learning lessons

With my performance on Sunday finished, there was one more hurdle in store for me during my trip to Philadelphia. I had scheduled a lesson with my former teacher from Peabody Conservatory, Roberto Díaz. He had been the principal violist of the National Symphony when I’d studied with him in Baltimore, and he went on to occupy the same chair in the Philadephia Orchestra shortly after I left Baltimore to join the Oregon Symphony. He’s now the president of the Curtis Institute of Music, and in addition to his administrative duties, he also teaches and performs there as well.

Roberto Diaz - Photo: J. Henry Fair

I had booked the lesson last August, and had been working on various pieces to bring to play. Eventually I settled on the Suite No. 2 by Max Reger for solo viola. Violists tend to be divided on the merits of Reger’s music. I never really cared for it until I heard a remarkable new recording of the Bach and Reger Suites by the phenomenal German violist Tabea Zimmermann. [Amazon.com link: Tabea Zimmermann: Solo]

I had previously worked on the First Suite (G major), and had been increasingly drawn to the Second (D major), especially its quirky nature, with rapid changes of dynamics, interrupted phrases, and its technical challenges. I knew that the scheduling of the lesson had been tight. Roberto would be returning from a solo engagement with the Kansas City Symphony the night before, and had a major board presentation to prepare for which came the day following the lesson date. So I was keen not to disappoint.

In the end, I’m not really sure how well I played. It didn’t really matter. I got through the entire suite without any outright disasters, which was good. And I feel like it represented a decent snapshot of where my playing is right now. There was something about playing in the office of the president of Curtis that was pretty intimidating. I was hoping that the soundproofing was good enough!

The best thing about a good lesson is that it gets you thinking about things that you might have been overlooking in your playing. Having that set of ears listening from another vantage point is so important. Roberto honed right in on some aspects of my playing that I’d just not been paying attention to over the years since I’d been formally studying. Bow distribution, the arc of phrases, tone color – and how these all work together to make a compelling musical statement – these had kind of gone out the window for me. So, while I was grateful for the insight, I was also (afterward, walking home) pretty depressed about what I’d basically allowed to happen to my playing. But, I know what I need to do now, and that will make a huge difference in my playing as I go forward.

So, it has been a very successful trip to Philly, and while I’ve enjoyed my time here immensely, I’m definitely anxious to get to my flight this afternoon to return home.

Roberto Díaz website.

Recordings by Roberto Díaz from Amazon.com:

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