Happy Birthday Armin!!! What a great way to celebrate by...

Preparatory School - Wed, 2016-06-29 04:03


Happy Birthday Armin!!! What a great way to celebrate by performing at the Schumann Haus tonight here in Leipzig! Piano Tour 2016!! #necprepontour #necprep #piano #leipzig #schumannhaus

Yo-Yo Ma on Intonation, Practice, and the Role of Music in Our Lives

Cello Bello Blog - Tue, 2016-06-28 11:33

Reprinted from Strings Magazine, September 17 2015

By Martin Steinberg:

A cellist walks on a beach and picks up a bottle. A genie pops out and says, “I give you two wishes.” 

The cellist says: “Wow, I’d like to have world peace.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, 

“That’s too hard! What’s your second wish?”

The cellist says, “Well, I’m turning 60 and I want to play in tune.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, “What was your first wish again?” 

Musicians, take heart. That joke was told by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma during an interview ahead of his 60th birthday on Oct. 7. After 55 years of playing, yes, even Yo-Yo Ma needs to practice.

“What all string players have in common is that if we don’t play for awhile, we actually start from ground zero,” Ma says. Ma was four when he started the cello.

At seven, he was performing with his big sister for an audience that included two US presidents. Now nearing his milestone birthday, he’s ever youthful, always learning, asking questions, constantly building bridges.

And striving for perfection.

Despite all his achievements—more than 100 CDs, 18 Grammy Awards, and other honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts—he’s going full tilt toward more accomplishments.

In the weeks before his birthday, Ma’s agenda was packed. At Tanglewood, his scheduled performances included all three Brahms trios with Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos and the six Beethoven cello sonatas with Ax. That was followed by a six-country European tour with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony, featuring Strauss Don Quixote in advance of next year’s 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death. At the London Proms, he was scheduled to play all six Bach Cello Suites in one night. In September, his new album, Songs from the Arc of Life (Sony Masterworks), with long-time accompanist Kathryn Stott on piano, was to be released, as was a documentary focusing on musicians in his Silk Road Ensemble—a collective of musicians, composers, visual artists, and more that explores Eurasian culture.

The journey began in 1955 in Paris, where Ma was born to immigrant Chinese musician parents. His sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma—a violinist, pianist, medical doctor, and children’s orchestra administrator—remembers that their father started Yo-Yo on the violin at age two and a half, then piano, but he didn’t like them.

“He didn’t want to do something that I already did because he could see that I already knew how to play,” Yeou-Cheng Ma says. “He was a very smart kid, very intuitive . . . and a charmer, even at a young age.”

So he didn’t play any instrument for the next year and a half, during which time the family moved to New York. One day, he saw a newsreel about a New Orleans jazz band and noticed the double bass. “He was thrilled,” his sister recalls. “He said, ‘That one! The big one! That’s what I want!’” But since he was so little, he was given the second-biggest one, a cello. Their father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, taught him the Bach Suites, measure by measure. At age seven, Yo-Yo and Yeou-Cheng performed Breval’s Concertino No. 3 at a fundraiser for the Kennedy Center. The audience included President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Ma went on the study with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School, but dropped out and entered Harvard at age 16, majoring in the history of science. Since then, he has been on a magic cello ride around the world, figuratively and literally. As he approaches the start of his seventh decade, Ma says he is swimming and walking, watching what he eats, and assessing his goals—“What’s worth really, really trying hard for?”

About the genie joke. You don’t have intonation problems. What are you talking about?

Mark Salzman wrote this wonderful book about a cellist (The Soloist) . . . seeking perfection. Of course, you cannot achieve perfection and you kind of get paralyz

ed, so you have to find equilibrium between the possible—what’s realistic and what is ideal.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Family. I love my family. They’re great people, and I’m just so, so lucky to have them. That’s by far.

In your career?

To have been part of these children’s television shows Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, [and] Arthur, because what happens when you go on a child’s show is that they’re not a guest in my world, but I’m the guest in their world. If they accept you, it’s permanent, it’s theirs. And that is so important because to me that is the basis of all cultural understanding, or any artistic understanding, which is you have to stand on the inside. So if you’re accepted into a child’s world, that’s the greatest gift of all.

I’ve had the great luxury of meeting kids who saw [me] many years ago, and I see them as teenagers, 20 year olds, 30 year olds, and they can tell me, “This did this to me at that time and therefore I did this at that time.” And that’s incredibly rewarding.

I didn’t expect that answer. You never fail to surprise.

