Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Charterhouse International Music Festival

Since 22nd July I've been at the Charterhouse International Music Festival. I've been having quite a wonderful time!

The weather has been excellent so far, if perhaps a little warm for playing. Last night brought thunderstorms and today has been far more comfortable.

I'm enjoying lots of playing, and catching up on some much-needed sleep. The horn teacher has some useful things to say and I'm learning a fair amount from him and the other instructors, but I must also note that much of the benefit of being here is simply not having to deal with all the ordinary day-to-day chores for a while: the only transport to think about is a 15-minute walk across the grounds, and meals are all provided with no preparation or washing-up to do.

I am thinking a bit about how I might take some of the benefits of a situation like this and create a similar environment when I get back to London, if not while I'm at Trinity (as I seem to have managed to find a structure that roughly works) then certainly afterward. A period of intensive study for a few weeks every term might be do-able without letting too much of the life-maintenance stuff slide, if I prepare carefully beforehand.

It is quite a busy schedule, with a masterclass, three rehearsals and three concerts per day. So far the horn masterclasses have been with Michael Thompson, who I'd not met before getting here. Tomorrow he isn't going to be here, so we get Anthony Halstead instead.

Lots of playing! On the 23rd I played the Hindemith wind quintet, on the 24th I played the Reinecke trio (op. 188) for horn, oboe and piano. Today I played two movements of the Jenner trio for clarinet, horn and piano in the lunchtime concert, and the Ligeti Six Bagatelles in the evening concert. Tomorrow I'm due to play the Hindemith E-flat althorn sonata on the tenor cor in the 6pm concert and the Dvorak Serenade in the evening concert, but I'm also hoping to play some transcribed Brahms lieder in the masterclass; another student here helped me with some translations, since I only had the German with me.

Concert attendance is perhaps a bit sparse, but with three concerts a day this is understandable. Much as I'd like to attend all three concerts, I can't quite handle that and the rehearsing, so I settle for one or two.

I've been keeping a paper diary of specific thoughts on masterclasses, rehearsals and practise sessions and I'm finding it quite useful, but it runs to 23 pages so I'm not going to type it all in here. I do think I'm going to start keeping a similar logbook (with perhaps a bit more structure), because running through these things at the end of each day is a very good way to remind myself of the important points and also helps me plan the next day better. I'm not sure whether I'll do that in digital or deadtree format. Digital has a lot going for it in terms of ease of entry, but a paper diary can be carried with me and updated anywhere I happen to be, which could be good. I can see myself filling in details while I'm commuting home in the evening, for example, and that's much harder to do on a computer (I don't have a laptop cheap enough that I'm willing to use it on public transport).

Right, at the moment there is a queue for the computers so I'm going to go fill in aforementioned diary with today's events, then go and get some sleep. If I'm feeling particularly energetic I might try to get out to a field and watch some of the Perseid meteor shower, but I can probably catch more of that next week in Somerset.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Chamber music

Saturday's concert went well, I thought. The audience was quite small, mostly due rather rainy and unfriendly weather in the morning.

Playing in that particular space was interesting: I found the piano very loud and could hardly hear Anna on the violin but apparently three feet away the balance was good. I think we played reasonably well: not everything was technically perfect, but that isn't a realistic expectation at this point. Not everything was musically perfect either, but there were definitely some good moments. The audience was appreciative and this is always a welcome thing.

So far this week has been going a bit slowly. I had quite a tiring week last week: in addition to preparing for Saturday's performance I was dealing with broken glasses, a broken horn (nothing major: the pinky hook came unsoldered), and feeling generally quite tired. I managed to pick up a cold from somewhere and it has gone straight to my ears of all places so I'm not feeling amazing.

That said, I've been getting some good work done. Monday was understandably slow and I really had to push myself to get out of the flat in the morning at all, but the teaching component of it went well and by the end of the day I was feeling much better. Coming home to find out some of the repertoire I'm being asked to play at Charterhouse was certainly a highlight.

Tuesday I managed my distractabrain a bit better: I got somewhat ambushed by piano parts for various bits of chamber music, but this is no bad thing as having a high level of familiarity with these is only ever going to be an advantage. In total I practised for six hours. I also took various parts out of the library and attended a concert at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel in the evening.

Repertoire! I had just started to get to a point where I was feeling a bit stuck, a bit aimless in my practising... I really needed either a lesson (next one is scheduled for 18th July so still a little way off) or some intermediate goals to work on. There's nothing like being told, "Hey, come play this in two weeks" to get things started. It looks like the programme will be as follows:

23rd July
Hindemith Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet
Mozart Quintet for Piano and Winds
24th July
Reinecke Trio for piano, oboe and horn in A minor, opus 188
29th July
Ligeti Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet

The Hindemith I don't know well but I do have a recording of it; I've played the Mozart before though it was a few years ago. I know neither of those will be problematic, and roughly how much work I'll have to put in. I've actually been working on the Reinecke this year anyway, though in the end we didn't get past the first rehearsal due to schedule conflicts.

The Ligeti was an unknown to me, before yesterday. I was worried at first, because I don't always "get" Ligeti: some of what he writes I find deeply moving and beautiful, and some of it I guess I'm just not ready for yet. I'm not guaranteed, as I am with Bach or Mozart or Brahms, an instant idea of what to do with the music. Oh, Bach and Brahms and Mozart all require study for me to perform them effectively and really understand them, but I have a good grounding in the harmonic language used, so I always know where to start. Some more modern works simply leave me baffled.

This is actually quite important. For me, performance (and teaching to an extent but that's a different discussion) isn't about technical prowess so much as communicating to other people my ideas of what is good about a work. It's a sort of show-and-tell, where I have an opportunity to get up and, through playing, say,

"Listen to this! Isn't that bit neat? Isn't it amazing how sad these sounds can make you feel? Isn't the rhythm there fascinating, aren't those harmonies beautiful? Shiny! I love it! I hope you do, too!"

That's an amazing gift, a wonderful opportunity, and I can't do it if I don't love or at least like the piece I'm playing. I will never be able to use technical accomplishment to dazzle a listener into loving a piece of music, and even if I could, I'm not sure I'd want to. That doesn't mean that the technical aspect of musicianship isn't important: to communicate my ideas clearly requires physical preparation, to be fluent in the language of music requires a high level of proficiency and further refinements in that are always going to be possible. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, though, understanding and liking the music and being in a frame of mind to pass that on are absolutely essential.

I was pleased, then, to discover that the Ligeti Bagatelles are an instant match. Why did I not know of these before? They are gorgeous: playful lyrical by turns, rhythmical without detracting from some truly beautiful harmonies. It will be an honour to perform them, and I hope I can do them justice.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Getting ready...

Concert tomorrow, informal, 10.30am, St. John on Bethnal Green. As I haven't played a 'proper' self-organised concert in some time this is a good step back into performing. I've just been printing off some programme notes that Anna wrote, and starting to get a bit excited.

We did figure out a name for the trio, in the end: we're now the Lichtental Trio, after the part of the forest where Brahms was walking when the main theme of the trio came to him.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008


The International Music Score Library Project is back! Opening letter and dedication here.

I can hardly wait to get my teeth into this; I've spent far too much on sheet music that ought to be public domain, in the past few months.