Going Gala over the Master o’ Class in Low Strings
Gala: Capuçon Plays Brahms
Thu, 04 Oct 12, 7.30pm
Esplanade Concert Hall
Lollapalooza is a fun romp in the park suitable for everyone. Not for the faint-hearted, and certainly not for a weak-hearted orchestra, it was incidentally written for the birthday of Sir Simon Rattle. Directed by the bouncing beat (or those who know the “yum-pum-pum-pum”) of Kalmar and a concert-opening-fresh SSO, this rendition was exciting, if a hint heavy.
Capuçon proceeded to wow the stage, amped up by his ex-Stern Guanerius. Lines that traveled beyond the horizon and a shimmering, regal tone made the Brahms’ the main course of the night. The tutti winds had a democratic round of haze-induced slips, which was an insignificant each for most sections save the one that is the butt of most jokes, whose false note arrived during a solo passage. Other than this unfortunate incident, the orchestra played an excellent part in Brahms “Symphony for orchestra and solo violin”.
So you thought Dvorak was known for his 9th (or was it the 5th?) Symphony? His 5th (or was it 3rd) proved to be a long discourse over which hints of his well loved melodic genius and strength in dialogue and instrumental chorus shone through but only through a fog of harmonic and motif repetition. After a 40-minute long Brahms’ Violin Concerto, to their credit, SSO gave a charming and heartfelt interpretation, shaped by Kalmar’s rolling shapes and quirky dancing. The personal gripe was the default heavy conducting stroke that appeared to instill fatigue in both orchestra and audience alike, such that by the end of the not-extremely-long concert it I felt a little more worse-for-wear that one who had had 3 mid-terms and 1 the next day should.
In a spate of fortunate events, my late Friday afternoon was firmly imprinted by YST and her people. First up was the masterclass by Prof Lee Juin Ying from Taiwan, a friend of Qian Zhou and an ajudicator for this year’s Violin section of the Conservatory Concerto Competition. Given approximately half an hour with each of four students from the first round, he nonetheless managed to express a certain number of key points that I shall attempt to relay here. Budding (string) instrumentalists should pay due attention.
The first violinist had chosen the honour of the Beethoven Violin Concerto – a piece with very exposed, clean lines which are also the epitome of difficulty as determined by the violin, in terms of tone and pitch. The bias for violinists to tune upwards (guilty as charged) was mentioned, and its antidote (to sing the line before playing it) as well. Tuning with the open strings and dealing with this bias will go a long way into making one a better player in both solo and chamber music (the latter my addition).
Secondly, bow continuity.
In a way, only the third violinist was significantly free of end-of-bow problems, i.e. the annoying part where the up bow blends into the down and vice versa and the hand refuses to listen to the will. Sustaining the bow right up to the end, decelerating (and possibly doing an infinity-shaped loop) for the return bow to ultimately give the line an unbroken quality will give players the ability to shape long phrases demanded in the most beautiful and thusly difficult pieces of music.
Thirdly, vibrato matters.
Some of these were utterly new to me. Vibrating the top note of an octave with an open string as the lower note should be done slightly less and in a more focused manner, as the vibrato can affect the sound of the open string and make the octave sound out-of-tune. Another concern would be the control of vibrato when it gets too wide – the bottom line being that vibrato should be part of the music, and thus controlled to suit the overall and temporal character and mood as necessary.
Lastly, bow clarity.
Personally, I felt there was a hint too much pressure on the string amongst all four students, possibly a hangover from playing in the concert hall. Nonetheless, a little less pressure can go a long way in a large hall – you just need the kindness of someone at the end opposite the stage to tell you how it sounds. Clarity in running notes demands focus, control, and a slowing down of the bow, and lends itself very well to slow practice.
A question from the audience about portamento and sliding during shifts was replied in the lines of portamento being unsuitable (possibly vulgar) in Baroque music, and tastefully pleasant in Romantic music when applied with a good touch. Prof Lee suggested a Kreisler-style (I did not hear it clearly) shifting that goes on the latest finger and the next note placed, e.g. 1-1 3 when shifting from F (1st position) to C (3rd position) on the E string.
Personally, since there are many ways to shift, the important thing is to slide minimally, slide tastefully, and save the really big ones for the suitably big moments. Experimentally, trying out different speeds, pressures (left and right hand) and methods of shifting (stretching, shifting on the new finger or the old one) and discovering how they fit the individual’s hand, sound and accuracy will be a good study in and of itself.
Overall, the masterclass was a very interesting experience (there was a very interesting and eccentric boy sitting in front of me), made more interesting by the range of concertos played (Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and the evergreen Dvorak). I particularly liked the middle two violinists for their unbridled passion and musicality, even though both hinted at a bit of over-zealous abandon which affected their precision. As the Prof said, in a competition, the judges look for perfect notes first, then the musicality and passion.
Conservatory Concerto Competition:
Lower Strings Finals
7:30pm, Conservatory Concert Hall
BARTÓK: Viola Concerto Op. posth, BB128
Wang Yangzi (MUS3) viola
Liu Jia piano
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major, Hob. VIIb/2
Lee Minjin (MUS3) cello
Low Shao Ying piano
SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107
Wang Zihao (MUS2) cello
Low Shao Ying piano
JOHANN MATTHIAS SPERGER: Double bass Concerto No. 15 in D major
Yang Xun (MUS4) double bass
Low Shao Suan piano
(Courtesy: YST website)
Q: What could be more interesting than having dinner before a concert?
A: You’ll have to ask me to find out! (hint: it has something to do with meeting your boss)
A few years ago my sis introduced me to this restaurant that is cosily fit between Swensen’s and Carl’s at Marina Square. Thanks to my selectively esoteric memory, and moderately adventurous and tolerant girlfriend, we decided to dinner here before catching Capuçon.
The girlfriend had the Hippo Bacon Burger while I had the Hippo Cheese Burger. (Yes, she eats as much as I do, for all the non-believers out there. In her defence, she claimed that she was “going to explode” after the gastronomical experience. (and no, she didn’t eventually do so.)) Each main came with 3 sides (the fries had to come on a plate) which lived up to the restaurant’s namesake, and by some stroke of luck we both ordered the crowd favourites: potato gratin, ratatouille and fries (the most unimaginative, but still good – thin-cuts).
From a combination of limited experience and hungrygowhere reviews, the must-try’s appear to be the free potato chip appetisers (in lieu of the roasted peanuts served at Chinese restaurants), the steaks (rump steak), potato gratin, ratatouille, baked potato, and French onion soup. The beans received mixed reviews, as did the service, although when we were there the store was sparsely populated and service was excellent and prompt, although the black pepper grinder seemed to run out of pepper several turns in.
Also, I’m game for this, time permitting (with Swensen’s right next door I’ll go for the 1-for-1 sundae student promotion too):