I think that, and probably being part of building the Music Garden in Toronto [as part of Ma’s “Inspired by Bach” series]. There’s a music garden that Julie Moir Messervy based on the First Bach Suite. Because that’s another symbol of what culture means to me . . . . Culture is kind of like a living seed and it can grow in places that are not fertile . . . . Gardens are not just existent in nature, but somehow there’s a human element of tending it, caring for, of enriching, of selecting.

And then, of course, the garden is there to be enjoyed, to be used, to be part of people’s lives in different times and seasons. To me, it is the ultimate metaphor for culture. And for culture, I would say, what we tend in our human garden is probably things like the arts, the sciences, and philosophy.

I’ve been thinking of these things because I’ve always wondered, what is music for? And lately, a lot of musicians are interested in music and health. What is it that actually becomes a passion? Is it the sound, is it the activity, is it what state of mind you get to, where you are actually in the activity of teaching music, of playing music and joining with others into creating music? What part of the brain does it use? How does it affect your state of mind? How does it affect the other things? And so whether you’re a child or an adult [or] a retired person, what do these things do to your brain?

And what are educational systems based on? Where did our high school subjects come from? Our studies are from 1910, so [do] we need to reboot that? How does art fit into that, how does that fit into arts funding and science funding? What are we educating our children for? Is it a transactional thing? Do you pay that money in order to get better jobs or is there something about education that is different?

I think those are serious questions that the nation’s considering. Not just this nation but every nation. “Oh, we’re falling behind in the sciences! Oh, we have to do STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics]!” But wait a minute? Do we have common philosophy? Is it e pluribus unum, which is on every quarter, or is it “all for one and one for all?” Or is it just for me? Because is what’s good for me good for everybody?

So these are the questions and when we think about them it affects the sounds that we make. And I think for Strings, and the edition of Strings that you are writing for, I think that’s something—yes, strings are like vocal cords and how we use our voice, whether we use it to alert, warn, soothe, pacify, communicate, what are we communicating, who are we communicating to, what’s the purpose of the communication? Is it to join, is it to separate, is it to point to something larger, is it to something in the micro world, in the macro world?

I think those are incredibly interesting things that I would like to continue to consider after turning 60, because by many standards, I’m old. I’m part of AARP [laughing] and I can get a discount on the bus. So is my contribution less now that I’m old, or what is it that I can contribute for certain? Whatever I do is becoming less interesting than what other people do . . . . I’m less at the center of my world than when I was 20, when I was trying to say: I can do this, I want to do this.

This seems to be fodder for a very important book on society.

No, just musings of a middle-aged person going through what everybody goes through. I’d like to be able to think about these things, but also be able to try and play in tune. But while I’m playing in tune, not to obsess over intonation, but the obsession of trying to play in tune because transcending technique allows me then to communicate the content.

Do you still practice a lot?

I actually enjoy practicing more and more . . .  as a child, I practiced because I had to practice and you didn’t want to mess up. But that’s not a good thing. You want to please your teacher, you want to please your parents, you want to please your peers. And now I practice because I’ve experienced so much love that you practice out of loving a phrase, loving motivic change, loving a structure or harmony change or the way a sound can get to something.

I think that part of practicing is great because it unites what you want to do in engineering, as in technically, where do you put your arms and your fingers and your body—micro movements—with that desire and the feeling of what it needs to be. That’s a wonderful process because it’s a constant of going toward something bigger than the notes and yourself, and very lovingly so.

Whenever I catch myself playing something that sounds mechanical but dead, it’s because either I’m not paying attention or it’s something difficult that I haven’t solved. Sort of like a physicality issue that, you know, sudden tension, so I freeze up and become more internalized, so I can’t love it. Loving something implies going outside yourself and fear means retreating into yourself. I’m scared. Well, go back into yourself. That’s a metaphor for societal fears when a whole people are scared of something that they can’t control and sort of hits them, what do they do? It becomes more tight, they will make much, much more conservative decisions. The counteracting of that is culture. Hey, wait a minute, I want to know what that fear is. I’m going to research that fear. What exactly is that fear? Is it exactly what I think it is? Is that what I feel or can I analyze it? What’s the truth behind the fear? So you kind of have to look at that—that’s a key in performance. When someone performs, you want that person to be open and not to have any barriers. Any barriers that are set up between the performer and the audience actually impedes the communication of what needs to be.

I often tell people the world needs more Yo-Yo Mas, and this is a perfect example. Just these ideas alone, if people could hear them, everything that’s headed in the wrong direction can turn around.

