crawford Seeger, Andante for Strings
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 4
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 2

If Ruth Crawford Seeger's last name looks familiar, it's because she was the stepmother of Pete Seeger and the mother of Mike and Peggy Seeger. She had an interesting musical career: in the 1920s and early 1930s she was very much an avant-garde composer, and was among the first to apply serialist techniques to rhythm and other non-pitch elements of music. From the mid-1930s onward she went in a completely different direction, as she worked with the Library of Congress to record and transcribe American folk music, and her compositions also centered around American folk music. Her Andante for Strings is a rewriting of the slow movement of her string quartet, which dates from 1931 and is one of the most influential pieces of modernist chamber music. The added double bass part is independent rather than following the cello part, so it's actually a bit more complex than the original quartet movement.

Both of the Beethoven pieces caught me a bit by surprise, and are taking more practice time than I expected. I've played both of them before, but with a caveat: I played both of them in 2007-08 when I was bumped to second violin in an orchestra that had surplus violists and not enough violinists, so I hadn’t actually seen the viola parts before this year. (Also, I still had to fake a lot back then, so even if I’d been playing viola I’m not sure it would have made that much of a difference beyond being familiar with how the pieces should sound.) Also, it’s very likely that our conductor is taking them at a faster tempo than what I played before; he tends to follow Beethoven’s metronome marks, and most conductors tend to take Beethoven somewhat slower.

I got a short clip from the first movement of Beethoven's 2nd, taken from my phone on my music stand in Monday’s rehearsal. My playing is rather rough, but then this was only the second week of rehearsal, having had only about a week and a half to practice my part...

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ELCBK
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@AndrewH -

SOOOO COOOL! 

LOVED getting a glimpse of the workout you get - whew! 

Pretty cool about Ruth Crawford Seeger & her Andante for Strings, too! 

Thanks for sharing this!

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That's what you call practicing, blew me away.

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SharonC
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@AndrewH  Wonderful snapshot of your practice—great insight into what goes on.  Thanks for sharing smile

Characterize people by their actions and you will never be fooled by their words.

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Thanks, liked to see that too. It's nice looking at the 'practice' parts and not only the finished product (even if your practice is loads better than my finished products) ;--)

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AndrewH
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October 26, 2023 - 8:50 pm
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Not a whole lot of news.

I'm practicing some solo repertoire again -- started on the third movement of the Brahms E-flat major sonata in my most recent lesson, and I'm also planning to finish learning the remaining movements of the Hoffmeister concerto and the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata.

Other than that, it's just orchestra and chamber music rehearsals continuing. My orchestra's rehearsal cycles are very quick for a community orchestra: we're just a week and a half out from the concert now. I got a couple more video clips from my music stand in Monday's rehearsal, just to provide a little more of a look into what rehearsals are like. Unfortunately, the clips didn't catch any of the very quotable lines from our conductor.

We rehearsed the concerto with the pianist for the first time on Monday. (Prior to this week, we mostly rehearsed the orchestral tutti passages, skipping extended piano solos.) Here's a short clip from that:

 

Some detail work on the transition from the slow introduction to the fast main theme in the first movement of the symphony:

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October 27, 2023 - 10:57 am
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Very nice videos AndrewH. Loved getting to see how you play you viola. Very very nice. It is so neat you can make videos of yourself playing with the recorder clipped to your stand. That has got to be extremely helpful. Is that rare for orchestras during rehearsals, or is that commonplace now? 

🐭

The Bumblebee Flies!

Please ignore any typos. My typing ability on a real typewriter did not transfer to these device key pads.

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AndrewH
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October 27, 2023 - 4:57 pm
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Mouse said
Very nice videos AndrewH. Loved getting to see how you play you viola. Very very nice. It is so neat you can make videos of yourself playing with the recorder clipped to your stand. That has got to be extremely helpful. Is that rare for orchestras during rehearsals, or is that commonplace now? 

🐭

  

It's actually just my phone sitting on the music stand, which is why it's picking up so much noise when I turn pages or when I pencil something into my music.

Most people don't record from their stands during rehearsals. I know of only one other person in my orchestra who does it sometimes. I don't do it that often. I find it useful sometimes to get a clearer view of my bow distribution and contact point, but this time I did it mostly for this blog.

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Mouse
October 27, 2023 - 4:59 pm
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Well, it was really nice to see an up close view of an orchestral rehearsal. Thank you very much for letting us see. 

🐭

The Bumblebee Flies!

