Recently as of Dec 2020


Cover credit: Chris Parmiter

Taking Wednesdays off, chill December like 2nd movements

I've recently started to clear my leaves from work by taking Wednesdays off, are also the days of week after my lessons. When I was a kid, the days when I had my violin lessons were "the easy days & don't need to practice". Now the situation gets reversed. It's not that the violin is after me, but I'm after the viola. So now I actually struggle to find some time to practice before or after my lessons. And I would prefer to have a late morning on Wednesdays so I can pick up my practice that had been left off likely on Mondays.

Anyway, today my teacher asked me whether I had any piece I want to play. That got me. Because there are too many pieces I want to play but they all kind of fall into the "one day I wanna play" category. And if I had to pick one, or say at any time if you get me off guard thinking of a viola piece, it'd be Paul Neubauer's rendition of the Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, 2nd movement. How do I know that's crazily difficult. I guess it's Paul's tone that sounds deceptively clean and simple. It's the slow voice I want to sound like :)

There's another funny thing that got itself reversed. When I was playing the violin, my least favorites were the 2nd movements. Because they were "too slow and nothing going on". But every year in my teacher's annual summer performance for her students, she always had me play the 2nd movements. Not that I complained about it, I found it very weird as a kid because I apparently wasn't one with great patience. Now, I enjoy the "emptyness" of 2nd movements, if not by a lot. It's very much like if I drive a vehicle I'd like it with decent speed, but more importantly with serenity and smoothness.

Pastoral Song on a viola

Pastoral Song had forever been on my violin repertoire. Recently, since I'm working on vibrato, I remember this song as one that probably got me started vibrato on a violin as well. So I've been messing with lots of different touches of vibratos on my viola, with this song.

One thing in particular about this piece is it came from my time playing with my first violin teacher. He taught me since I was five and half, and until middle school, when I stopped playing for three years. He used to be the principal violinist of one of China's symphony orchestras. But by the time he taught me, he had long retired and main thing he did was teaching. Before I even became aware, I played all my Chinese repertoire with him, and that includes the Pastoral Song.

He had always been super nice. I had many weeks where I didn't practice at all, and he'd say I was doing fine. I can't even remember how I could ever improve that way, I guess I was nudged, very slowly, to clock in some improvements here and there. Technically, I probably did terribly. Although that time and around in that music classroom as large as a recital hall that he managed to borrow from the elementary school near his home, planted lots of love of music in me that I can no longer ignore for the rest of my life.

Prokofiev Classical Symphony

How did I get into Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony? I think Bernstein mentioned once in one of his Young People's Concerts talking about the sonata form and referring to the 4th movement of Prokofiev's "Classical". This is such an astonishing piece. How did he come up with the shapes of the notes forming the motifs? I mean, not the shape of the motif, but the shape how the notes go up there. In math or physics terms, the 2nd derivative.

Then it comes back again to the question who made it sound that way. The composer probably did not specify, but I'm sure he had those in his mind. And eventually, it relies on the rendition by the performers to actually make it sound certain way. The first (and likely my favorite) version I heard was by Karajan with the Berlin Phil. The notes felt as if they are rolled together and leaping out to escape a steaming pot.

I also enjoy this version by Kristjan Järvi with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic – so many trivias I don't even know where to start. Our friend Flaki who chills in the Baltic states commented "I love how animated the conductor is". And in the fourth movement it feels like he's wrestling with music coming out from here and there in the orchestra.

I guess he'd face a same argument with Bernstein, then. So visual, a bit distracting, but can't help.