<![CDATA[Life and Violin - Blog]]>Fri, 11 Dec 2015 21:37:23 +1100Weebly<![CDATA[Revie´╗┐w: Maxim Vengerov in Melbourne]]>Fri, 11 Dec 2015 09:30:07 GMThttp://lifeandviolin.weebly.com/blog/concert-review-maxim-vengerov-in-melbourneThis review can also be read hereat the Violinist.com with lots of other great opinions, reviews and interviews. 

Concert Details: Maxim Vengerov in Recital with Roustem Saitkoulov; Tuesday 8th of December 2015, 7PM, Hamer Hall, Melbourne (third of four performances around Australia, following Perth and Adelaide, and preceding Sydney).

Australia is lucky to have an organisation like Musica Viva, one of the largest presenters of chamber music in the world.  As a result of their existence, we have been lucky to have many amazing musicians and ensembles tour Australia over the years as a result (Ray Chen, Golder, Julliard, Takacs Quartets and Yehudi Menuhin to name but a few). Continuing this tradition of excellence and to celebrate their 70th birthday, Musica Viva Australia brought Maxim Vengerov to Australia in an exciting and diverse recital program alongside pianist Roustem Saitkoulov (who is a regular partner of Vengerov).

Whilst the Melbourne Recital Centre's Elizabeth Murdoch Hall often provides an ideal setting for this sort of program, Musica Viva opted to take celebrations to the next level, instead booking Vengerov into Hamer Hall (comparable in size to Carnegie Hall). Whilst not sold out, my best guess would put the hall at more than 2/3rds full, which is still an impressive 1700-900 people, highlighting Vengerov's impressive draw power. Suitably so, the air was rife with the anticipation of witnessing one of the world's most reputed violinists, as well as partaking in the birthday celebrations.
Pre Vengerov.
Walking out to enthusiastic applause, Vengerov began with Bach's immutable Chaconne, from Partita No.2. From that famous opening chord, I could already tell that this would be a special concert. Vengerov projected an incredibly rich sound throughout, with a masterful level of clarity. The various musical lines were brought out and highlighted with diverse colour and texture with the utmost ease. However, beyond qualities I can adequately describe with words, his playing made you sit up and listen. The silence and concentration among the audience was palpable, with little fidgeting and movement audible. As such the performance felt engaging and intimate, despite Hamer Hall's cavernous proportions.

Next up was Beethoven's 7th Violin Sonata in C Minor. Again, many characters and emotions were aired, and the long running partnership of Saitkoulov and Vengerov was evident, with effortless ensemble between them. Of all the works on this program, this one took the longest to get my attention and impressed me the least (which really means nothing at a Vengerov concert). The first movement suffered a few balance issues with the piano overpowering some of the violin's quieter moments and I unexplainably found myself less convinced than with the Bach. However, a particularly exciting and dramatic 4th movement won me over again, drawing the first half of the program to a close.

Musica Viva and Vengerov took great liberty with this tour to program an incredibly diverse set of repertoire. Where the first half offered up familiar and regularly performed works, the second half much less so. Ravel's jazz inspired 2nd Violin Sonata opened the second half, with the audience audibly delighting in the very affective performance of the piece (particularly the 2nd movement). Vengerov and Saitkoulov again offered many different textures and colours, with similarly impressive ensemble, particularly in the perpetual motion of the 3rd movement.

Following this was a true display of Vengerov's technical and musical mastery through the following: Ysaye Solo Sonata No.6, Ernst Etude No.6 (Last rose of Summer) for solo violin and Paganini Cantabile Op.17 in D Major and I Palpiti Op.13 (Arr. Kreisler). Much like the Bach, both the Ernst and Ysaye again drew me in to the lone performer on stage, in what was hands down one the most impressive technical displays I have ever witnessed live. For all the difficulties thrown up by Ysaye and Ernst, the music was effortlessly realised in a joyous and uncontrived manner. On top of being musically satiating, I couldn't help but shake my head and the effortless technical fireworks I was witnessing, including a particularly fast run of thirds in the Ysaye. I greatly enjoyed was how entertaining the whole experience was while still being musically substantive. The audience revelled in the unaccompanied works, with many audible 'wow's and gasps, as well as collective laughter after some particularly impressive left hand pizzicato work. The Paganini drew the concert to a close with all the fireworks and entertainment one would expect of the composer, again executed with aplomb by the pair.

