Tag Archives: Violin

Potential finalist of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra!

For the last few days, I’ve been checking my iPhone constantly for new messages from YouTube.  Yep, it was the time range when entrants to the YTSO 2011 competition would find out if they got chosen to progress to the next round.

So I was extremely excited when my iPhone pinged me on Saturday morning with an email from YouTube.

I have been chosen as a potential finalist or potential alternate! 

I can’t believe it!!   Wifey thinks I’m mad, that I’m suffering some mid life crisis.  Must be like how I’m the oldest (nearly twice the age) of entrants in the Fremantle Eisteddfod.  I wonder if I’m the oldest entrant in YTSO 2011?   Surely not at 35!

For me, I’m secretly glad that being a non-professional musician means I don’t have a “reputation” that I need to uphold and prevent me from doing random things like this 🙂

But I’ve been playing back my recording for the last week and am actually embarrassed that my intonation is a little shaky, especially in the Mozart – the first piece in my video!   Luckily, intonation is not the only criteria used for judging and I hope musicality and interpretation are just important.

Anyways, I think I now have to wait until around the 10th December when official public voting starts, and then see what happens.   If I do get through, then it’s a week over in Sydney to hang out with other musos from around the world, and hopefully some top notch professional musos too!

*Fingers crossed*


Playing for the WA Ballet Gala

A few weeks ago, I lived the second life of a musician playing in a pit.   The “pit” refers to the area typically below the stage where the orchestra sits when playing for an opera or ballet.  

What happens first is that the orchestra gets together to “note bash”.   Learn the notes, rehearse playing together, identify and practise problem areas, especially those that require co-ordination between different sections.    It’s also a time to find out what the conductor wants and the style and tempos they want us to play.  

The next stage is the dress rehearsals with the dancers.   By now, the orchestra can play the music and the focus is on co-ordination with the dancers, staging, lighting, logistics of program order, etc.  With ballet, we have to be flexible as a lot of timing depends on the dancers, the steps they are doing and the choreography.  For example, some sections had to be played slower because it was physically impossible for the dancers to spin, twirl, etc that fast!

And then it’s the start of the actual shows.  This time round, and I think it’s pretty normal, the best audience responses were on the opening and closing nights.  In between shows, applause was good, but not as boisterous or spontaneous.   Luckily the season wasn’t too long this time, only 5 shows – but still, I love the excitement and buzz of the closing night performance.  It’s finally all over.

For me, it was a great chance to pick up my violin again and play with others in a professional environment.  I think the orchestra did really well.

The strangest part of the whole experience however was that we, as musicians, never actually saw the dancers doing the dances.  I find this most strange.  I believe that the way we (musicians) would have played would be very different if we knew what was happening on stage.   How different?  Not really in tempos as we rely on the conductor to set these, but just general interpretation, emotion, feeling and appreciation for what’s happening – the “bigger picture”.   My wifey went to one performance and gave me the lowdown on the dances – and I was surprised that the choreography for one of the pieces matched various parts, as well as the overall Sonata Form of the whole movement in general.   I’m not sure how this would work logistically though – would we get all the musos to watch the performance to pre-recorded audio?   What do other companies do?

I know that in the swing dance world, dance bands (from back in the Harlem days in the Renaissance and Savoy Ballrooms) actually worked off the dancers and the dancers off the musicians in a self perpetuating energy cycle.    This makes current classical ballet performances very lacking in comparison!   Maybe the number of musicians needing co-ordination is a factor here – we rely on our conductor to be the conduit.

Here’s a photo of my view of the theatre:

Notice the nets?   This made me smile – I’m guessing that they are there to catch the dancers in case they stray too far forward and accidentally fall into the pit!  Now that would be something to remember!    But maybe something not to laugh at – a quick Google shows several times when this has happened before…

2007 – Ballet dancer injured in Atlanta Ballet production of The Nutcracker – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/arts/dance/11arts-OSHAINVESTIG_BRF.html, http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-holiday-guide/holiday-events/after-nutcracker-fall-dancer-240391.html
1998 – Ballet dancer died in Dutch National Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet – http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/ballet-dancer-died-trying-to-save-director-in-orchestra-pit-fall-1.234032
More info here of the WA Ballet Gala show here:  http://www.waballet.com.au/whats_on.php?id=57

The story behind my YouTube Symphony audition

I haven’t been giving my blog much love lately.    Real life has just gotten in the way with trips to Sydney and Singapore and an orchestral gig.  Blog posts to come up soon!

One thing I have squeezed in is to continue working on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO) violin audition.  Unfortunately with travelling around and having 2 kids to worry about too, I didn’t have much time to learn or record my audition 😦  I had to fit in some of recordings just before I sent the kids to school on two mornings in the past week!  Yep, you’ll see Miss 9 run out of her bedroom to get breakfast!

The audition seems a bit fairer this time around.   You now need to prepare 5 pieces and it’s a more typical Symphony Orchestra audition choice – a solo Bach, a Mozart concerto and a range of orchestra excerpts.

Here’s what I chose!

