Monday, January 22, 2007

A Closer Look

*Note written after the completion of this entry*
An initial apology for the lazy and disorganised attempt at the review of the student concert...

Thankfully, the student concert went really well today. It was probably due my participation in the International Guitar Festival a month ago that made me appreciate the sheer amount of sleepless nights, missed meals and co-ordination to organise a concert. I really wanted to help out as much as I could to relieve the stress off Auntie Mei, even at the expense of straining myself a little before my item.

It was a pretty nerve-wrecking start, when fellow performers forgot their music or played a couple of wrong notes which sound like Schoenberg. Such instances sure encouraged the invasion of a dark thought that such instances would happen during my item as well, though I sure didn't voice it out loud like a few pretty amusing fellow performers in my same row. (On a minor note to avoid misconceptions, those ladies gave marvellous performances later on in the concert.)

Thanks to Guan Lin's most moving rendition of the largo and moderato cantabile sections of Chopin's famous Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66, Nikki's ability to draw out the rich and colourful sonorities of the piano through Sibelius's Romanze in Db maj, Serene's charming performance of Schubert's famous Ständchen. the hauntingly evocative harmonies of Arensky's Impromptu played by Ursula and Omela's distinctively Spanish though slightly unstable rendition (probably due to nerves) of Albéniz's delightful Castilla from his Suite Espanola, that I could indulge in to calm my nerves down a little before my performance.

As I walked up on stage, I was slightly more concerned about the coming interval instead of my performance as I needed the toilet. As I started off the Tango, in the Allegro Moderato section, I was struggling to keep the rhythmic tempo of the tango for the dancers in the nightclub, in the midst of the various technical demands which has to be executed seamlessly while keeping the pulse of the tango going. It was the Lento section whereby I was momentarily transported as a time traveller and ghost spectator to the nightclub scene in Buenos Aires in the 1930s. And I had a crash transition from ending of that section to the recapitulation as my impotent fingers decided not to form that chord shape which has a magical effect of bringing the listener back to the dance floor. Well, as for the last section, I was half indulging in the stylistic delivery of the tango (thankfully no longer struggling), and half thinking about the toilet. How glamorous...

Well, for the later half of the concert, the two items which got me mesmerised were Aminah's most alluring French Horn performance and Guan Lin's sincere interpretation of The Romance of the Butterfly Lovers for piano. I was almost knocking myself on my head when I realised that I didn't have the chance to have Guan Lin as my accompanist for my exam because I had postponed it for a season.

All in all, it was a truly lovely afternoon of music, though marred by a not so appreciative audience and numerous mistakes probably caused by nerves. I could concentrate better on stage now, but I realised that I'm losing my tolerance for an audience who can't keep still and quiet in the most crucial and surreal moments of the music. We ought to have compulsory tranquilizers for such people...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Such Honesty

It just struck me while I was going through some passages in Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata. (Please pardon me if I have been rambling on and on about this work for the past few weeks, months or even years. I'm continually unearthing something new every single time I pick up this work to study) Just from this small work of Schubert alone, he has exhibited such honesty in expressing and portraying the vulnerability and longing of each human soul in music. It really doesn't attempt to hide or dramatise anything. No pretension. No unnecessary superficial ornaments. No deception. Just a simple, forthright yet poignant presentation of such aspects of the human soul....

Oh, thank you so much, Schubert...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Performance Anxiety

"I had discovered the stage fright drug Inderal, or propanolol, which blocks the receptor site for adrenaline. Unlike anxiety medication like Valium, Inderel lessens physical symptoms without affecting the brain. I'd gotten mine over the counter in Ecuador, but Inderel is best prescribed by a doctor. Too many sends people with low blood pressure or asthma into a tailspin. But at least my nerves wouldn't flare up."
-Blair Tindell in Mozart in the Jungle

Flamenco guitarist Juan Martin deals with it by downing a glass of red wine minutes before stepping onto the stage and some artistes require bananas which contains some muscle-relaxation substances.

