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Lydia Leong

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Posts posted by Lydia Leong

  1. The Korngold concerto gets a fair amount of play, and it's certainly been recorded several times recently.

    For whatever reason, the Barber concerto seems to get a fair amount of play in community orchestras, with local soloists. Possibly this is because it's not horrendously difficult, and it's easy to accompany.

    Other concerti not often heard: Rozsa, Conus, Gruenberg, Walton.

    Not often played in public, and rarely recorded: Ernst's various works. I'm not sure if they're so much of great artistic value, as they're terrifying displays of virtuousity.

  2. I sort of like the Elgar arrangement, actually. Trivia note: the arranger was Peter Schikele, probably better known to the public as PDQ Bach. And the animation sequence itself is lots of fun.

    I _did_ find the heavy use of twentieth-century music to be an interesting choice. However, all the music chosen was certainly accessible, and hopefully it will get some listeners going beyond Bach and Mozart as the "easy introductions" to classical music. The Shostakovich was an inspired choice; I'll bet that of everything in that movie, this will be the CD track that people repeat over and over again. (I'll admit that I like the denser orchestrations of this arrangement better than the original, too, and am tempted to get the soundtrack just for that.)

    The cut in the Beethoven really bothered me; it was extremely abrupt. I wish they'd chosen another opener; if they wanted something familiar, they could have done the overture to the Barber of Seville, or the William Tell overture, or something along those lines. There was only one really noticeable cut in the Gershwin, but probably not excessively so (and likely not noticeable by those not familiar with the score). The Respighi needed to be shortened even more than it was, as the sequence really dragged (alternatively, they could have done something more interesting with the animation, as the "cool" effect of the computer graphics wore off quickly).

    I heartily recommend the movie; it's great entertainment, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is, as always, brilliant.

  3. The younger generation of violinists seem to lack the notable idiosyncracies of the previous generation, 'tis true. Is this due to a certain homogeneity in teaching, or something else?

    Auer's pupils -- Heifetz, Milstein, Elman, etc. -- all sound distinctly different from one another, but it's also been said that Auer wasn't so much a great teacher, as he had students who didn't need him, so the "same teacher, same sound" perhaps doesn't apply here.

    Other performers have trademarks: you can immediately distinguish Stern by his vibrato (his way of hitting a note dead on, and starting the vibrato afterwards), and Perlman by the portamento and sheer affection, and David Oistrakh by the beefy romanticism.

    A Grumiaux or Szeryng or Kyung-Wha Chung or Lin Cho-Liang or Francescatti will have their own distinctive style, though it may take some listening and multiple recordings to learn to recognize it. They are not nearly as idiosyncratic in their styles (at least, not to my ear).

    Of the younger generation, I find the sweet clarity of Gil Shaham's sound, and his phrasing of a line, to be immediately distinctive (at least on record; I have not heard him live). Virtually everyone else is indistinguishable; it's the sound of the prodigy du jour (or the ex-prodigy du jour).

    And while we're on the topic of recordings... I hate the recent trend of very forward soloist balance and close miking of the violin. The bloom and sweetness and purity of the tone is just not there with the close miking. Perlman is particularly guilty of this, and it seems to have started a stampede to follow suit. (Yes, I know that Perlman wants people to hear the violin as he hears it. But I'd rather hear the concert-hall balance.)

  4. I have to assert that for a beginner, trained in another instrument or not, having a good teacher available is likely going to be an invaluable technical resource. Sure, you can buy books and videotapes and so forth, but when first learning the basic mechanics of playing the instrument, "do this" and "don't do that" are enormously helpful.

    My two cents on "basics":

    Left-hand dexterity: articulation, speed, and intonation. The first book of Schradieck's School of Technique exemplifies this; if you can play these exercises quickly, clearly, and in tune, you've got a good foundation for rapid passage-work in general. This should be followed up with solid shifting technique, and the ability to play double-stops. You ought to be able to play Flesch's scale system book, basically. And, of course, you should develop a good vibrato.

    Right-hand control: legato, detache, martele, spiccato, ricochet. Production of a good tone, and the understanding of how to vary the bowstroke depending on what the left hand is doing (closer to the bridge for the high positions, etc.)

    I believe that tackling a piece that's theoretically beyond your abilities can occasionally be a fun thing to do, but it can also be an enormous exercise in frustration. It's sort of cool to do a couple of bars of something extremely challenging (as long as it really _is_ within your reach with enough work), but I think that steady improvement and a sense of continuous accomplishment are more readily achieved with the "appropriate" level of technical challenge.

