Category Archives: viola playing

Do you like Strawberry Jam?

A brilliant post by my old head of music, George Bevan, on why it isn’t enough as a music teacher to praise your students for good performances: in order to teach real musicianship, we as teachers have to understand what makes up a good performance and break that down for our pupils, so that they can learn *why* they are doing what they do when they play their instruments.
I really recommend George’s blog, music@monkton, and also Paul Harris’s books on teaching (I need to get hold of the newest one, Simultaneous Learning, which George actually wrote the foreword for!)

music@monkton

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is “all about those moments when we ‘know’ something without knowing quite why we know it,” when we rely on instinct rather than our ability to reason. Gladwell is a persuasive writer and I find him compelling. He draws on a huge variety of examples in this book, but nevertheless I was quite surprised when I suddenly found the topic turning to strawberry jam!

In short, jam experts were asked to rank forty-four different jams, and then a group of college students were asked to do the same. How close would their results be? To cut a short story even shorter, quite close it seems: “Even those of us who aren’t jam experts know good jam when we taste it.” But then they asked the students to give reasons for prefering one jam to another. Disaster. “It’s simply that we don’t have any way of explaining our feelings about…

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Lunchtime concert on Weds 26th Feb – 1.10pm, Younger Hall, St Andrews

It’s been a long while since I posted on here, but I thought I’d let you know that I’m giving a performance of Schubert’s lovely Arpegionne Sonata, plus Enesco’s fearsome Concertstuck, this Wednesday at 1.10pm in the Younger Hall, St Andrews with my friend and pianist Audrey Innes. This is a great programme – and, oddly, Audrey told me she had heard exactly the same programme broadcast on Radio 3 a while ago, with the recording of the Arpeggione taken from a concert in none other than the Younger Hall by Ukrainian violist Maxim Rysanov! (This was part of the St Andrews music club series and I was present – it was spectacular!)

Just in case you are interested, I’ve included below some short programme notes that will be used on Wednesday.

Other things that have been happening in the long period since I’ve posted a blog include: doing a series of lectures/talks on ‘Listening to Music’ for a local adult education service (quite scary but good for my public speaking), starting to play for a great quartet called the Roxburgh Quartet (we have a concert on 2nd March – more details soon) and an audition for the Halle orchestra in Manchester (I didn’t get in, but was pleased to be asked to audition).

Programme Notes for Wednesday 26th’s lunchtime recital with Audrey Innes, piano

Arpeggione Sonata, D 821    

Schubert (1797-1828)

I. Allegro moderato

II. Adagio

III. Allegretto

Franz Schubert is widely known as a prolific composer of Lieder, but also produced chamber music, stage works and symphonies. Like Beethoven, he spanned both the Classical and Romantic periods and was therefore influenced by composers of both eras. His style incorporates expressive lyricism and chromaticism while conforming to classical traditions – all features heard in this sonata. This sonata belongs to the same period as Schubert composed his ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet – near the end of his life when he was suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis.

This sonata was written in 1824 for a new six-stringed, fretted instrument, the Arpeggione, which was similar to a bowed guitar but held between the knees like a viola da gamba. The instrument had been invented the previous year, and Schubert was obviously taken with it, as the sonata was dedicated to the arpeggionist Vincenz Schuster. Unfortunately this instrument was no longer in use by the time of the sonata’s posthumous publication in 1871, due to its awkwardness to play and its unsuitability as a solo instrument with piano (it had a quiet sound which was easily obscured). Since then it has been arranged for the viola, cello and double bass, and even some woodwind instruments and guitar. Transcription has had to address the smaller ranges of these instruments and the use of 4 versus 6 strings, which renders some of the passages very difficult for the viola in terms of string crossing and octaves – these passages were surely much easier on the Arpeggione!

The first movement, Allegro moderato, is characterised by contrasts in mood – the haunting A minor melody at the start demonstrates Schubert’s exceptional melodic gift, while the more animated, almost cheeky second subject suggests a bubbling brook in the repeated semiquavers and yodelling in the octave leaps (from the Viennese Alps). It is in Sonata form (a favourite of Schubert’s), dividing it into four sections: the exposition where the first and second subject are stated, the development where these themes are explored and transposed, the recapitulation where the original ideas are consolidated, and a final coda which returns to the minor – a nice piece of symmetry.

The lovely second movement uses a rising and falling melody, creating long, arch-like phrases which answer each other. There is a curious period towards the end where both piano and viola have long, held notes – static chords which are strange, unless Schubert meant for the players to improvise, but this is not marked. Slow quavers lead us into the last movement – a vivacious Allegretto which uses octave leaps (which are very uncomfortable to play for the viola!), fast passagework and pizzicato, before returning to the opening dotted melody.