I don’t know. We’re so invested in thinking, in trying not to screw up. Basically, I have your back. We don’t want to make obvious mistakes, so we cover up. But actually, to really create trust, you have to trust that it’s OK to make a mistake, and you’re not going to be punished for it. We acknowledge and do better the next time. It’s one of the hardest things to do because we don’t want to look like fools. [New York Times writer] David Brooks has been talking lately about what we work for: our CVs or do we work for our eulogies? There are different things that you work for, curriculum vitae, and people talk about a person differently in the eulogy. There you talk more about character—this and that—and so which one are we working for? That’s a kind of philosophical question, isn’t it? That comes with a philosophical part of culture. What are we as a society working toward? So what are we working for in a community, what are we working for in a political party, what are we working for in classical music?

You’re about to perform the Elgar Concerto, and have done so many times. How much time must you devote to it at this point?

The thing is, you know, there is engineering, neuromuscular finger work, and there’s head work. So for anybody who’s really really passionate, basically it’s whatever it takes and it’s also head work. It’s kind of all the time. It’s sort of like you’re downloading a program in your computer, it’s in your brain. When I go on to do the Elgar, I start thinking about it, on and off, all the time. So I’m thinking, “Huh, how about trying it this way?” So you’re always in some ways trying to hear something a certain way, solving a problem a certain way, and rethinking it and thinking there’s a better way to build this mousetrap. So you want to align your physical self and your mental self into the state of mind that is required of that piece.

Do you ever envision your life after cello?

Like après-ski, hot chocolate by the fireplace, with pizza?

You’re not going to lose any weight like that. 

You’re right. Maybe a cup of herbal tea and some nuts. Well, I’ve always been interested in people and culture and arts and sciences and philosophy and typology, so I think I’m always going to be thinking about it, and the older I get, the more I’ll get interested in young people because that’s another form of culture.

The young people’s world—we may occupy the same space, but they will think differently and have many different reasons to do what they do and I’m deeply curious about that. I like to think of it in K through 12 and beyond and how people learn—why they learn—and so I will always be thinking about these things.

 

 

A snippet of the MYWE dress rehearsal last night at the Chateau...

Preparatory School - Tue, 2016-06-28 03:24


A snippet of the MYWE dress rehearsal last night at the Chateau Kromeriz! Beautiful hall and an enthusiastic audience! MYWE departs today for Prague, making stops at the Kutna Hora church and Castle Buznov. Pictures to follow! #NECPrepontour #MYWE2016

Piano Tour 2016! 7am Walking crew this morning! :) looking...

Preparatory School - Mon, 2016-06-27 10:13


Piano Tour 2016! 7am Walking crew this morning! :) looking forward to our concert at the Liszt Haus in Weimar tonight!! #necprepontour #necprep #piano #germany #weimar

Creative Ability Development Workshop

Exploring El Sistema - Sun, 2016-06-26 22:15
I was fortunate enough to recently attend the Creative Ability Development Workshop in Ventura, California, in large part due to Andrea Landin '13 (pictured below), Alice Kanack, and the New England Conservatory. So what is Creative Ability Development (CAD) and how is it useful in the El Sistema context? CAD... Sistema Fellows Program

Piano Tour 2016! Morning sunrise walk and a photo at the front...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-06-26 18:40


Piano Tour 2016! Morning sunrise walk and a photo at the front entrance of the Liszt Haus where we will perform tomorrow! #necprep #necprepontour #germany #piano

Piano Tour 2016! Our students playing at the Belvedere school of...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-06-26 18:33


Piano Tour 2016! Our students playing at the Belvedere school of music Weimar! Thank you also to the kind German students from the Belvedere school who showed us around today and Christian Wilm Müller for the fantastic masterclass!!

Piano Tour 2016 Day Two! Today we began our day in the Belvedere...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-06-26 18:25












Piano Tour 2016 Day Two! Today we began our day in the Belvedere school of music a boarding school here in Weimar. It was a great experience for the students to have a master class here and also get to meet and walk around the beautiful school grounds with a few German students here at the school. We next went to the city center for a long day of exploring, a fabulous guided walking tour, and more exploring!! We then went to a concert and after try number three in looking for the location, we finally found the hall! :) Everyone was a great sport about the location change and we were happy to explore some more post dinner to walk off the bratwurst!!! It was delightful to see some piano students from the conservatory here play in a studio recital!! Looking forward to our first recital tomorrow at the Liszt Haus!

Piano Tour 2016! A walk through Weimar posing by a statue of...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-06-26 18:13


Piano Tour 2016! A walk through Weimar posing by a statue of Liszt in the beautiful park! #necprepontour #necprep #piano #germany #weimar #liszt

Boston –> New York –> Prague –>...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-06-26 11:52






Boston –> New York –> Prague –> Olomouc! We had smooth sailing through Boston and JFK (No lost luggage!) and are looking forward to dinner in Olomouc this evening. All smiles as we were traveling!! #MYWEtour2016 #NECPrep #Prague #Olomouc #windensemble

Piano Tour 2016! Part of our group (the rest are in their rooms...

