Monday, March 31, 2008

APO With Choir of 200!

Together with choirs from several high school choirs and the UNM concert choir, the APO is giving a performance on Friday evening the 4th of April, 7:00PM, at the Rio Rancho High School Center for the Performing Arts.

On the program will be:

Ravel - Bolero (just orchestra)
Boito - Mephistofele (orchestra plus choir of 200)

Please join us on Friday evening at 7:00 PM.

See you there!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

More thoughts on Beethoven... and Trivia

After a few more listens to the last movement of the Eroica, I now think that it is a double theme and variations. There is the first theme, almost tentatively stated. Then there is the 2nd theme played in a rousing fashion by the winds then the strings. Both themes are explored thoroughly as the movement advances. Well, simply stated, this piece is a masterwork.

I recently updated the String Quartet Trivia on the Giovanni Quartet site. Now, it's a little more interactive. Give it a whirl!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

History and Analysis of Eroica Symphony

I ran across this detailed and interesting history and analysis of Beethoven's Third Symphony the "Eroica". Since our upcoming rehearsal on Monday evening will included the 1st movement, I plan to spend some time on my part this evening and possibly Friday. Like the 4th movement, the 1st movement is rather long, intricate, and somewhat challenging. There are a few lines that require attention, to be sure!

Interestingly, there are passages including rather dissonant harmonies, and then there is the famous "false entrance" of the horn right before the main theme is re-stated for the recapitulation. For many years after the debut of this piece, these passages were too dissonant for many listeners and were even "corrected" by well-meaning conductors, publishers and even composers! The blasphemy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bolero and Eroica

Last night at the APO rehearsal, we worked for a while on Ravel's Bolero of course made famous in the 1970's movie "10" with Bo Derek. I think I have played it before in college, but I've forgotten all about it, though! It's not a terribly difficult piece, and mostly fun. The viola section acts like a giant Spanish guitar for a good part of the piece by playing lots of double-, triple- and even quadruple-stop pizzicato passages. Then lest we get too bored, there are a couple of melodic passages, some in octaves with the violins, and some in strange harmony intervals with other sections. I think the challenge is to start really soft and continue building the sound, but not to quickly. Also, keeping a steady tempo without losing momentum is not easy.

We'll be performing Bolero on a concert on April 4th along with selections from Mefistofele by Italian composer Boito. This piece will be performed with a large group of high school chorus groups and should be a sonic treat.

Then finally last night, we spent a while on the fourth movement of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony. Despite the interesting textures of the Ravel and Boito pices, it was a real treat to dig in and work on some music by the master from Bonn. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the last movement of the Eroica Symphony is a theme and variations. The theme is a very simple, almost trite bit of music. But of course what Beethoven does with it is remarkable. He creates fantastic melodies, intricate fugues, mysterious passages, etc. And then finally concludes with a musical orgasm as only Beethoven can.

Since I've been able to woodshed a bit on my part, I was able to play quite well last night. There are some fast 16th note passages in the 4th movement, and some tricky timings with 8ths and 16ths such as in the fugue parts. It always feels good to nail it! I still need some work, of course, because the final tempo is rather quick (David decided on quarter to 132, I think) and I want to be able to play securely and cleanly at this speed. It's just a matter of practice, right?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Practiced Beethoven Eroica today...

On our final concert of the season with the APO, we're putting on Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, "Eroica". I've actually never played this piece before, despite it being a very popular piece and often played by college and pro orchestras. Fortunately, I have a copy of one of the classic recordings of this piece, performed by the Columbia Symphony under Bruno Walter in 1959. And I even have an original LP, the semi-collectible "Columbia Six Eye Stereo" version, in good condition. Now, it looks like to get this one, it's either eBay or an expensive audiophile version. However, this recording is available on CD as well, together with the 8th Symphony.

Upon first reading it just a few weeks ago, I immediately liked the piece and felt that there were many good passages for the viola section. It reminds me a lot of the 7th Symphony in structure and even somewhat in style. And the 7th has long been one of my favorites. And as we've rehearsed it a bit and I've been practicing my part, I've begun to appreciate it even more.

Today I mostly spent time on the last movement, which has a few tricky passages. Nothing too outrageous, though, and overall it is very playable with a certain amount of work. The 3rd movement reminds me a lot of the scherzo from the 7th, but isn't quite as fast nor as demanding. However, it is a tad tricky to count. And as I learned in rehearsal last week, there are some exposed viola section parts that need to be nailed for the movement to hold together. So, I spent time making sure I understood the counting and how to enter decisively without being too loud (most of the passages are marked pp!)

In the mornings, when I do my stretches before breakfast, I've been listening to my LP. One thing that struck my about the last movement is that it appears to be a theme and variations, with perhaps either a false theme to start (as an introduction), or the original theme really is at the beginning, and the theme we all know is one of the variations. Let me know what you think about that idea.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Carmen Fantasy

On the way home from work on Thursday evening, I turned on the car radio and tuned into KHFM as usual. Right away, I knew the piece was Carmen Fantasy by Sarasate. The first thing that occurred to me was that Carmen (the opera) is just absolutely full of great melodies and amazing music! I've played in the orchestra for Carmen when I was in college, and I remember it as one of the few operas I could stand. In fact, it's my favorite opera. The music is just superb.

Then, the second thing I started noticing was that whomever was playing the violin solo part was just a tremendous player. This was not some child prodigy or flash in the pan. The technique was impeccable, but there was a sense of depth and musicality that transcended the somewhat shallow virtuoso piece being played. The timing was also amazing, and I'm a real stickler for that. The tempos were "right" and the rubatos... well, they were just enough to add spice to the music without being overboard. Wow! I was really enjoying this recording.

Fortunately, I was able to hear it through to the end, and lo and behold, it was Itzhak Pearlman with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. No wonder! This was a recording of these people at their prime.

Then the next thought I had was that I need to suggest to David Felberg either A) he play the Carmen Fantasy with the APO, or at the very least, we play the Carmen Suite for orchestra. The music is just too good to pass up. We did play the Habanera with soloist Jacqueline Zander-Wall at our Winter Concert of opera choruses. And she did a phenomenal job - it seemed the audience really enjoyed it.

So, here's to Bizet's Carmen, and the hope that I get to play more of that great music in one form or another.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Opera Choruses Concert on Youtube!

The Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra's Opera Choruses concert we recently performed at the First United Methodist Church with their choir, in downtown Albuquerque was videotaped. Each of the selections is now posted on Youtube. Unfortunately, both the sound and the quality of the video are rather poor. We sound a lot better than that in person!