Please ignore any typos. My typing ability on a real typewriter did not transfer to these device key pads.

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ELCBK
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@AndrewH -

I enjoyed watching! 

Thank you for sharing those.

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AndrewH
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We played our orchestra concert over the weekend. It went pretty well... maybe some nervous moments at the very beginning of the piano concerto, but otherwise I thought everything sounded as good as we'd ever played it.

The change in acoustics when there's an audience in the seats does interesting things to the experience of playing. The Seeger piece felt easier to play in concert than it did in any of our rehearsals; I was able to hear other parts much more clearly because there was less reverb and the dissonances didn't saturate the ears as much.

On the other hand, there was a moment in the piano concerto that the concert-night acoustics made much scarier for me. There's an exposed viola moment in the third movement, where the pianist is actually playing a light accompaniment, and the only members of the orchestra playing are divided violas and a single cello. The upper viola line played by the outside players has the melody, with the inside violas and the principal cellist play harmony lines. This is what it looks like in the score with the viola part highlighted (it continues onto the next page of the score), and what it sounds like in performance (31:40 of the video, link should go straight to the spot):

Screenshot-2023-11-09-013031.pngImage Enlarger

t=1900

I was in an outside seat, so I was playing the melody line. During the concert, I couldn't actually hear any of the other three outside violists playing the upper viola line over my own viola, and the only other violist I could hear clearly was my stand partner playing the lower viola line. So what it sounded like to me was a quartet of piano, two violas, and one cello, with me playing the melody solo! In that situation, you just have to watch the baton and listen to the parts that you can hear, play out a little bit more with your best tone quality (even though it's pianissimo it's really a "solo pianissimo"), and trust that other people are also playing that line.

This concert was a minor milestone for me: after playing Beethoven's 2nd Symphony on Saturday, I've now played all nine Beethoven symphonies on viola. The reason I don't consider it a major milestone is that I already finished my personal Beethoven cycle a few years ago, which was the real major milestone -- it's just that this symphony was the one whose viola part I hadn't played because I was in the second violin section the first time I played it.

I'm going to finish another symphony cycle later in the season: when we play Schumann's 2nd in June, I'll have played all four of Schumann's symphonies.

Anyway, I now have no orchestra commitments for the rest of 2023. Many members of the orchestra play holiday gigs elsewhere, so our next concert is not until mid-February and we don't start rehearsing for it until January. This means I'm only rehearsing a single movement of a trio for now, and will have more time to spend on solo repertoire and technique.

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ELCBK
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@AndrewH -

Congratulations on making it through the 'scary' part & hitting another milestone! 

Never dawned on me that the audience could change the acoustics... makes sense. 

Can't wait to hear/see what you work on next!

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AndrewH
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I'm really not working on anything new at this point, just things I've already started. As solo repertoire goes, this means I'm still practicing the Brahms E-flat sonata, Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, and the Hoffmeister concerto; I've added the last movement of the Brahms (was already working on the first two movements) and I'm planning to add the second and third movements of both the Schubert and Hoffmeister.

What I have more time for at the moment is cleaning up technique. This week I've spent a lot of time with the Flesch three-octave arpeggios for the first time in more than a year. The Flesch arpeggio sequence is great in general because it covers all the frequently used chords that contain the starting note, and thus includes most of the arpeggiated figures that you might see in actual music. For me, the diminished seventh arpeggios especially need work to become more fluent, and it'll be useful because diminished sevenths appear a lot in Brahms and other late Romantic music.

I may use a movement of the Brahms at next summer's Sonata Day. I'm planning to learn the rest of the Schubert just for completeness, and I'm still saving the Hoffmeister for a potential long-term project, namely a recital program of viola music composed by lawyers that I'm tentatively aiming to play in 2025, provided that I can get a pianist for it and figure out the logistics. (I do have a potential program in mind for that recital, but I think I'm going to hold off on posting those plans until I'm more sure I'm going to work on the pieces.)

I'm planning my solo repertoire up to two years in advance because I expect everything to take a long time to work up to solo performance standard when I'm doing it on top of orchestra and chamber music commitments. At the moment post-COVID symptoms are still limiting how much I can practice, and when those symptoms go away I expect to have less free time to practice.

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ELCBK
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AndrewH said
What I have more time for at the moment is cleaning up technique. This week I've spent a lot of time with the Flesch three-octave arpeggios for the first time in more than a year. The Flesch arpeggio sequence is great in general because it covers all the frequently used chords that contain the starting note, and thus includes most of the arpeggiated figures that you might see in actual music. For me, the diminished seventh arpeggios especially need work to become more fluent, and it'll be useful because diminished sevenths appear a lot in Brahms and other late Romantic music. 