Preparatory School - Sat, 2016-06-25 17:26


Piano Tour 2016! Part of our group (the rest are in their rooms already recovering from the long day of traveling!!) in a post-dinner walk exploring the nice park by our hotel! A great day is planned tomorrow at the Belvedere Music School here in Weimar!

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! We have arrived safely in Weimar after...

Preparatory School - Sat, 2016-06-25 16:02


NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! We have arrived safely in Weimar after over a 30 hour journey but there are smiles all around!! #necprepontour #necprep #piano #germany #jetlaghasnothingonus (at Weimar, Germany)

Countdown to Piano Tour 2016 = t-1 day!!! Germany here we come!!

Preparatory School - Thu, 2016-06-23 10:57


Countdown to Piano Tour 2016 = t-1 day!!! Germany here we come!!

Rehearsal with composer Vinko Globokar’s Eisenberg for...

Tumblr - Thu, 2016-06-23 10:29










Rehearsal with composer Vinko Globokar’s Eisenberg for Thursday’s @sicpp concert. Thanks Marie and Beth!!!

Rehearsal with composer Vinko Globokar’s Eisenberg for...

Tumblr - Tue, 2016-06-21 10:55










Rehearsal with composer Vinko Globokar’s Eisenberg for Thursday’s @sicpp concert. Thanks Marie and Beth!!!

Rehearsal for Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians to be...

Tumblr - Mon, 2016-06-20 16:01










Rehearsal for Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians to be performed tonight in Jordan Hall

El Sistema and Creative Placemaking

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2016-06-16 09:01
"Creative Placemaking" and "El Sistema" are relatively new terms referring to strategies for transforming communities and changing lives. These strategies have been in use for decades, but only in recent years have these two terms emerged to identify these established ways to address community and social issues. The Kresge Foundation... Sistema Fellows Program

Interactive technology and formative assessment tools

Exploring El Sistema - Wed, 2016-06-15 17:29
The intent of the Innovation Grant that I received from the Sistema Fellowship Resource Center last fall was to implement a peer-mentoring program and formative assessment tools that teach youth how to use online technology, including SmartMusic, and become more self-directed and confident. This grant also helped me grow in... Sistema Fellows Program

AMP finalist for national youth arts award

Exploring El Sistema - Wed, 2016-06-15 17:02
"The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its cultural partners – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services – are proud to recognize 50 outstanding programs all over the country for their work in... Sistema Fellows Program

Opening the Beethoven A Major Cello Sonata: Obsessing Over the First Five Bars

Cello Bello Blog - Wed, 2016-06-15 15:22

By Brian Hodges:

The five Beethoven Cello Sonatas are iconic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they’re some of the first pieces to include the cello in a true duo partnership, something the violin had been enjoying for a long time.

While the first two sonatas (Op. 5, 1 and 2) are actually listed as Sonata for Piano and Violoncello, things have changed by the third sonata, Op. 69 in A Major, with the cello now getting top billing. The sonata was written during Beethoven’s middle period and immediately one can sense his expansive creativity at work in full force.

The opening is one of the more notorious openings in all of the cello literature. It starts with the famous melody played by the cello alone, like a soliloquy.

1

What looks simple contains a host of difficulties and issues to work out.

Tempo

As seen from the example above, Beethoven indicates Allegro ma non tanto for the tempo indication. ‘Tanto’ means “not so much”, so the implication is fast, but not overly so.

Whatever your exact tempo is, securing a consistent and correct tempo at the onset is quite difficult given that Beethoven starts with two half notes and a dotted half. It’s tricky to feel just exactly where the pulse is. Generally, players tend to take the first three notes in one tempo, then when the quarters start, they blend into a different tempo altogether. Next, in bar 4, and the end of bar 5, there’s a strong temptation to slow down. So, with all that, we’ve now had roughly 4 different tempos in the first six measures.

The key is to subdivide. Put the metronome at either a quarter pulse, or even an eighth pulse. Feel the smaller divisions in the half notes and dotted half, which will then transition smoothly into the quarters without changing the tempo. Even in performance, always think subdivisions. This will keep you honest and give a clearer sense of the opening melody, not to mention giving your pianist something to grab onto.

Despite keeping a steady pulse through the first five bars, many cellists slow down a tiny bit before the low E in measure 6. Their rationale is that it’s the end of the phrase, so it’s appropriate to set the downbeat of the sixth measure. But, in actual fact, it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning, and the cello part neatly hands off the melody to the piano. By slowing down, you’re making it difficult for the pianist to come in with any stability, especially since they’re coming in on the fourth beat.

