Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Month Vacation

My fellow readers, I'll be going to Europe for a vacation for the next month. Finally, a chance to escape from this cage...

Shall talk more about it when I come back... =)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Spiritual Journey With Bach

Ich habe genug,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genug!

Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.

I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
Into my eager arms;
I have enough!

I have beheld Him,
My faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with joy
To depart from here.

The above text is from the first aria from Bach's Cantata BWV 82 - Ich Habe Genug (I Have Enough). I didn't know what made me pick up a recording of this from my shelves last night and play it on my CD player. But I do know that just a mere first few bars into this piece, I felt an overwhelming sense of pathos to this most spiritual work. The first few bars alone gave an unmistakable idea that I was at a start of an intense spiritual journey. In certain sections of this aria, the music reaches a point of anguish and restraint, but not to the extent of losing that innately deep spiritual peace when having our hearts facing towards our Saviour.

How much I love the sound of the oboe d'amore played by Peggy Pearson and how captivating the unique tones of the voice, oboe d'amore, strings and the organ gives the entire work a most sombre quality. The static bass line used by Bach seems to restrain movement of the aria, seemingly to imply that death is eminent. Such a powerful and masterly manner Bach had used this device! I could go on and on about what I felt from just the first aria, but I guess I'll spare everyone of my excessive outpouring of emotions here.

I have to admit that so long after Serene had given this to me as a gift, I have been unable to see anything deep about this work until last night and thus chucked it aside for quite some time until
I felt an invisible urge to play the CD last night. A million thanks to Serene for this gift of a CD by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. I'm now one of the victims of her amazing artistry. Such a gift of being able to make her music come to life. A quote by Peter Sellars, who did the staging of the two cantatas in the CD featuring BWV 82 and BWV 199.

Her voice is filling the room and you don’t know where it’s coming from… She is going right to the heart of a suffering person, not to increase the suffering, but to heal it, to release it, to offer some kind of balm… which is what her voice ends up doing. It can be piercing and shocking in its intensity, and then this incredible balm of compassion and tenderness, of generosity that is poured out of her voice like a kind of liquid that is there to heal.

Peter Sellars
A little background of this work for some who might be interested, taken from the programme booklet.

The passage of this piece is taken from Luke 2:22-32 and it focuses on Simeon, to whom it has been revealed by the Holy Ghost that "that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ." The work is then the contents of Simeon's beatific prayer:-

Luk 2:29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
Luk 2:30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Luk 2:31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
Luk 2:32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Such sincere words fixed to such sublime music. Such beauty.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

After Thoughts On A Rehearsal

After having the ensemble rehearsal, whereby we focussed on Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, in the afternoon today, I felt that there was much more about the music which could be milked from the work and I hadn't done the work justice earlier.

In comparison with several of his other piano sonatas, I do find this work pretty straightforward, in terms of its harmonic language and structure. Simplistic yet charmingly elegant nonetheless. It does give me a hint that Mozart had composed this work as a break while working on a bigger work.

Scanning through the musical notes in the entire work, it probably wouldn't be difficult to analyse through this entire work. But when it comes to playing it, I do find that it's quite musically taxing on guitarists, who are mostly playing solo music, to come together to work on a chamber work after not having much experience playing together. It's quite an achievement getting the rough shape of the first movement out, but there's still lots of work on the balance, whereby every musician in the ensemble has to be musically developed to know when to hold back to let the other voices sing and when their own voice ought to stand up and fly. I really hope that the layers would be more transparent and while playing coherently with the intention of bringing out the charming beauty of this work, each individual section of the ensemble will know when to take centre stage and allow their parts to fly with the support of other sections.

Being one of the most famous pieces of classical work around, I do feel quite a big pressure to shape up this work. It would be the most glaring to the audience when anyone of us makes a small mistake. Come to think of it, if this piece is played badly by us, the audience would probably think that guitar ensembles in general are overly ambitious to take on such a transcription. On the other hand, when a string ensemble messes this up, the audience would normally just dismiss the particular string ensemble involved as being incompetent. Truly hope that we can allow this charming work to take flight.

As regarding the process of interpretation in our ensemble, I do hope that everyone can see the entire beauty of the work. I'm sure disagreements in the interpretation of a particular work or passage would arise, but I hope to be able to put them up for discussion so that they will be ironed out with everyone being satisfied at the end of the day. Essentially, I hope that we can bring our audiences into an altered state when listening to our ensemble rendition of this charming serenade.

When it comes to chamber music, the group that comes into my mind is actually the Collegium Vocale Gent. I'll never forget the most intense experience I felt that night in the Esplanade Concert Hall when the small group of ensemble manage to touch the souls of their listeners with their masterful interpretations and pure sounds. I shan't blabber on about that again, but certainly hope that we can reach that level within the next few years.

I can't help but admit that I like this work more the Isaac Albeniz's Sevilla. Well, it isn't to justify why I didn't practise much on the latter recently, but I hope to be able to devote equal amount of dedication to the various ensemble works when I come back. Would be planning to work an hour or two daily on just ensemble pieces to ensure that my section would be musically mature and sensitive to our roles in all the various sections of the works as well.

