8 May 2015

Doing the details

The Goldner String Quartet is in town for a Musica Viva concert and that's good, but I was particularly interested by a masterclass open to the public. I wasn't too sure what to expect but was not surprised. There were few audience, two members of the Goldner - violinist Dimity Hall and cellist Julian Smiles, three small ensembles performing over two hours. It was quite a chatty and busy atmosphere. This was intense work for these guys: more than I remember in workplace meetings and the like, but this is also a passion.

First up was a string quartet. Not sure of names, but I assume a later year tertiary quartet. They played two string quartet by Philip Glass, one was Mishima, not sure of the other. Then comments and suggestions by the advisors on voicing, highlighting phrases, accents, bowing, playing for spaces, intonation, prominence, enmeshing especially for such repetitive music, dynamics, harmonic intensity and releases and contrast. Then a considerable time on harmonic intonation, flattening the major 3rd, sharpening the minor 3, (and a resultant ugly semitone between maj/min 3rds), major 7th, Pythagorean (Just) scales (as I understand, moving up the scale in perfect 5ths). There were specifics, too. Intonation for work in Eb when the ensemble agrees on G. Practising with a drone tone: Julian likes to use the dominant. I liked the Philip Glass and I was hearing it clearer and better intoned after all this discussion.

Then two trios with violin, cello, piano. This is chamber music, so a "conversation". Look to each other; interact, use body language and physicality; "lead then play"; share vibrato, bow well in contact with the string; "it's always the leader's fault if the followers are not together"; even with common dynamics, introduce variation, seek balance of parts ("the piano usually wins in a piano trio") and take the lead as needed. "Chamber music ... gives you so many skills as a musician". Strings must adjust to the piano, it's heavier ("pianos have a certain fruit to them"), staccato is slower, tuning is equal temperament. Strings should practice different bowings (scoop, bounce, ...) to work with piano, staccato means detached, not necessarily short. Some practice games: each player leads in (to practice leading and communication); practice without expression markings, then add. Beethoven used multiple types of accents (sfz, fp, rfz, ...) so individually practice ways of playing expressive markings. And finally re Beethoven: "This is Op.1 no.1 and yet his whole personality is already clear".

All interesting and informative. Not sure who played the Philip Glass, but the two piano trios were: Georgina Chan (violin), Jakob Jaksa (cello) and Patrick Gu (piano) playing Beethoven Piano Trio Eb major Op.1 no.1; Donica Tran (violin), Dominic Hill (cello) and Vivian Zhu (piano) playing Dvořák Piano Trio no.4 E minor (Dumky trio), first movement. Dimity Hall (violin) and Julian Smiles (cello) were from the Goldner String Quartet. Georgina Chan, Jakob Jaksa, Patrick Gu, Donica Tran, Dominic Hill, Vivian Zhu, Dimity Hall, Julian Smiles, Goldner String Quartet, masterclass

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