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Studio Thoughts on Walton and Rochberg

Today we have part one of a series in which Molly Carr poses questions to members of the studio about their repertoire.  In this installment, we cover the Walton Concerto and the Rochberg Sonata.

 

Jessica ChangCaterina Longhi, and Jocelin Pan on the Rochberg Sonata:

1) How long have you played this piece? Have you performed it? Multiple times?

JC: I started working on this piece in October 2012– and at Heidi’s suggestion, began with the second movement. I have performed it once in its entirety, and the 2nd/3rd movements on an ACHT recital.

CL: I’ve been playing this piece since last summer. I learned it initially for my graduate school auditions, and after playing it for 3 auditions I am now about to perform it on my graduation recital.

JP: I worked on the piece for about 10 months. I used it for graduate school auditions and played it on my senior recital.

 

2) What do you like about the piece?

JC: I admire the piece for its architecture and struggle. The way that thematic fragments link the three movements is fascinating, and there’s hardly ever a sense of complacency or throwing in the towel.

CL: The authenticity of its emotion. Before this piece, Rochberg was a highly-acclaimed serial composer who after the death of his son to brain cancer, started writing tonal music saying that non-tonal music just didn’t express enough for him anymore. I like how the movements sum up the stages of grief, moving from anger and despair to acceptance and reminiscence.

JP: I love the emotional range of the piece. Rochberg repeats material in each movement, but uses it in very contrasting contexts.

 

3) What do you find is most challenging about the piece – (musically and/or technically and/or other…)?

JC: One technical challenge for me, particularly in the first movement, is the large shifts and leaps– and getting them to both have a good sound and be in tune.

CL: Tapping into a part of me that can only sympathize with the profound pain Rochberg experienced. I struggle to get across the range of emotions that the music portrays.

JP: I find the intervallic leaps in the melodies very difficult to connect technically and musically.  I found it challenging to sing through the line and still create a emotionally intense atmosphere.  Also, those double stops in the first movement are terrifying!

 

4) Can you describe one way you worked/practiced to overcome this challenge?

JC: I try to sing the interval in my head and work out my bow distribution for the shift before I play the passage.

CL: Breathing and trying to think within the moment, but at the same time constantly going back to what the movement or section represents in Rochberg’s grand scheme.

JP: With the melodies, I practiced shaping them first with only my left hand, focusing on vibrato and connected shifting.  I then did it only with bow speed, pressure, and contact point.

 

5) How did you prepare in the days leading up to the performance? If you performed the piece multiple times, was this preparation different for each performance? – Explain…

JC: I had two dress rehearsals– one in a classroom and one in the actual performance space. I also worked on the shifts that scared me the most at a slow tempo.

CL: Leading up to playing this piece, I would go thru stages of practicing. First I started with just securing the intervals, especially in the beginning, just because they aren’t comfortable sounding or easy. Then I would practice breathing in preparation of different sections to make sure that in the performance or audition I would make it clear what my intention was.

JP: The main focus for me was to KEEP CALM! In order to do all the large shifts up and down, my left arm had to be relaxed and free.

 

6) Tell us about the performance experience – would you offer any advice on what one should focus/not focus on while performing the piece?

JC: During the performance, it was most helpful to me to think about the timing of each phrase, rather than all the technical details within each. That is, large scale emotional picture and timing over shifts, double stops, and bow technicalities.

CL: I know that I wished i focused more on my breathing and gestures in the actual performances. I ended up getting caught up in playing the notes and forgetting all the musical gestures I praticed that really make the piece.

JP: I would suggest trusting your ears!  Sing ahead mentally and let all the practicing you have done guide your hands.  Keep your ears open!

 

7) Any additional thoughts, tips/tricks, or advice for learning/practicing/loving/performing/struggling through/etc this piece that you would like to offer your readers?

JC: It was helpful for me to consider Rochberg’s closeness to our lifetimes. Having gone to school in Philadelphia, where Rochberg taught and lived extensively, I felt drawn into the sonata instantly, and am looking forward to performing it again soon!

CL: Running the whole sonata for stamina a couple times before a performance is important for this sonata I think. It’s not that long, but i requires so much mental and physical effort especially just getting thru the first movement! Also I know this is morbid, but sitting and thinking about WHY Rochberg wrote this piece, and how big the impact his son’s death was on him really puts it in a whole new place in my head at least.

 

Stephanie Block on the Walton Concerto

1) How long have you played this piece? Have you performed it? Multiple times?

SB: I began this piece at the beginning of my junior year of high school, and competed/auditioned with it several times throughout junior and senior year. This year, I am still playing it for various auditions and recently performed it with my youth orchestra back in Chicago. It certainly has run quite its course in the past few years!

 

2) What do you like about the piece?

SB: I like that the whole setup of the concerto isn’t always what you would expect. The second movement is the fast and lively one, and the first and third movements have so much changing substance through various tempos. I like how the third movement brings back previous themes and beautifully wraps up the entire concerto.

 

3) What do you find is most challenging about the piece – (musically and/or technically and/or other…)?

SB: What is challenging about this piece is not hacking through it, making it sound effortless. The first movement is all about gliding through uninterrupted musical lines, the second about keeping control and leading the phrases in the right direction, and the third about tying everything together in a graceful manner, creating a story. My biggest challenge is learning not to rush through the second movement! It’s supposed to sound majestic and joyful, not anxious…

 

4) Can you describe one way you worked/practiced to overcome this challenge?

SB: LOTS AND LOTS OF SLOW PRACTICE. Everyone says this but doesn’t do it nearly as much as they should. Also, practicing the various runs and octaves and sections is important. The string crossings in the last ten or so lines are tricky, so work through those especially slowly.

 

5) How did you prepare in the days leading up to the performance? If you performed the piece multiple times, was this preparation different for each performance? – Explain…

SB: My most important performance of the concerto this year was when I performed it with Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Encore Chamber Orchestra. In past experiences with playing it, I sort of knew how to prepare, but most of the time I was just focusing on the first movement, not so much the second and the third. For this particular performance I played the second and third movement and really took into account that I knew this piece pretty much backwards and forwards – there was just small tweaking that needed to be done. I took everything in the smallest sections in order to really nail every passage and every note.

 

6) Tell us about the performance experience – would you offer any advice on what one should focus/not focus on while performing the piece?

SB: William Walton is a British composer, and it was often in British tradition to mask one’s feelings with a layer of dignity. Walton’s music is not brash or uneasy, its emotion takes more time to figure out. Playing a concerto like this requires grace, but visible passion. Be sure to balance both. Also, focus on the musical lines of almost any long phrase – it’s sure to lead into another very important part of the musical story.

 

7) Any additional thoughts, tips/tricks, or advice for learning/practicing/loving/performing/struggling through/etc this piece that you would like to offer your readers?

SB: A concerto like this can take time to really understand and play like a true musician, even if it isn’t as technically difficult as Bartok or Hindemith concertos. Do research on Walton and learn about him! It will help create the mood of this piece. Never let anxiety, fear, or anger come across in this piece, because that’s not the right feeling you want to get.


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