van cliburn, rest in peace


I grew up in a household that loved classical music. My father was stationed in Germany in the early 70’s (went through Checkpoint Charlie dozens of times, I’m told), and collected quite a few records while there. Some of them remain my favorites to this day. Karajan’s 100th Anniversary recording of Beethoven’s Ninth, for example, or the Schubert and Schumann song cycles rendered by Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and Fritz Wunderlich. Wunderlich’s Dichterliebe still melts my heart to this day. Anyway, among those records was his 1958 debut recording of Tchaikovsky’s First and Rachmaninoff’s Second piano concertos. I practically wore out those poor LP’s. I just was so smitten by the sheer sonic richness and romantic phrasing of Cliburn – even though I was maybe only just beginning to study the violin at the time. That sound has stuck with me through the years a lot, and occasionally there is a pianist who approaches that concept (Andre Watts is a prime example), but I’ve yet to find one who has eclipsed Cliburn in sheer beauty of sound.

last chance for parker/oso combo

Jon Kimura Parker – Photo: Oregon Symphony

Want so hear some of the most gorgeous Mozart piano playing ever? Want to hear a cool new piece that will make you laugh with glee? Want to have your senses overloaded with the incredible Symphonic Dances of Rachmaninoff? Your last chance is tonight at the Oregon Symphony. Get your tix now (or find someone with a ticket stub from the previous nights, and get a ticket for $5)!

Alfvén: Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 (Midsommarvaka)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20, K.466
Andrew Norman: Drip
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances

on napping and fingering

It’s official: I’ve reached the age where an afternoon nap is essential to a decent performance. My eyesight is also not as good as it used to be: I have to go to the eye doctor soon and see if I need glasses. These two factors seemed to play a role in my part of this past weekend’s performances.

First of all, this is not a hugely difficult program. The Russlan & Ludmilla overture is part of our bread and butter. We trot it out for just about every kids or special concert to wow the crowds. It was tightened up a bit for Carlos, but was pretty much business as usual for us. The Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto is not a staple of ours, but it doesn’t have any huge technical demands. Finally, the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony is in the blood of this orchestra, so while it does present some technical challenges, it is a known quantity to us.

So, what makes this program interesting is that the concerto and the symphony are tricky – you cannot let down your guard for a second, or you will make a grievous error. There is one section in the last movement of the Prokofiev that is renowned to viola sections due to its trickiness – it’s a passage that is probably quite easy to play on Prokofiev’s chosen instrument – the piano – but it’s really a pain to play on a stringed instrument.

It’s sort of the same deal with the Rachmaninoff. It’s written quite well for stringed instruments, but some of the bowings that result from what Rachmaninoff writes present some challenges, such as feeling like your bow ought to be going in the opposite direction that it is. What makes the edition that we use infuriating is that it has a ton of printed in fingerings that some boneheaded editor thought would be helpful. Let’s talk fingerings for a moment, shall we? Ok. Fingerings are exactly what you might think. They’re notations that tell us which finger of our left hand to place on the string for a given note. Some musicians (like me) use a fair number of them. Others (like Joël, my stand partner) prefer to have as few notations as possible in the part. Each set of stand partners will come to some sort of equilibrium as to how much is written in the part. But at least you have a choice. In the Rachmaninoff, they’re printed in, so they cannot be erased, or even effectively written over (which just makes more of a mess). So you’re stuck with whatever crazy fingering some violist from the 1940’s put in there. Here’s an example from our part:

So, one is spending a few milliseconds per note trying to figure out what one’s own fingering is while also ignoring the printed fingering, but also trying to figure out if the printed one actually matches one’s own fingering. You might see why that would present some problems when the music is flying by at half-note = 80 or so.

More on the weekend’s concerts soon…