 

Really appreciate you mentioning these arpeggios and their purpose! 🤗

I only learned the major & minor arpeggios as a child (a short-term piano student) & they have stuck in my head to this day, but nothing was explained to me, or gave me purpose to associate with them. 

I haven't played the other arpeggios in 3 octaves, yet - but because you mentioned them, I listened to a video. 

It's really a beautiful thing to hear them played... another thing on my list, now! 

Thank you!

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AndrewH
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ELCBK said

AndrewH said

What I have more time for at the moment is cleaning up technique. This week I've spent a lot of time with the Flesch three-octave arpeggios for the first time in more than a year. The Flesch arpeggio sequence is great in general because it covers all the frequently used chords that contain the starting note, and thus includes most of the arpeggiated figures that you might see in actual music. For me, the diminished seventh arpeggios especially need work to become more fluent, and it'll be useful because diminished sevenths appear a lot in Brahms and other late Romantic music. 

 

Really appreciate you mentioning these arpeggios and their purpose! 🤗

I only learned the major & minor arpeggios as a child (a short-term piano student) & they have stuck in my head to this day, but nothing was explained to me, or gave me purpose to associate with them. 

I haven't played the other arpeggios in 3 octaves, yet - but because you mentioned them, I listened to a video. 

It's really a beautiful thing to hear them played... another thing on my list, now! 

Thank you!

  

 

When I practiced arpeggios as a piano student, it was always just the major and minor chords starting from the root. That's interesting to me because, once I became familiar with the Flesch arpeggio sequence for violin and viola, it made a lot of sense to learn arpeggios that way.

Of course you can also practice them in two octaves if you're not ready to shift that far up the fingerboard, it's the same general concept.

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AndrewH
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The trio is coming along nicely. We've had five rehearsals now, including a coached rehearsal last week, and a rehearsal this Wednesday night where we tried to solidify everything we picked up from the coached rehearsal. The notes are quite secure for all of us now, and we've started really nailing down the interpretation we want, and digging into bringing out the restlessness and the changing moods in the movement.  Our interpretation will differ somewhat from the recording we referred to on YouTube. We're doing different things with tempo: generally a bit faster than the recording but taking some passages slower to bring out contrasts. Also, our pianist made one observation that we don't think was evident from the recording: the meter and rhythms for the movement as a whole suggest a barcarolle. For us, in particular, it means giving the major-key second theme more of a sense of rolling motion; the recording treats that theme more like a siciliana, with more emphasis on each measure rather than two-measure units, and much more of a calm pastoral feel.

One of these days, if I have the time and energy for it, I might want to break down the movement with the score video and discuss what we're doing with it.

One of the reasons we rehearsed so much early on, even though we're preparing just one movement for January, is that we know we're not really going to be able to rehearse for the next month. The last time I was in a ensemble in this chamber music club was similar; with that group there were no rehearsals for the whole month of December.

And that’s a good thing, because a lot of my solo rep needs some spring (er, winter) cleaning. I did a run-through of the first movement of the Brahms sonata in my lesson this week, and the intonation and phrasing have deteriorated quite a bit since I last worked on it in detail in June – I was focusing on Schubert in the summer, and in the fall I was spending most of my time getting the third movement of the Brahms under my fingers while also working on orchestral and chamber music.

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AndrewH
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Not much new in the last two weeks. I'm not practicing nearly as much as I'd like, because I'm still tired most of the time and brain fog is still a problem; I'm getting in 30-40 minutes, 4-5 times a week, which is really not enough for the volume of material I'd like to learn this winter. But there isn't that much pressure because I have no solo performance plans in the near future.

I took advantage of a Black Friday sale and ordered two sets of strings which should cover all of 2024. I'm still sticking with Kaplan Amo despite a big price increase, though I was tempted to try Evah Pirazzi Gold or Peter Infeld because they're not that much more expensive any more.

My cat is a surprisingly discerning mewsic critic. The other day I was watching her over the music stand as I practiced, and her ears went sideways every time I played a note out of tune. She might know the Purrahms just as well as I do by now...

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147266-Christmas-Cats.gif

@AndrewH -

 'Purrahms' - So Cute! 😉

I think one of mine is deaf - nothing I play effects him.  The other either tries to help, or doesn't like what my violin has to say & leaves abruptly. 😕

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