Georges Enesco (1881 – 1955)

Concertstück for Viola and Piano

Georges Enesco (also known as Enescu) was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor and teacher who taught a young Yehudi Menhuin. A child prodigy, he entered Vienna Conservatoire aged seven, graduated aged 13, then continued his studies in Paris, where he remained for much of his life. His works are heavily influenced by Romanian folk music and their melodies; his output includes two Romanian Rhapsodies, an opera, symphonies and much chamber music as well as solo works.

The Enesco Concertpiece, composed in 1906, is a rite of passage for young viola players. Technically demanding and virtuosic, is It is often performed as a competition piece to show off the technical abilities of the performer, or to add a final flourish to a recital (as it is used here!)

As well as the gorgeous, expressive melodies in this piece, it utilises various virtuosic techniques to show off the viola (which is not normally a particularly virtuosic instrument!) Ones to look and listen out for whilst listening to the piece include:

–        Fast chromatic triplet scales and scalic passages

–        Martèlé bowing (heavy, on the string at the tip of the bow)

–        Syncopated slurred bowings  (only found in Enesco’s music and extremely difficult to do)

–        Double-note semiquaver scales

–        Double stops in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and octaves, and chords

–        False harmonics

–        Alternating triplets, semiquavers, semiquaver quintuplets and semiquaver sextuplets

–        Very high notes (too high for the viola, really!)

Concerts in Oct and Nov

October and November are relatively busy months for me, as I have 3 chamber music concerts in short succession:

7.30pm Friday 25th October, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh – St Patrick’s Ensemble play Johann Strauss and new commission “St Ambrose and the Bees” by Helene Grosvenor as part of a charity event : “Concert for Bees”

This concert will feature Paul Livingston, Daniel Miller, myself and James Tradgett playing a quartet of instruments called the “Sherlock Quartet”. These four instruments, 2 violins, a viola and a cello, were made by Steve Burnett from a 200-year old sycamore that stood in Arthur Conan Doyle’s childhood home in Liberton, Edinburgh, which he is said to have climbed as a child. The “Sherlock” violin was made by Burnett to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Conan Doyle’s birth and you can hear Paul playing it on Radio Scotland if you’re up early and tune in between  6.30am and 7am!

sherlock violin

1.10pm, Tues 12th Nov, Reid Hall, EdinburghLunchtime concert with Audrey Innes and Jean Murray as part of Edinburgh University Lunchtime Concert Series

I am playing the dramatic and beautiful Hindemith Viola Sonata Op 11 No 4 with Audrey, and Jean Murray with play the Hindemith flute sonata, again with Audrey on piano – a celebration of Paul Hindemith’s works!

1.10pm, Weds 20th Nov, Younger Hall, St Andrews – Lunchtime Concert with St Andrews String Trio

We’re playing Beethoven’s entertaining and boisterous Serenade No 8 and Schubert’s Trio in B flat, D471, so come along in your lunch hour if you work in St Andrews for some string chamber music (free to music centre members and £2 to non members)

1.10pm, Weds 27th Nov, Younger Hall, St Andrews – Lunchtime concert with Paul Livingston, violin

Mozart’s elegant Duo in B flat for violin and viola plus the showy Halvorsen arrangement of Handel’s G minor Chaconne and other pieces tbc.

Hope to see you at one or more of these concerts. Thanks for your support.

My Portfolio Life: new academic year!

Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake!!Advice for stressed students from Bibi’s Bakery, South Street

It’s the second week of the new academic semester here in North East Fife, and the leaves are beginning to turn – it must be autumn already!  Apologies for the lack of news on here – it has been a somewhat eventful summer, and I haven’t had much time to write this blog due to illness getting in the way…  But I’m hoping  I can now get back to posting here fairly regularly, as this autumn seems to be gearing itself up to be a busy  semester with concerts and events, as you’ll see below!

I’ve also ordered myself some lovely new compliment slips, postcards and business cards which I’m quite excited about using! I’m trying to get myself organised and do stuff like that – part of being self employed, I guess.

Anyway, here’s a summary of the projects I’m involved with, and the concerts I have planned for the next few months!

New projects

St Andrews Smiles Better – my facebook page and a work in progress. Eventually I hope to be able to turn this into an official organisation/charity to help provide music and the arts in social care settings such as hospitals, care homes, schools and day centres. I’m still learning how to use a facebook ‘page’ so anybody with any experience, I’d love to speak to you!

Leuchars Military Wives Choir – I am now the “assistant musical director”jn of RAF Leuchars Military Wives Choir, a fancy way of saying I go to their rehearsals, play the piano for them and assist with music/warm ups/general musical stuff. This is very exciting for me, as I have written before about the impression that Gareth Malone’s Military Wives TV series had on me and the importance of community music. I feel very proud to be able to contribute something towards the running of such a group and very lucky to work with the amazing wives of RAF employees.