Fingerings

While fingerings are entirely personal, there is a general consensus that one plays the majority of the opening theme on the G string. Many players start in first position, then shift up to fourth position by the second note. Some performers, however, play the opening A in fourth position on the C string, preferring to cross over a string rather than shift. The thing to keep in mind about whatever fingering you decide to use is to keep it simple. Keep the shifts silent, and string crossings as smooth as possible. Listen to when the piano has the theme in measure 13. Emulate the sound of the piano, in order to keep it as straightforward and pure as possible.

Assuming you are using the common fingering of starting in first position on the A and shifting up to fourth position for the E, make sure you prepare your left arm for the impending shift. During the last third of the A, your left arm should be starting the shifting motion and initiating the shift. Your second finger (as well as the rest of the hand) can start to open up once the arm starts to move and take over the shift, once you leave your first finger. Practice this slowly and keep the movements as efficient and smooth as possible.

Vibrato

Many cellists forgo vibrato on the opening theme to create a more “pure” tone. As is well documented, vibrato did not have the ubiquitous presence it has now in string playing, serving as more of an ornament than a constant. Of course, this is a personal choice, but a little vibrato can be nice and shouldn’t disrupt the line too much.

The real advantage to using vibrato is that it can mask the wolf-tone that can crop up on the F# on the G string (third note of the theme). It’s a real let-down for that beautiful theme to be corrupted by a stuttering wolf-tone.

Bowings

Beethoven’s slur markings, if taken at face value, can be very impractical. They can often stretch over entire phrases, leaving one to think he wants the entire passage slurred. Generally speaking, those long slurs are more phrase markings than actual specific slur markings.

2

 

From the manuscript, we see that the first bar is slurred, and the next two bars are slurred. If we were to follow that exactly, you’d need to get way out to the tip for the second bar, if you’re starting down bow. Beethoven’s slur doesn’t work the best in that scenario, so many players break the slurs up.

An interesting alternative is to start up bow. Change to down bow on the second bar and keep Beethoven’s original slur intact all the way to the fourth bar. I find that it supports the phrasing quite nicely.

Of course, there are numerous solutions and possibilities, and it’s inevitable that you’ll change your mind, as I have, many times. Whatever your decide, it should support the phrasing.

Phrasing

For something so simple, this opening theme can be very frustrating; a fair amount details to keep track of in just five measures. Like the fingerings and bowings, there are a variety of ways to shape this passage.

The general shape of the phrase shows the notes moving up, gradually working their way down, a little coda, before finally setting on the low, pedal E. My advice is to get out of the way of the notes—go with the shape. We can very easily over-phrase it making it incomprehensible. Beethoven has done most of the work for you; allow the notes to go where they want to. Use your bow speed and variances in arm weight to define the shape as you want it.

It is very possible to obsess over these five bars and turn it into something that it’s not, when, in reality, it’s a simple, catchy tune. While keeping track of the details, don’t forget to step back and see the bigger picture, and enjoy this gift that Beethoven has given us cellists.

 

Footnotes

1 Ludwig van Beethoven Werke, Serie 13: Fur Pianoforte und Violoncell, Nr. 107, (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Hartel, n.d. [1863], 65-94. Public doman.

2 Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano in A Major, Op. 69, scan of manuscript facsimile, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn.

 

Cellist, Brian Hodges is an active soloist, chamber musician, and teacher. With his wife, Betsi Hodges, he has given recitals across the US, Canada and Italy. Brian is Associate Professor of Cello and Coordinator of Chamber Music at Boise State University and is principal of the Boise Baroque Orchestra. He performa regularly with Classical Revolution: Boise, which has been featured at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and on Radio Boise. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, he soloed with the San Antonio Symphony as a winner of the Young Artists Competition. He went on to study at the Eastman School of music earning his Bachelor of Music degree in cello performance and stayed on to complete his Master of Music degree in cello performance where he was the teaching assistant to Marcy Rosen. He recieved his Doctoral Musical Arts in cello performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he was a member of the graduate piano trio in residence. He has been on the faculties at the Townsend School of Music at Mercer University in Georgia, as well as Spring Arbor College and Albion University and has served as co-director of the Jackson Symphony String Academy in Jackson, MI. During the summers, he has been on faculty at the Green Valley Chamber Music Festival in Las Vegas, the Summer Music Institute in San Antonio, TX, and the String Camp of Rochester.


LIFE IS A LOT LIKE JAZZ. IT'S BEST WHEN YOU IMPROVISE. GEORGE GERSHWIN