Tag Archives: Concerto

Wondering if I should enter the Freo Eisteddfod

Well, it’s come to that time of the year again – I’ve looked up the Fremantle Eisteddfod website and they have the 2011 schedule online!   The closing date is 18th March and the Eisteddfod will be held between the May 12-21.

For the past 2 years, I’ve dusted off my violin, and used the Freo Eisteddfod as a goal to work towards – to learn one of the great violin concertos.

In 2008 I learnt the Wieniawski 2nd, but didn’t compete.   In 2009 it was Sibelius.  In 2010 it was Tchaikovsky.  

Both experiences created MUCH stress in my life.  But it actually helped me keep up my violin.   You see, after the month of May in the past 2 years, I really haven’t picked up my violin at all (except for the YouTube Symphony thing).

So I’m wondering if I should do this again in 2011?   Learn another movement from a great concerto in 3 months? 

I really have left it quite late this time around.   I was hoping I could do the Brahms, Barber or Beethoven, but there’s really not enough time.   I guess I could learn the 3rd movement from the Sibelius or Tchaikovsky?    Or tackle something different like the Carmen Fantasy?    Or maybe play something with less notes to learn like a Mozart concerto.

Or shall I just leave my violin in its case this year…

Less than 1 month until the Freo Eistedfodd

Less than 1 month go to…  I’m beginning to think it’s not enough time to finish learning the Tchaik violin concerto.

We just were away for 16 days on a holiday, and I obviously didn’t take the violin.  

Now with 3 and a half weeks to go, still haven’t learnt the first 4 pages of the concerto, haven’t had a lesson on it, haven’t had a session with an accompanist… I don’t think I’ll be doing it any justice 😦 😦 😦

What should I do?

It is a good goal – a date to work towards.  But there’s also personal pride, and wanting to play it at a decent standard.

I think I’ll keep on going and decide in the last week I think. 

I had my first play through after our holiday last night.  Most of the notes I’ve learnt have been burnt into my memory, so that’s OK, but I’m a little rusty.

More Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Well I’ve had a few sort of good weeks hacking away at the Tchaik (if you call little 30-45 minute sessions every other day a good practice!)

I’ve decided to start note bashing backwards – from the end first.   So far I’ve learnt 6 pages worth of notes – that’s about 5-6 minutes worth.   Not much for a 15-20 minute first movement depending on the speed it’s played.    I love learning things backwards..  it means that when you play through, you can keep on building on it, and you always finish the piece with a bang and that’s satisfying 🙂

Compared to the Sibelius, what I’ve noticed most is that there are just so many notes!!!  I can’t believe I haven’t even got back to the candenza yet.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to learn all the notes in time, and if so, be able to memorise all of them.   And then being able to play them at a decent speed from beginning to end without stopping!

Anyway, I’ll keep on pushing ahead… backward really.   

I hope to get a formal lesson on it as soon as I’ve note bashed the whole thing.

Learning the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Well, I’ve had a few months break from my violin.  The little spurt of learning and performing the Sibelius is all over. 

And it’s now time to start thinking of the next concerto for the Freo Eistedfodd next year.  The closing dates are usually in March – only 7 months away – but with the non-existent number of hours of practice I do, that’s not very much at all!

I’ve always been in awe of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.  One of my favourite violin memories was watching the documentary of Itzhak Perlman travelling to Russia, and performing it there.  These last few weeks, I’ve been listening to the album at work.   It’s not the most heart wrenching interpretation of it, but I love the electric and enthusiastic atmosphere of the Russian audience in the live recording.

The first movement is long.  I had the music out the other night.  Heaps of pages.  More than the Sibelius.  More notes.  I think of it as preparing to climb a mountain – it’s a long journey, but I can’t wait for the day when I can play through the whole first movement from memory at a reasonable standard. 

So I’m thinking – 7 months.  I can’t remember now how many pages it is, but if it’s ~16 pages and I’d want to be able to learn all the notes and passages by the end of February hopefully.  That’s learning and mastering just about 2.5 pages a month.  Should be doable right?