As the thunderous applause became a standing ovation and streamers of red and white began flying (courtesy of Musica Viva), the pair returned for the first of three encores, Hungarian Dance No.2 by Brahms, Meditation from Thais by Massenet and Hungarian Dance No.5 by Brahms. The routine of standing ovation and streamers was joyously repeated in between each encore. Notably, before the third encore, Vengerov returned to the stage with a microphone, beautifully paying tribute to Musica Viva as well as the educational, musical and other opportunities he himself has been afforded throughout his life. He came across as nothing but genuine and grateful for his experiences thus far and spoke enthusiastically about music's ability to appeal to humanity and heal the soul. So enthusiastic was the audience by this point, applauding bled into Hungarian Dance No.5, at the conclusion of which thousands of red and white balloons fell from the ceiling to the delight of the audience and performers. Vengerov and Saitkoulov launched into a rendition of Happy Birthday drawing the evening to its close replete with balloons, streamers and enthusiastic singing from the audience.
Party time!
We left a bit of a mess...
The English language fails me in this instance, as I struggle to adequately articulate how joyous I felt leaving this concert. Firstly, I was lucky enough to witness some of the most astounding and inspired playing I ever have so far in my life. I will never forget the power of Vengerov's unaccompanied performances, which demanded full attention to the significance of the music. Beyond this however, the technical fireworks, the beautiful music, the occasion, the enthusiastic, non-pretentious and verbal audience, the streamers and the balloons all meant that I left on a real natural high. The more I think about it, the more I realise just how much fun I had. Whilst I would often describe experiences of live classical music as enjoyable, amazing, provoking, beautiful etc. I do wish fun was a word I could use more often, as I can on this occasion.
<![CDATA[The 'Ein Heldenleben' Journey: Finale]]>Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:22:00 GMThttp://lifeandviolin.weebly.com/blog/the-ein-heldenleben-journey-finaleThis can also be read here, at the Violinist.com with lots of other great opinions, reviews and interviews. 

To be honest, I haven't provided more parts and insight into this because I actually got quite busy once February began. The hunt for a new violin has been sapping a lot of my time and energy. Plus it's honestly quite distracting to your progression repertoire-wise because you often find much of your attention directed to the new violin rather than what you're playing.

Irrespectively, my preparation of the excerpts and Heldenleben continued on through all of this (as it had to). The first two weeks of February were a bit of a rough patch. Practice was a bit inconsistent at times due to other commitments and I didn't really feel like progress was being made. By this point, technically, most of the excerpts were fairly comfortably under my fingers. I didn't struggle to hit notes, or to perform all the virtuosic gestures. Despite the progress technically, I hit somewhat of a wall musically. At this time, I was also trying to sort out as many kinks in the first movement of Saint-Saens 3, which I was also to play in my audition.

I continued to listen to what players on YouTube and other recordings were doing, and essentially tried copying as many things as I could before settling on what I liked. It become a process of continually daring myself to be more outlandish, more creative, different and diverse. A lot of the times, many of the things I tried didn't turn out so well. However, slowly through trial and error, I began to hit more interesting ideas and interpretations. The solo was slowly but surely becoming mine in a way.

While my teacher and I spent a lot of time on the Saint-Saens, we didn't have any time to cover my excerpts. She suggested another prominent teacher in Melbourne who I might go and have a lesson with on Heldenleben. Unfortunately due to her performing/rehearsal commitments, the earliest I could get a lesson was 3 days before the actual audition. Better late than never!

The thing I must admit I find amusing yet annoying at the same time is the fact that no matter what you throw at a piece, no matter how good you feel you become, a good teacher always somehow seems to open up an untapped source of ideas and possibility. They don't always help you see more detail in your current line of sight, rather, often they encourage you to look a little to the right of where you previously were. This is what this teacher was able to achieve in the short hour we spent on these excerpts. I began to achieve more of the character, as well as a greater deal of contrast. It was a slight relief to be honest, that I wasn't going to be stagnated in the remaining days before my audition.

In fact, the last few days didn't seem to be enough to try all the possibilities I was now aware of. Indeed the more I read about the piece, the more I felt able to incorporate the character of Strauss' wife into my playing. It was wonderful and refreshing, to be able to be at a technical point to try lots of new ideas. However, this process had a time limit on it for now, and I had to settle on an interpretation I was happy with for the time being. I shut my violin case that evening, content I was ready as I could be by this point.

My audition was scheduled for 9:30am the following morning, so to give myself plenty of time, I arrived at university at 8am to run through some scales, the excerpts and my solo piece. I felt fairly calm and secure at this point, and intonation seemed to be behaving which relaxed me considerably. It did help that I had a good accompanist (with whom I have a great working relationship) and after we finished running the Saint-Saens, we just enjoyed a casual conversation. I was allowed into the audition room early, since some of the panel members were running slightly late, which let me relax into the space a little. I've performed in this auditorium many times before, but auditions are auditions; sometimes I feel like no amount of experience helps.