Projects I’m continuing with:

St Andrews and Fife Community Orchestra – I’m continuing my role as in previous years, taking sectionals, answering questions

Teaching – I’m now teaching in the St Andrews area only (not in South Fife or the East Neuk) and I’m continuing to enjoy sharing my experience of playing  and talking about all things string related  🙂 Cello subway

Image: Don’t forget your instrument when you travel!

Concerts

Sunday 28th Sept, 7pm in Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews – Heisenberg Ensemble with Dame Emma Kirkby – Mozart, Bach, Palestrina, Gibbons (Tickets are £10, available through the church,  or by calling 01334 478317 or emailing holytrinity(at)gmail.com replacing (at) with @)
Friday 25th October, Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh – St Patrick’s Ensemble play new music and Strauss, playing the “Sherlock Quartet” of instruments (more info to follow soon)
Tuesday 12th November, 1.10pm, Reid Hall, Edinburgh – lunchtime recital with Audrey Innes and Jean Murray – Hindemith Viola Sonata Op 11 no 4 and Hindemith Flute Sonata
Weds 20th Nov, 1.10pm, Younger Hall, St Andrews – Lunchtime recital with St Andrews String Trio – Schubert and Beethoven serenade
Weds 27th Nov, 1.10pm, Younger Hall, St Andrews – Lunchtime recital with Paul Livingston (Violin and Viola duo) – Programme TBC but probably including Mozart/Halvorsen

Further in the future, Audrey and I are planning another lunchtime concert in early 2014 – more details to follow as they are decided…!

A selection of funny classical music links!

If you, like me, are in need of some light relief, here are some hilarious depictions of classical musicians from long ago to the present day, posing inappropriately for photos and album covers:

(Courtesy of Classic FM)

The 20 worst album covers, EVER (featuring greats such as Rattle, Karajan, Nigel Kennedy and Julian Llyod Webber!!)

Particularly choice ones in my opinion are Julian and his cello on a plane together, whatever “Bachbusters” was supposed to be, and the epic fail of the pun in the “Handel” album cover. Bet they regret that one….

AND

Some pretty awful “stock photos” of classical musicians doing their best NOT to look silly posing, and failing miserably:

22 terrible stock photos of classical musicians

Why is it that sometimes perfectly good musicians lose their sense of proportion and do outrageous things, with embarrassing results? We will never, ever know….

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Nice one, Classic FM. It’s good to see that even stars like Rattle have their embarassing photos to look back on – I bet he cringes every time someone brings it up…

🙂

 

 

Concert tomorrow!

Well, the day before the concert has arrived. Here is the final (or not so final…) line up:

Jess – selection of unaccompanied Bach from Cello Suites (gigues and menuets)

Trio – Schubert movement (Violin/viola/cello)
Clarinet and piano duo – lighter music… TBC
Trad Scottish tunes (viola) TBC
Watch this space for repertoire developments!! Or simply turn up at 1pm tomorrow and come to the concert! Your choice 🙂

All pieces performed by current or past members of the Heisenberg Ensemble, in aid of the 25th Anniversary Fund. Admission free but retiring collection with be taken, Refreshments available from 12.15pm.

ALL WELCOME!!!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

 

Hope to see you there!! 🙂

 

Jess xxx

With a little help from my friends… An open invitation!

An Open Invitation: ‘With a little help from my friends’

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACello scroll

P1100298Dalai Lama

Thursday 29th August

St Andrews Church, Queen’s Terrace, St Andrews

1.30pm

PROGRAMME:

Cello suites/Scottish Music/Surprise!!

Who, me?

Who, me?

You will need:

FRIENDS…….
FAMILY……..
CAKE……
MONEY…..

Tea/wine/champagne…….

Your ears!

The plan:

garethmalone

The charities:

Heisenberg (Jill Craig)

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Families First (St Andrews)

Sistema Scotland/In Harmony

Arts in Fife/Dundee

Drake Music Scotland

Music in Hospitals

Military Wives Choir (Gareth Malone)

Scottish Ensemble {insert group here}

Rokpa/Tibetan Children’s Villages/ICT

tibet screensaver

Brooklands College

Signpost International (Dundee)

Just Made/Gillian Gamble

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Pragya (India)

RSPCA/RSPB/Big cat rescue

SUGGESTIONS WELCOME!! Answers on a post card to: Jess Long!

Benedetti on learning an instrument

Here’s an article from the Guardian containing some sensible advice on learning an instrument from Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/may/05/nicola-benedetti-violin-pushy-parents

I particularly agree with this sentiment:

“There is a balance to be struck, of course, but to me the most crucial thing is consistency if you ever want a child to have that feeling of satisfaction in their stomach when they have made something work because they stuck at it.”