On a related note, Julian Rachlin just performed this at the BBC Proms 34 concert.  You can listen to it online here for the next week:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/2009/whatson/1008.shtml

Beethoven Violin Concerto with Kyoko Takezawa

When I was young (and still living at home obviously!), my Dad used to take me to violin concerts.  I think I didn’t know any better at the time, but we did see some great concerts.  I do remember actually sitting on the Perth Concert Hall stage watching Yehudi Menuhin play!

Last night, I had another date with my Dad.  We went to see WASO, primarily to see, really listen, to the Beethoven Violin Concerto.  The soloist last night was Kyoko Takezawa.  I must admit, I hadn’t heard of her before, but her resume is quite impressive.

And so she came on stage, quite small, but polite and smiley.  WASO started with a reduced orchestra, maybe too reduced as I was missing that really warm string section sound.  When Kyoko started playing, you could see the emotion she was drilling into her violin.  From where we were sitting, very crystal clear playing and spot on intonation, and even though she played really well, it wasn’t doing anything for me yet.

And then the cadenza for for the First Movement came.  And suddenly there was magic.  I was totally captivated, hanging off every note.  And I think the whole of the packed Perth Concert Hall was too.  It was like we were all hypnotised, mesmorised by her solo violin, singing out the multiple rising voice lines.   The end of the cadenza was most beautiful, and I think she must have inspired or lifted wASO up a notch because they came to the party too.

The audience applauded after the First Movement, but she deserved it.  Magic.

That’s one of the reasons why I love classical music.  When the feelings and emotions are poured out by the soloist, and connected directly with audience.  It’s more than just “listening” to music, or your eardrums picking up vibrating air particles.  Sometimes a connection is made, dare I say, at the soul level that can move you to tears.

It’s put me in a quandry now – she’s inspired me.  Should I return to the Beethoven Violin Concerto?  It’s one I started learning towards the “last” years of my violin days in my youth, but never finished.  But I know from when I tackled it, it “seems” easy to play – mostly scales and arpeggios (except the candenza!).  But it’s SO very hard to play it beautifully and maturely, to sing the legato lines.

The rest of the program featured the full, really full WA Symphony Orchestra.  There’s something wonderful about getting that many good musicians together and really playing it out – the SOUND of a full symphony orchestra is uplifting!

If you can’t make it to the Perth Concert Hall tonight, iiNet will be streaming the WASO concert live here – http://media.iinet.net.au/index.cgi?id=waso, at 7.30PM Perth Time (GMT+8).

Sibelius at the Freo Eisteddfod

All yesterday, I was just riddled with nerves.  I had that weird sick feeling in my stomach all day at work, knowing that my Freo Eisteddfod heat was later that day.  I did try to calm down, clear the worries out of my head.

As my Wifey told me, I shouldn’t need to have nerves.  I mean, I hadn’t even played yet!  No-one is going to die, no-one is getting injured, the audience aren’t there hanging on the edge of their seat waiting for me to make a mistake, they’re there to enjoy music.

But that still doesn’t help.

So I turned up after 8pm and found that there were still 4 or so to go before me.  Bad.  It meant I had to wait.  I didn’t want to watch the others so I hung out in the main hall.  There was no real place to warm up as the whole building has so much echo that it would leak into the main hall.

But all that circulated through my head for that hour was the thought of having a memory lapse.  I was replaying the concerto in parts in my head and would find a part that I “forgot”, rush to the music to check what’s next.  Bad.  My hands were cold and clammy which would make it harder to shift and play the fast passages mroe agile.

The other players before me played really well.  Pianists, violinists – I resigned to the fact that I couldn’t compete with them.  Many are Uni music students.  I wasn’t there primarily to compete anyway.  That was not my prime objective.  But that still didn’t stop the adrenalin from rushing in my head.