I have noticed that quite a number of professional musicians who rely heavily on such drugs like Inderel for their career and at the same time, several people who have commented that musicians who requires such drugs shouldn't even be performing at all. Apparently some harsh and critical comments they have there. It does seem that they relate a musician's right to perform to whether they take the drugs or not. Aren't their inherent musicality and musical accomplishments sufficient to justify their place on the concert stage? It's a pity when one looks back in history and realises that the devil had struck the king of Bach, Glenn Gould, with severe performance anxiety which forced him away from the concert stage.

I personally am blessed with a mild performance anxiety. More often than not, it does escalate a little more than which I would prefer but bananas would usually solve the problem. I do find that a slight anxiety, when my body releases a slight rush of adrenaline, is helpful in performance. It really does help when I can switch into an altered state without much difficulty. Simply an deep analysis of the musical work away from my instrument would throw me into an altered state, whereby I'm oblivious of everything else including time which bounds the majority of entire human race. However, on important performance occasions, I do bring a small dosage of Inderel with me, just to be prepared for the sudden, uncontrolled surge in adrenaline that I might have. I have never felt a need to use it though as bananas usually do the job of eliminating the minute shivering of the fingers which can heavily cripple a guitarist when a slight misjudgment of the frets or strings can cause the entire piece to break down or snap me out of my altered state.

All in all, I do certainly wish that Inderel shouldn't be treated with disdain by those blessed ones who do not require it. Although I do not rely on it as my main remedy to curb those fight or flight response symptoms, I do recognise its importance to fellow musicians who are crippled without it. Not that I would encourage it, but it should be administered with a doctor's advice to those who are severely affected by nerves.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Different Touch

I'm working on a few pieces recently, and in the midst of hopping between the pieces during my practice, I have found myself having very contrasting touch when approaching those pieces. It isn't very much an initial, conscious effort to produce that particular touch required for the music which is placed on the stand in front of me. To discover more about this (un)natural phenomenon, I dived into my inner world and tracked my subconscious way of functioning closely. Two pieces. Astor Piazzolla's Verano Porteño and Franz Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata.
As I take on the former, which is in the form of an Argentinian Tango, the sounds which I draw from my instrument are naturally raw compared to some mainstream classical works. I find myself visualising myself dancing, and upon reaching the offbeat accents, I would whisk my partner in an exciting and quick turn around the dance floor. It's probably due to my subconscious acknowledgment of the more exciting and surprising nature of those accents that gives rise to the raw touch.

In the latter, I was working on the first movement. Even if the music comes to an intense climax, I find the sounds which I attempt to caress from my instrument are well rounded and refined, seemingly trying to present those emotional moments in a more palatable and most poetic manner. In the sections leading up to those intense moments of the music, my fingers produced their most delicate touch and attempt an elegant dance above the strings. Dramatic still of course (as what Schubert would like to express), but in a special blend with musical poetry in the passages (as his usual distinctive style).

It certainly seems that the knowledge of the composers' lives, their compositional style and the societies in which they were living in does contribute to these subtle yet important variations in touch when playing their music. Passages with an almost similar texture and even harmonic progressions have different significances in different works and thus, are treated differently.

P.S: I would like to express my gratitude to a fellow musician based in Brazil, Xan, for helping me out with the pronunciation of Piazzolla's Verano Porteño and for all the information of the Latin American music which he has given me. That certainly helped in my interpretation and understanding of the music.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Sound Of A Höfner

The Höfner guitar which stands in the Esplanade shop came up in our conversations again. I could still hear the deeply captivating sounds of that guitar even after my last encounter with it was more than a week back.

Just one of the three guitars that stands in that strings shop, the sound of it shines above all the guitars in the neighbouring guitar shop. The unmistakable heart-stirring basses of a German guitar, and the clear trebles that sings like a human voice. One look into the construction of the guitar reveals nothing new or special compared to the traditional fan bracing of Spanish instrument, neither is the back of the guitar made up of the best Brazilian rosewood (in fact just the common Indian rosewood), and it still intrigues the seasoned guitarists in the group that how the guitar can still sound so extraordinary.

If I have only five words to describe the sounds of this German Höfner, they'll be resonant, pure, refined, powerful and responsive.

It still falls short to traditional powerhouses like Paulino Bernabe and Manuel Contreras, but this is definitely a steal at such a price. No extra cost for banned wood, experimental ideas, just pure workmanship alone.