**For those invisible readers who attended the rehearsal today, do give comments about this session so that everyone can know how to improve and focus on for the subsequent rehearsals after that. I'm not sure how receptive everyone is, but I certainly hope that it can kickstart the interpretation processes which is desperately needed by the music, not merely working on playing the notes individually every rehearsal.**

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Back At Home

After a few twists and turns of a mixture of Schubert, Mozart, Rodrigo and a few other lesser known composers, I found myself picking up Bach again. Beneath the Bachian structure and order hides a wealth of the most colourful emotions. Such blissful indulgence.

Upon my music stand now is the Gavotte from Bach's Lute Suite BWV 1006a. Come to think of it now, isn't that what I've worked through half a year back?!? The process of re-working through this music on my new instrument has revealed to me another level of beauty into the piece. It does seem technically overwhelming when beholding such musical depth into this work, especially when I have such a dying desire to bring out the beauty.

The campanella passages on the guitar sounded so charming! (Campanella is a composition device which involves the execution of an arpeggic passage of similar notes on several courses, more commonly known as strings today, of the instrument, resulting in a most charming confusion of tone colours. It is pioneered by the early baroque composers for the baroque guitar. If I don't recall wrongly, it was first mentiond by Luis Garcia-Abrines in his instruction for Spanish guitar playing.) I realised how much I had been missing out on with my previous ill-intoned instrument. Can't wait to pick up the Prelude of this Suite, which I've been putting aside due to my past inability to play those campella passages in tune (which can be incredibly irritating). And now, the smell of freedom, when I'm no longer restricted by my instrument.... How blessed I am, I'm so thankful!!

Hopefully that's a piece I can prepare in time for the musical soiree this coming Saturday with some fellow musician friends.

Like a musical work which starts in the tonic key and ends in a tonic key, I've landed back at Bach again, feeling all refreshed and at home again...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Little Anguish

Been working on the first movement of the Arpeggione Sonata these few days. I managed to get the entire first movement out under my fingertips, and I'm currently shaping it up and getting myself ready for playing together with the accompaniment.

While running through the piece a few times, I always felt a little strange playing the first climax in the exposition section after the 2nd theme has been introduced. I kept running through that portion over and over again. At snail speeds, at leisurely speeds, at breakneck speeds, syncopatedly, with some rhythmic alteration, softly, loudly. Fought with my new guitar and tried so hard to wrench an anguished cry for the climax but the guitar just refused to co-operate. She was unbelievably nonchalant. Finally, I gave up and decided to give us a little more time to try and get along before working at it again. (Ivan, it might be the machinehead...)

In the meantime, I went back to the original urtext edition published by G. Henle Verlag for Violoncello and Piano and got a little surprise.

It's pretty unfortunate that the upper range of the arpeggione is a little too high for the guitar. Guess how did John Williams transcibe it. He actually changed that high C to a G (to suit the style of the running scalic passage before that) and the high Eb to a F# an octave lower (to prepare for the scalic passage the bar after). As such, the climatic point was prematured - 1 crochet and 1 semiquaver beat earlier. How frustrating... I guess it can't be helped, with the tonal range I am given on my instrument. But I can't get over the fact that it's the climax that has been tempered with. There're still other sections whereby the arpeggione part and the piano part has been switched due to the limitations of my instrument.

Can't help feeling a little indignant... Just hope that my new guitar can mature to be a little more co-operative soon...

Sorry, Schubert, for desecrating such a masterpiece of yours...

Friday, March 02, 2007

And Now For The Chaconne

I've been putting it off for too long a time, for fear of desecrating this magnificent masterpiece. Every session of analysing through this work in the past year or so often ended up in a regret that I am not technically proficient yet and also because of the lack a convincing instrument to bring out the beauty of this spiritual masterpiece. Right now, the latter hurdle has been cleared. I'll be be attempting to pick this up in the near future...

I could hear the first 8 bars resound in my head, beckoning me to walk closer...

Irresistible, not because of the fact that it is a monumental work, but because of its wealth of emotional values and lessons I've gained by listening to it and analysing it (though such attempts often left me more perplexed than enlightened, even with something as simple as the re-occurance of the subject itself).

The work itself is a long, arduous journey. Listening to it has been such an insightful, life-changing experience. What about the process of learning, shaping and mastering it? And then how does it feel when I have the piece to come out of me?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Picking An Instrument

Checked out that beauty again in the shop at Esplanade today and I was more enamoured with the charming singing voice of her than ever. I knew that was the instrument that I wanted for myself, especially after trying out a range of instruments from S$3k to S$7k at another shop a few days back. Finally, I've found my guitar! Beneath her humble price tag of slightly below S$3k hides a most mesmerising sound. Of course, being with a badly-intoned instrument for the past 3 years, I was desperate to make sure I choose one which has a flawless intonation. As such, my requirements running through my head were as follows: flawless intonation, pure and refined voices from the lowest registers to the highest registers (I didn't believe I would come across such an instrument at this price range until I tried this instrument), versatility (a silky, velvety sound or a stunningly brilliant sound whenever the music calls for that sort of tone colour), a sound which seems to blossom over distance, a pure sound that allows the soft passages to project beautiful across a distance, responsive to the slightest changes in pressure and contact. Not to mention that the instrument has to be aesthetically pleasing as well. The beauty in the shop actually possess all of these rare qualities, at such a price.

Thanks to the immense generosity of Ivan, my fellow ensemble musician, and the kindness of the ladies tending the shop, I was able to get the beauty back home by paying for it with installments. Finally, a dream instrument to call my own! Shall work doubly hard on my technical and musical aspects to be a worthy owner of this instrument.