Then it was time for me.  I was called up, I walked to the bare stage at the Freo Town Hall, a place I hadn’t played a solo on since my Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Cappricioso with WAYO so many years ago (is it 14-15 years ago?).

I tuned up and tried to loosen up, listen to the acoustics in the hall, playing some long notes on open strings.  I looked out on the audience, saw the judges sitting in the upstairs gallery seating.

A thought went through my head that I was going to forget some part of the concerto again…  but I took a deep breath, looked at my accompanist, gave him a small nod and we started.

I was going in cold – not having warmed up.   F1 drivers have that warmup lap where they try to get their tyres to the right temperature.  I was thinking – why couldn’t I?  Oh well..   The nerves definitely died down once I had my bow on the string.

I played my heart out on that violin.  It was definitely more passionate and had more feeling than I usually play.  I really “milked” it.  But my intonation was a bit more shaky in parts.  And my left hand was still stiff from adrenalin, making runs not as crystal clear.  Luckily I did get the huge interval jumps and most of the double stopped octaves and sixths were OK.  The cadenza part came off better than I expected.  It was weird, at times I almost felt like I was observing myself play.  It wasn’t in “automatic” mode, but almost like my soul had lifted out of my body and was watching from outside myself.

All of a sudden, it was coming to the 2 last pages in my head.  No memory lapses so far – good.  But I started my run into the high E trill a little too fast because of nerves and so my accompanist thought I wanted to go fast.  But no!  I didn’t mean to!  I tried to pull the tempo back but too late, the horse had bolted.  I stressed – I knew I couldn’t play the last runs at this speed, but I had to try.  We got a bit of out sync with each other with all the action and passion and notes speeding by, and my last fingered octave scale run was not good at all. And then it was all over so quickly!

I was disappointed.  I know I can play those last 2 pages MUCH better.  My performance was definitely not indicative of how well I could play this piece.  But a different setting, nerves – it all adds different elements than just playing in trackies in the comfort of my lounge room.  But then, all competitors are in the same boat – it’s your performance on the day that counts.  It’s not just who can play, what you can play, or how you play it – it’s also a test of how well you can play in public under stressful conditions.  Not having played like this in public for 14-15 years wouldn’t help.  Maybe I need to do some small public recitals for Musica Amica or the Royal Schools.

I was so relieved.  It was over.  No more nerves or sickly feeling in my stomach.  What a blast!  My Wifey and my Dad who came along thought I played really well, better than they expected 🙂   Wifey said I even put a tear in her eye and didn’t realise how beautiful the Sibelius violin concerto is.

I didn’t get through to the final 4.  Interpretation and passion are not the only factors adjudicators judge by.  Ensemble and my last 2 pages definitely was a negative.  They did say that they were clear on 3 of the finalists, but not the fourth.   I’m going to live with the hope that maybe I was a potential candidate.     I was disappointed, but I keep reminding myself that that wasn’t my goal.  My goal was to work on the Sibelius first movement and play it at the Freo Eisteddfod, as something to work towards and because I LOVE the Sibelius violin concerto.   Actually, I am relieved that I don’t have to go through all the nerves again to play it on Friday night!  But it would’ve been nice to play it in front of a larger audience.

So from here, I get to put that aside and work on something new.  I think I’ll do the 2nd and 3rd movements, then move onto the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and then the Brahms.

Sibelius Concerto Practice

It’s less than 1 week to the Freo Eistedfodd where I’ll attempt to play the first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto!  

I’m starting to feel the nerves.  I don’t know why – I have nothing to lose really.  I keep telling myself over and over that it’s not for the competition or glory – but really as a milestone otherwise I have nothing to work towards.   There’s no way I can compete against students who have time to practice daily for multiple hours at a stretch!   I can only practice for 30 minutes to an hour every odd day after the kids have gone to bed…  after helping to clean up dinner, make lunches, read the kids bed time stories, etc…

Had my first rehearsal with my accompanist last week.   It was great to hook up with an old friend and play through it.  But what a shock!   It was weird having to play “in time”!   I’ve been practising so ad lib that some of my timing was totally way off.   Margie had hinted this at my lesson and afterwards I practised some parts with a metronome.  But there’s nothing like playing with someone else!  Luckily it wasn’t a full symphony orchestra!