Starting with the Saint-Seans, whilst intonation was a bit wobbly, I felt calm and I was enjoying playing the piece until I was cut off much earlier than expected. This in itself was a bit disappointing since I had been looking forward to playing it through. After this, I played excerpts by Brahms and Beethoven as I had predicted, before being asked for a bit of Heldenleben. In this instance, I realised very quickly that my preparation had paid off. I actually felt the most comfortable with this excerpt and didn't feel scared to be virtuosic (which is often the case in performance). It wasn't perfect, but I got through it relatively unscathed and my body hadn't tensed through it (for me, the ultimate sign of knowing something well). On the whole, my playing wasn't spectacular, but it certainly hadn't been a bad experience, which as far as auditions go, is about as much as you can ask. I'm still waiting to hear about the results.

Upon reflection, if you spend two months with a three minute stretch of writing, you're bound to become very familiar with it. I'm incredibly thankful that I got to spend a lot of time on this piece of writing. It taught me to be very thorough and holistic in my approach to playing. From technique, to music, to the academic and historic element of it. I threw everything I could think of to improve my performance of it, and whilst I'm probably not ready to perform it in a concert hall yet, I now dread the day I have to a little bit less. 

<![CDATA[Review: Australian String Quartet, Remembering Tomorrow]]>Thu, 26 Feb 2015 12:25:36 GMThttp://lifeandviolin.weebly.com/blog/review-australian-string-quartet-remembering-tomorrowConcert: Australian String Quartet, Remembering Tomorrow 
Date/Location: 26th February, 7PM: Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre

The Australian String Quartet has had a chequered past to say the least. Most recently in late 2014, both its violinists left the group due to 'irreconcilable artistic differences' leaving the board scrambling to find replacement artists for the group's 30th Anniversary Year. Somewhat miserably, under the 'The Quartet' tab on the ASQ's website, there are only two names, those of Sharon Draper (Cello) and Stephen King (Viola), the two current permanent members. For this particular evening, violinists Wilma Smith and Cameron Hill were added to the mix filling the first and second violin positions respectively. 

The evening began with a look to the group's past, performing Hayden's 3rd String Quartet ('The Emperor'), the first piece ever performed by the ASQ 30 years ago. The performance was well assured and exciting to listen to, the group careful to bring out its many contrasts as well as the more serious and lighter moments. A highlight, was the end of the second movement, so well executed and played, that the silence in the room after their bows stopped was so palpable, one almost felt like they could cut a block out of it. Despite this, intonation didn't quite always feel on the mark, taking the glow off an otherwise great start to the evening.

The second item, a new Australian commission by Ross Edwards, 'Gallipoli' was intended to mark the 100th Anniversary of the infamous Gallipoli landing. Having received its premier in Albany earlier this year, at the request of the composer, the work was performed in almost complete darkness, with a few small LED reading lights illuminating the music. The performers themselves were barely visible, but the darkness and the music provided a certain gravitas which couldn't be ignored. The writing seemed to be a very strong reflection on war and its various natures, and the composer cleverly used dissonance and techniques such as false harmonics to attain feelings of desolation and hopelessness, while also feeling oddly beautiful and peaceful. The ASQ seems to shine when it tackles soft passages, truly demonstrating the control and mastery each performer exhibits over their instrument. The careful and well prepared performance felt truly transcendent.

After an interval, the group continued down its proverbial and literal war path, with Shostakovich's 3rd Quartet. Written at a very troubled time for the Soviet Union (1946), particularly for artists, the writing is evocative as it is emotional. With many highs and lows, the ASQ delivered some truly gutsy and intense playing which proved to be very exciting. Again, the end proved a highlight, with the sustained F major chord providing a truly wonderful canvas for the first violin to  disappear into. This was truly exceptional playing both technically and musically, again proven by the intensity of the following silence. 

Intent on not leaving the evening on a somewhat tumultuous note,  the group responded to the strong audience response with the 'Andante Cantabile' from Tchaikovsky 1st Quartet, which was beautifully delivered. 

On the whole, I felt like my spontaneous decision to 'student rush' this concert paid off providing a thoroughly enjoyable evening. However, despite this, I felt the luster of the performance was slightly lost from a small but persistent nagging lack of cohesion in the group from a source which I honestly couldn't identify. Perhaps the group's past, coming back for a celebratory romp in it's 30th year.]]>
<![CDATA[My Personal Well being Journey]]>Fri, 13 Feb 2015 08:36:12 GMThttp://lifeandviolin.weebly.com/blog/my-personal-well-being-journeyThis can also be read here, at the violinist.com along with lots of other fantastic violin related ideas and opinions.

Disclaimer: This is not in any way intended to be expert advice of any sort. Hopefully it is insightful to some of you, but these are in reality just my personal experiences, not expert advice. 

