January marks 50 years since I started playing the cello at school in Cleveland, Ohio. To celebrate this anniversary year, I am compiling a blog http://britcellist.blogspot.com and am giving several concerts of different facets of the cello repertoire. The first, on June 3rd, was an Early Music concert, where I played cello continuo on a Handel Violin Sonata, but mostly played the Treble Viol. In the 70's I spent several summers at the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, and began studying the viol there. I no longer play the bass viol, but adore playing the Treble.
June 12 was a performance of Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Cellos with the Pittsboro Bach Society Orchestra. Dorothy Wright was my duelling partner.
I plan to put a few soundbytes here when I get the recording.
June 29, I will be playing the first movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto, and the first movement of Brahms' Sonata in e minor (my favorite key on the cello), with pianist Simon Zaleski. With my string quartet friends we will play the Introduction to "The Lark Ascending" and some favorite light classical pieces. The concert ends with the Cello Quartet playing "Home on the Range" by Tom Flaherty, a hilarious piece.
July brings a trip to England to attend Dartington's Summer School of Music. I can't wait to be back there again, and I have my old room! www.dartington.org/summerschool
Back in the US brings in August another anniversary - 25 years for Musica-Musicians for All Occasions. We are planning a concert to benefit KidzNotes, a Durham program giving under-served children an opportunity to learn a string instrument.
Finally, in October, to celebrate my 20 years of teaching at the Emerson Waldorf School, we will be having a CelloFest and all EWS alumni and present students are invited to play. Contact me!!!!
August 25, 2014 - Article in the Strad Magazine by Peter Quantrill.
Young students must learn to listen if they are to practise effectively
String students who struggle in the early stages of learning often don't know how to listen. Patiently help them to train their ears, and practice sessions will become ever more fulfilling
Learning to play an instrument is learning to practise. And learning to practise is learning to listen.
My nine-year-old son has just passed his ABRSM Grade 1 cello exam. He has an excellent teacher at a state-funded London school, and he has the advantage (even if sometimes he doesn’t see it that way) of also learning how to sing and play the piano. But his teachers can’t be there when he does his daily practice, and neither can his parents all the time. When we are there, we wrestle with various impulses. Do we leave it up to him? Do we instruct him, in a quick and dirty way, to make the changes (longer bows, adjust fingering here, pay attention to dynamics there) that will bring a quick improvement? Or do we make the performance of practice more open-ended, and attempt to be a sounding board for what he’s doing?
We all know, in personal and professional contexts, how depressing it can be to receive intervention from a higher authority only when a transgression or inadequacy has been detected. My efforts with my son’s practice are directed towards a combination of those strategies outlined above, always motivated by the invitation to listen.
The conductor Claudio Abbado died in January 2014, leaving a trail of monosyllabic interviews, recordings of ineffable beauty and the lasting affection of those musicians (especially young ones) who had worked with him. ‘Many people learn how to talk,’ Abbado once remarked in a rare moment of public candour, ‘but they don’t learn how to listen. Listening to one another is an important thing in life. And music tells us how to do that.’
Unless a student learns to listen, how can they improve? ‘How was that?’ I ask my son. ‘It was OK.’ ‘Do you think you could have improved anything?’ ‘I don’t know.’ Enclosed here is a strategy of disconcertion, no doubt designed (whether consciously or not) to frustrate me and get me off his case. And if a student does not care what they are doing, is there any answer to that?
Inspiration can be sought elsewhere, from listening to others make music. But concerts, in the standard classical format which I habitually attend, are not geared towards nine-year-olds. DVDs and books with CDs fill the shelves with well-meant intentions: here’s a nice story about Beethoven and a funny picture – now listen to the Fifth Symphony. But reading and looking aren’t listening. Multimedia content and performances have eroded our abilities to just listen, and the opportunities to do so become ever rarer. Discussing the futility of a private language, Ludwig Wittgenstein observed how no one can feel your pain, and listening is in the same position: no one can hear you listen.
Learning to listen is learning to care. Scales and arpeggios are the daily diet of musicians great and lowly because it is comparatively easy to hear when they go well, and what to do when they don’t. This tuning of the ear can take time and might take more time now than it used to, when listening was more of a habit. When learning an instrument, we’ll always care more about getting right those pieces we’re drawn to. ‘Don’t force it,’ my father would say. He was referring to doors and hatches, bottles and lids, but the principle applies to music. I might want to listen to my son do Purcell’s Hornpipe, but if he wants to play March of the Stegosaurus instead, then Purcell can wait.