Bach Partita in D – Allemande

I’ve played this before.  Actually, I think most violinists would have played this – it’s something you “have” to learn when you learn to play the violin.   For me, it was good to go back and polish this up again.

My interpretation has definitely changed since when I played it back in my teens.  Back then, I loved the heavy, grand versions of the Bach.  I used to use Itzhak Perlman’s BBC video as my yardstick.  But my current mood is for a more delicate, minimalist approach and bringing out all the intricacies of the various voices all intertwined.  I would have loved to have recorded this with absolutely no vibrato, but the style of your playing depends on the acoustics and my lounge room doesn’t have much reverb, so I had to use a little vibrato.

Bach is actually hard to play well.   Bach was a genius in trying to use a single instrument to play multiple voices.  Here there’s no double stops, yet there’s usually two voices throughout.  It’s also hard because there’s a lot of semiquavers, but you don’t want it to sound like a study.  There has to be some movement and phrasing, yet trying to keep time.   I hope I did it justice!

Mozart Violin Concerto in A – 1st Movement

I had trouble deciding between the two Mozart concertos.  I actually hadn’t learnt either of these concertos.  I’ve only learnt and played the 3rd concerto many years ago.   But I know wifey has been bugging me to learn one of these instead of the “great” violin concertos that I’ve been messing around with lately.

I chose the A major, mainly because I saw Renaud Capucon conduct a masterclass on this recently and was totally mesmerised by his playing of the introduction – read more here.

Mozart is deceptive.  People think these concertos are “easy”.  Easy – maybe easy to learn the notes, but to play it expressively like an operatic dialogue – no.   I remember the comments in a couple of my AMEB exams in my teens were all about trying to make my playing more operatic.  No, not like an aria!  But like multiple people having a conversation, and having some meaning or direction to the conversation.  After all, music is communication right?

So fast forward to today, I think I have a better understanding of what the music is trying to achieve, but whether I brought this out in my playing is a different matter altogether!   I know my intonation is not bang in the center here – and that’s really because of lack of consistent practice.

Strauss Don Juan excerpt

Argh!!  This is a hardy – from a technical point of view.   Fast runs and arpeggios.  But also so passionate!

The first thing I did was to listen to a recording of it.  There’s so many other parts in the orchestra during this passage, that it’s hard to play alone.   But at least I got a grasp of the tempo and what the music was trying to achieve.

I find it hard to play passages like this solo too because when you’re playing in a section of 5-8 desks of violins, and the whole symphonic orchestra around you, you get this feeling that is hard to replicate alone.   Also, you can probably get away with a few inaccuracies since the section swallows you up whole!

The trouble with this excerpt is that the difficult passages just keep on coming!  Especially when you think you’re out of danger near the end, but then all those quiet triplet passages hit you.  Aargh!

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 excerpt

I’ve played a few Beethoven Symphonies, but interestingly not the No. 9 yet!   I wasn’t familiar with this passage, so I had to find a recording and listen to this part to get the context.

I found this another hard thing to play solo.   With a whole section, you can change your playing to match the others around you, and to produce the common blanket of sound as one.  But individually, if I played like that, it would probably sound very plain indeed.   Also, in a concert hall with more reverb, one can get away with playing less but still sounding more.

So I decided to make my own tone nice here in my dead-ish lounge room by use of vibrato..  maybe too excessive?

Mendelssohn Symphony excerpt

Final excerpt!   This would be great to play in an orchestra!   The challenge here is the triplets – trying to keep them going without any other orchestral part to bounce off or to keep in sync with!

Here’s the final product!   I hope I at least get to the 2nd round this time.






Masterclass with Renaud Capucon

Renaud Capucon (image from EMI Classics website)

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to attend a masterclass by young violinist Renaud Capucon.

I’ve participated in a few masterclasses in the past and I remember being extremely nervous.  It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity to get feedback from a world class professional solo violinist, but I remember the challenge of trying to break my mould and fixed ways to try what the masterclass teacher is asking.  I was keen to go this to hear Renaud’s approach to music and the violin.

So at this masterclass, four violinists ranging in age from 14 to mid twenties played for Renaud, organised by UWA, ECU, AUSTA and WASO.

The violinists all played well.  Renaud, dress smart casual in a jacket and jeans, was animated and friendly. In fact, quite good looking according to some female audience members 🙂    A lot of his teaching style reminded me of Maxim Vengerov’s masterclasses, and my ex-teacher Paul Eder – trying to capture the essence and personification of music interpretation through the use of imagery.  

And that was the main thing I took away from the masterclass – most of his comments centered around how to move to the next level – in my mind, from “playing music” to “making music”.  After all, music should be an expression of the soul.  Sure, notes and technique are important, like the foundations to build a sturdy building.  But it’s not real “music” until you put your heart into it.

If it’s a Mozart violin concerto, the phrases should sing like different people singing a conversation.

If it’s a showy virtuosic piece, it shouldn’t be played like a study of technical work, but blow your socks off.