To give a bit of context, 2015 marks the beginning of my third year studying Music and Commerce at university (in Australia the uni year starts in March and runs through to November). When it comes to the topic of personal well being, I'm something of a hypocrite. I'm very good and telling people to look after themselves and take a break, but not with myself?  I've had to learn many things regarding looking after myself the hard way. 

In 2013, I began the year already somewhat on edge. I wanted to work hard to impress my new teacher, and to accelerate my rate of improvement on the instrument. I had been somewhat stagnated the past year, mainly due to my focus being shifted to my final year of high school. So in all honesty, I only probably practiced at most 50 minutes to an hour (not even every day) in my latter high school years. Entering uni, the concept of practising 2, 3, even 4 hours a day terrified me. Despite this, I was fairly resolute to build my stamina and I decided for the first semester that I would aim to manage 2 hours a day. This worked out fairly well and my teacher was supportive of my efforts to progressively build my practice routine. Following the success of semester 1, I added another half an hour to my daily efforts and toward my final recital was comfortably around 3 hours a day. 

Unfortunately, by the end of my first year of university, I was close to completely burnt out, and only really survived on account of the fact that luckily, I had a very short and sweet exam timetable. Whilst I had taken the effort to slowly build up my practice, in reality, being new to uni, having to sit through weekends of 7 hours of rehearsals and all the extra practice I had started, took its toll on me. With regards to violin particularly however, I with the benefit of hindsight put it down to the fact that I rarely took a day off during that year in a bid to prove myself. 

So come 2014, my teacher mandated at the start of the year that I where possible, reserve a day of the week to be completely violin free. Whilst seemingly counter intuitive to those who want to improve quickly, over a year later, I can completely vouch for the benefits of setting aside a regular day off. (My friends can attest to me nagging them about doing it for themselves as well). What I found was that a day off allowed every facet of my violin playing to rest and rejuvenate itself. Physically, I would start the new week feeling much less tired and sore, but more importantly, mentally, I found myself in a much better headspace to start each new practice week. As a result, the work I did do the remaining 6 days of the week was more focused, and for want of a better phrase, sometimes, less painful. Toward the end of my first semester in 2014, my teacher noted that I seemed to be coping a lot better despite the fact I had taken on more that year (more performances, recordings etc.). I was comfortably managing 3-4 hours a day and it looked like I was on track for a well adjusted year. I was looking forward to reaching the end of it not burnt out. 

Then came July. I had earlier that year decided to partake in a 3 week Summer Program at NYU for Strings which involved me travelling to New York and living there for the duration. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the program and the travel, it obliterated my holiday of 4 weeks down to 1. I arrived back in Melbourne after more than a day of flying on the first day of second semester exhausted. To make things worse, I did three concerts in the following three weeks, all different programs. This included a concerto, a trip to Sydney (which you can read about here) and a grueling orchestral program (complete with hours and hours of rehearsing). This 2 month juncture of the year did irreparable damage to the remainder of my year. Whilst I had upped my practice to 5 hours a day, I was still taking my day off a week and thought I would be fine. However, when I reached my final exam period, the state of my well being showed its true colours. My focus and attention span was so poor and the amount of time I wasted because I couldn't motivate myself was staggering. As a very strongly driven and intrinsically motivated person, I have never ever felt this lack of determination or focus to what I'm doing. I was well and truly burnt out. 

Upon reflection, I realise that this doesn't compare with what the touring soloists have to deal with, and ultimately is something I'd like to do one day. It begs the question whether or not there are still things I'm doing wrong, and whilst I have no concrete answers, this is what I've resolved to do differently in 2015:

  1.  I've well and truly capped my practice time at 5 hours a day maximum.  This for me is the absolute limit of my physical and mental stamina and I've decided the thing that has to improve is the efficiency and focus with which I practice.
  2. On that note, I'm going to try add more different methods of practice in, including score study and mental practice. Not as a substitute, but to keep my mind fresh and interested, and potentially reduce the hours I physically spend with the instrument. 
  3. I've actually stopped doing hour long blocks and instead have started practising in half an hour blocks with five minute breaks in between. So far, this has worked really well for me. I get more done in the time and I feel more relaxed and focused. 
  4. I've committed to exercising daily, which I haven't in the past. Whether it be a small bit of cardio or strength work, I've found doing it regularly has not only helped me overall, but it's reduced the amount of aches and pains I can get while playing violin.
  5. Finally, I've actually had a chance to overview my year and properly plan it. Whilst I don't know all the concerts and recitals I'll be doing this year, I have a fairly clear idea when I'm going to take a few days or weeks off from violin to let myself regenerate fully.

Ultimately, I'm just learning as I go, and more than anything else, I'd love to hear from the community about how they avoid burnout, and deal with busy lives and grueling schedules.