For those who make it through the painful early stages – for students and maybe their parents too – there should be that magic moment when the door opens, and there, in front of you, is a wealth of music not just to learn but to love, and maybe for ever. (For me as a young cellist, that moment came with Bach.) That’s when we start to correct our tuning, go over a vexing string-crossing time and again, not because our teacher told us to, or a parent is breathing down our neck, but because we feel the sense of responsibility towards a higher authority, the music itself. That’s when we’ve begun to listen.
An exquisite pairing of Saint Saens' "The Swan", a cellist's favorite and a prima ballerina from Russia. Not to be missed if you are contemplating playing "The Swan".
Our final musical event on Zoe's birthday was to the Tokyo Ballet at the Caracalla Baths, just south of the Circus Maximus. The second largest Roman public baths, built in Rome between AD 212 and 216. They would have had to install over 2,000 tons of building material every day for 6 years in order to complete it in this time. Between huge pillars, a stage had been constructed for the dancers. It was a magical experience - starting at 9pm in the dusk and gradually getting darker, with the lights coming on. The program featured 3 ballets - a set of Greek Dances by composer Mikis Theodorakis, Variations by Chopin on a theme by Mozart, ending with the Rite of Spring which was quite ferocious. However it needed more color and scenery, it was rather bland with the off-white costumes.
I went to two concerts during the week, both in the same place, the church of St. Agnes of Agone in the Piazza Navona. The concert tickets included tours of the church, it was interesting to hear 2 different guides talking about the history, learnt twice as much! The church was owned by the Pamphili family, and when one of them became pope, it became his private church, a retreat from the Vatican. Although not as splendid as St. Peter's, there is beautiful sculpture work by Bernini and Borromini throughout, as well as paintings. There is a shrine to St. Cecilia, patron saint of Music. The concerts were held in the Sacristy, not generally open to the public except for smaller concerts, it has perfect acoustics, bringing out glorious sounds from the lower strings, viola, cello, bass, and warm tones from the violins. The first concert featured music from the 18th to the 20th centuries - Piccinni, Vivaldi, Rossini and Respighi. I especially complimented the violist on his beautiful playing of the solo in the Respighi Passacalia. The cellist and bass were no slouches either. In fact the whole ensemble was excellent, great tempos and easy interactions between the players. A really fine concert.
Two days later I returned to the church to hear a vocal quartet with Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque instruments. Another marvelous ensemble. The first half of the concert was in the Sacristy, the second half in the Sanctuary, also with great acoustics. I'd love to hear the Verdi Requiem in there.
June 17th-July 22, 2014.
A few days in England before flying to Rome for my grand-daughter Zoe's ballet recital. The Italians are very serious about their recitals and although Zoe is only 6 years old, she was expected to look like a pro, with her hair slicked back just like a prima ballerina! There were 25 "acts" representing the studio with children from 3 years old to teenagers. Zoe danced in 4 of them, classical (Nutcracker, 2 dances), jazz (a number from the movie Foot Loose), and "Timber, a cowboy act by rapper Pitbull! The teachers joined in at times too! Each act was costumed, with different themes according to the music selected. Great variety of musical and dance styles. A typical Italian evening, the show was to begin at 7:30pm at the Teatro Dell' Angelo, but actually started at 8:00pm and continued until 10:30pm. But that's the Italian way, and when in Rome ........ Everyone had a great time, we were so proud of Zoe.
An amazing experience going out of Rome to the Archaelogical Park where part of the old (original) Appian way is still used.
A very bumpy ride in a taxi over huge cobblestones took us to the Villa Quintile where the concert was being held. The sun was getting low, and as we sat looking at the ruins and the park surrounding them, the sun began to set and got dark. Apart from the lights for the concert, there was very little illumination around, and the stars were bright. The performers were a trio of a counter-tenor, theorbo and chittaroni player and harpsichordist. Although it was a small group with no amplification, they were all easily heard. All early baroque music, and performed exquisitely.
We also went to a Baroque ensemble performance in a courtyard of the Castel d'Angelo, not far from our apartment. Starting at 9pm and standing room only, it was another beautifully played performance of Vivaldi and Bach.
June 1, 2012
In London, UK for Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Concert at the LSO Center, St.Lukes Church on Old St. Cellist Tim Hugh, principal cellist of the London Symphony Orchestra, played Beethoven's A major Sonata and Paganinni's Variations on a theme from Rossini's opera Moses in Egypt. Extraordinary performance. Gorgeous sound on 1740 instrument.
Wonderful collaboration with pianist Alasdair Beatson. Superb concert.