So for this last week, I’m starting to polish it up, continue playing through in one shot to build up my stamina – both mental and physical.  I find that by the time I reach the last 2 pages (the final fast bit), I start to get tired.  I can’t concentrate.  My arms start to lock up.  My intonation starts to go.   All when it’s the hardest part technically.

Yesterday I decided – let’s use the practise technique I used for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra audition – RECORD MYSELF!   That really starts to put the pressure on.   So, first thing in the morning after breakfast, I did this take..  fresh..  no warming up.   I’ve uploaded it in all its raw, scratchy glory for all to hear 🙂  

Sorry about the clipping, and I obviously made a few mistakes but I wanted to march to the end, just like a real performance.   But listening back to it, I now realise I need to work on a few things.   For example:

  • I’d love the intro to be more legato
  • Intonation of my fourths was shocking
  • Intonation of one of the first arpeggios needs work (Eb arpeggio)
  • Gotta nail the huge shifts
  • Need to work on right arm (bowing) and left hand (fingering) co-ordination at the beginning of the fast section at the end
  • More dynamics throughout
  • Some parts need to move on more, they started to sound stodgy

Sibelius Violin Concerto – 1st Movement by Jason Chong

I’m more than welcome to constructive feedback.   Please let me know your thoughts and suggestions in this post’s comments.

The Elgar

It’s an amazing experience to be able to play a concerto with a full orchestra.  Even more special is the chance to play it in a large concert hall.   And even more daunting is tackling a large romantic concerto! The nerves, playing in front of a large audience, playing in front of your peers, wondering if you can execute those tricky passages that you only “get” one out of every two times at home.

Well, Anna Pokorny, winner of this year’s WA Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition did just that.  She played the Elgar cello concerto on the weekend with the full WAYO orchestra in the Perth Concert Hall.

I tend to cringe when I hear about kids playing large concertos – I mean, it’s amazing that they have reached a stage that they can get their fingers around most of the notes.  But they’re usually not quite there yet, both technically and emotionally.  There are usually heaps of other concertos in the repertoire that could be done first.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when Anna started the Elgar.  She seemed to play with much confidence.  Yes, some of the runs did get her, but she soldiered on – overall it was an impressive effort.  If our 9yo could play like that in 10 or so years time, I would be a very proud parent indeed 🙂

Unfortunately our 9yo wasn’t able to attend with us to get inspired.   She had a sleepover party to attend – she was meant to be my date for the night.  But when wifey dropped her off at the sleepover party, she asked her “Can you video it?”.   Awwwww…. so cute…

More info here:



More Sibelius

Well, Vadim Repin’s concert has got me all inspired again.  Ran into Semra earlier in the week and she said that on Friday night, Vadim played the Carnival of Venice as an encore.  How cool!  Luckily, I’ve got him playing this already on a DVD called “World Encores” that I picked up in Singapore when we went for SEAJam.   I’m sure it would have been just as fun here in Perth!

Then I started listening to the Leonidas Kavakos version again when my Dad reminded me that I had bought it a few years ago!  Now that’s a great version, so much drama and emotion in the playing.

I really want to finish off the Wieniawski now so I can move onto other concertos!  I had a good 1.5 hour practice two nights ago – my fingered octaves aren’t going that great, but the 3rd movement is mostly just learning the notes for the moment.   I’m trying to balance the 2nd movement so that it’s not too soppy and so each phrase has movement and direction.  I’m relatively happy with the 1st movement now I think – I’ll have to wait and see what Margie thinks of it at my 2nd lesson with her tomorrow.  I’m still semi fudging some of the arpeggiatic runs, or more like the intonation/shifts aren’t exactly in tune…  I guess since I’m doing it more for fun, I don’t have to get it perfect right??? hahahaha