    As a side note: I'm returning to playing the violin after nearly a decade of hiatus. What am I doing? Regaining the basics: carefully practicing Schradieck, Sevcik, Flesch. And playing Kreisler for fun. I figure, once I can do the first three easily, I will have gotten the majority of my technical facility back.

    (Yes, I could go back and try to play the Kreutzer etudes again -- but spending ten minutes with them would probably do me less good than more basic drills. Walk before you run.)

  5. The proficiency tests are typically non-trivial, but not beyond the ability of anyone who has half an hour a day to practice over the course of a semester, whether or not they've played an instrument before.

    In general: Major and minor scales, chord progressions, straightforward repertoire, basic sight-reading. How demanding this is depends on the nature of your music program; theory-heavy schools, for instance, are much more likely to be satisfied with just the demonstration that you can reproduce the stuff you learn in the first year of theory-for-majors, on the keyboard.

    On the other hand, I strongly, STRONGLY recommend that anyone who is planning to major in music, to acquire sufficient facility at the keyboard to be able to compose at the keyboard. It will make your theory-and-composition classes much, MUCH easier.

    These days, to my knowledge, virtually all students work with composition software, and likely a MIDI keyboard. Being able to play something at the keyboard and let MIDI translate it into notes on the page is highly useful. It's also vastly easier to work out harmonies at the piano.

  6. Asian parents firmly believe that their children can succeed, and _will_ succeed, if disciplined to do so. Asian parents tend to believe that children are not yet ready to make their own decisions, and that older, wiser heads should make the decisions for them. Finally, they have a very strong sense that the achievements of their children reflects the quality of the parenting that their children have been given. These qualities, along with a cultural hesitation to show affection in overt ways, tends to lead to "pushiness".

    I believe that this is true of any similar culture; it's currently most noticeable amongst Asians.

    Achievement means education that leads to a solid, high-paying professional career; it also means accomplishment in one or more non-academic fields. These latter accomplishments reflect "breadth" (necessary to get into a top-notch college), and often "culture" as well.

    Amy Tan's author's blurb at the back of _The Joy Luck Club_ sums it up pretty well; she says something about her parents wanting her to become a neurosurgeon and concert pianist.

    I know a very large number of twenty-something Asian Americans (usually the children of parents who were well-educated and who speak fluent English, though they were not born in the USA -- second-gens, I suppose you could call them), who achieved great things musically... and as soon as they got to college, stopped playing.

    Why? Time is a big factor. But for a lot of these people, their parents had fostered competence on one or more instruments, without teaching (or even valuing) a true love for music.

    When I was young, my parents were tremendously insistent that I learn to play both violin and piano. I dropped the piano the instant they permitted me to (in my mid-teens); I never liked the instrument. But I kept playing the violin, until time constraints in college forced me to give up lessons (though I continued orchestral work), and then stop entirely when I went out into the real world.

    Now, some years later, I'm returning to the violin of my own accord -- back with a teacher, and the whole nine yards. I'm an enthusiastic collector of classical CDs and film scores, I took a minor in music history in college... I love music for its own sake.

    My parents find this somewhat amusing, but they say, at least, that they're glad that I developed a genuine appreciation for it. But as a child, I never felt this was their primary goal (and still don't believe it, for that matter) -- the goal was accomplishment. I think that children presented with music as a checklist of accomplishments, treat it like an obstacle to overcome. A lucky few discover that it's really their cup of tea, but they do it in spite of, not because of, their training.

    On the other hand, I _am_ grateful that my parents insisted I practice, and drove me to lessons and to orchestras and so forth. I'd never have had the discipline to do it myself, and now I'm grateful for it. (I think I could have done without the competition playing, though, and the sheer frustration that my parents exhibited when I failed to live up to what I assume they thought were reasonable standards.)

  7. However, let it not be said that the general public is not capable of appreciating music composed after 1900.

    Take a look at the selections in Fantasia 2000, for instance. The vast majority of the pieces were composed after 1900, and despite some not-insignificant levels of dissonance, they're clearly accessible for the general public.

    There are plenty of fine composers writing works with a classical heritage today, particularly if you look at the film score genre, and plenty of people buying this music. (Indeed, there are also plenty of film composers who have also composed significant classical works -- Rozsa and Korngold come immediately to mind.)

    The general public responds to abstract modern "music" (prepared piano, etc.) the same way it responds to abstract art. I was at the SF MoMA the other day, and was confronted by a blank gray wall-sized canvas. I had no idea what it was intended to depict. Lots of modern compositions fall into the equivalent sonic camp.

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