Sure, trying to get the violinists to try different ways of playing by describing images to them, or making them move in certain ways, is good and the violin students that night were able to adapt in varying degrees. 

But for me, the best parts of the evening was when Renaud took out his violin (I’m guessing he had his Guarneri del Gesu there!) and showed how he would play it.

And that…



I thought the violinist who played the Mozart A major concerto played with great detail and care.  But when Renaud played the opening phrase, it was sublime – the tone so warm, the phrasing and control perfect – one big soaring singing line.   That’s the difference…

Suddenly nearly 2 and a half hours it was all over.  I was definitely impressed with the little of Renaud’s playing I heard and his approach to music and Mozart in particular, and inspired to go home and pick up the violin again! 

In fact, it’s probably time to start thinking of the next big work to learn.  I’m feeling in the mood for some Carmen at the moment!

More info:

Renaud Capucon’s biography here:  http://www.emiclassics.com/artistbiography.php?aid=102 and http://www.intermusica.co.uk/capucon

Great interview with Renaud Capucon by Aart van der Wal – http://www.musicweb-international.com/Sandh/2010/Jan-Jun10/Renaud_Capucon.htm

This weekend’s WASO concert featuring Renaud playing the Korngold Violin Concerto and Ravel’s Tzigane – http://www.waso.com.au/EventDetail.aspx?ProductID=2431

Rebecca White playing the Carmen Fantasy with the FCO this weekend – http://members.iinet.net.au/~hug1/fco/

Played the Tchaik at the Freo Eisteddfod

It’s all over!!

I was nervous ALL yesterday.  As soon as I woke up, at work, during meetings.   I thought to myself, “Why am I putting myself through this?”

I came home a bit earlier to play through some sections of the Tchaik, had dinner, and before I knew it I was warming up in the cold echoey room at the Fremantle Town Hall with some other musicians.

Initially I was meant to be first after the dinner break, but I ended up being fourth (the order of entrants varies quite a bit in the Open Concerto section I’ve come to realise).

At least this year Miss 9 and Miss 11 came along to see me too 🙂  Apparently Miss 9 was clapping very enthusiastically for me and enjoyed seeing her Dad on stage!

So I strolled onto the cold large empty stage with my young accompanist, tuned up, peered out into the sparse dark audience, and started to play.

Boy, I was still stressed, and although I tried really hard, my muscles were all tensed up too.  But I tried to make my violin sing and soar through the long journey of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.

This year I even worked up a sweat on stage.  From stress, being tense, or just the 20 minutes of mental concentration required?

And then it was all over to what seemed like raptuous applause!

No memory lapse, but one too many intonation errors to make it a performance worthy of the finals. Something that really requires lots of slow practice and scales and arpeggio practice, which I obviously don’t have time to do.

Things that went well – opening, parts of the candenza, ending, interpretation and tone (mostly).

Things that didn’t go so well – intonation in parts, some of the shifts to nowhere I missed the top notes, clarity in the faster double stopped semiquavers and runs.

But I was so glad that it was over.  A personal milestone achieved for my violin this year.  And especially thankful that my young (Year 11 only!!) accompanist learnt his part in less than a week and really held his own too!

So in the last 3 years I’ve slowly worked my way through some of the violin concerto repertoire I had been lamenting not learning before – Wieniawski 2nd done.   Sibelius (although 1st movement only) done.  Tchaikovsky (1st movement) done.

Whatever “done” means.  For me (at my age and time to spend on the violin), setting the goal to perform it in public with an accompanist for my father and wife (and kids) is enough for me.

Getting to the finals or winning would be nicer still, but I’m secretly glad that I don’t have to go through all the stress again on Friday night!

But I’ve already started thinking about what concerto to learn next – Brahms or Beethoven or Barber?

For more posts on the Tchaik journey: https://jasechong.wordpress.com/tag/tchaikovsky/

Less than 10 days until the Freo Eisteddfod!

OMG!  Less than 10 days until the Eisteddfod.

Two nights ago I did my first play through for someone else – my Wifey!  Yes she sat down through ~20 minutes of it.  All went OK except I had 1 major stop where I did the wrong run which stuffed me all up, and I was quite nervous and tense through the whole thing that came out through my tone and body posture.   Hmm…  I have to do some major practise with a metronome over the next week – I’m just totally rushing some semis, which just makes life hard for myself. 

The other problem – no accompanist!!!  Over the last week I’ve contacted 20 different accompanists in Perth, but they are all either busy with another performance, too busy during the week accompanying school exams, not doing the Freo Eisteddfod, accompanying too many people at the Eisteddfod, or haven’t played the piano part before and it’s too late to learn it!!  Oh no!!! 

It’s really looking like I’ve left it too late.  One accompanist suggested I should have lined this up at least a month in advance – but they obviously didn’t realise I wasn’t even sure whether I could finish learning the whole piece until last week!

Might be time to face the reality and go with plan B – don’t do it, take a few lessons on it, and possibly aim to play it at a different Eisteddfod or music festival later in the year.

Hmm…   I wonder if there’s a backing track for it 🙂

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.