Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Report from IDRS 2016

I'm in Columbus, Georgia at the International Double Reed Society conference this week, after taking a year off and NOT flying to Tokyo for last year's event.  It's amazing to be back.

An IDRS conference is not a relaxing affair.  Every hour is double and triple and quadruple booked. It's impossible to see everything I want to see, and I find myself leafing through my program frantically the MINUTE I sit down at a recital, wondering what I'm going to next and even whether I dare to sit all the way to the end of this one. Inevitably I have to choose whether to see a friend perform or hear a lecture I am interested in or soak in some learning at a masterclass.  And somehow I have to carve out enough time to buy ALL OF THE THREAD COLORS at the exhibit hall.  It's very stressful.

The great thing about double reed players is how amazingly supportive we are of each other.  Flutists can be mean at their convention, or so I hear.  But the oboe and bassoon are just too darn hard to sustain rivalries.  We are all in this together, and that's how it feels.

Over the course of a very few days you hear a LOT of playing.  Some is amazing, some is only OK, but all of it can be inspiring.

You hear players that do not sound like you think a good player should sound.  But if you let go of that judgement and listen for what IS good, or assume that the player got to where they are for a reason and listen for that reason, you can learn.  If you hate everything you hear, but you use your listening time to ANALYZE what you don't like, and think about ways that you too could avoid these pitfalls, you can learn.  If you hate everything you hear, but recognize in the playing something that your students do, you can think about how to talk about it with them in the most positive way possible.

And of course, you hear players that you only wish you could be when you grow up.  Selected highlights: I was floored by Mark Ostoich and Christopher Philpotts, who played together on the first night's concert.  Gorgeous, effortless, liquid playing that had EVERYTHING in the sound.  Nermis Mieses blew me away with a work for oboe and four amplified wineglasses - the piece was great and her presentation was just beautiful.  So musical and so rich.  Kathryn Greenbank did a masterclass and was just LOVELY in her approach to students of varying abilities. So focused, and holding them to such high standards while not overwhelming them with information as I might have done. This was a very, very inspiring conference for me from that standpoint.

And the OBOES!  I spent hours at the exhibition hall - trying in advance to get a handle on the instrument I plan to buy next year.  This is not fifteen years ago in the oboe industry.  It used to be that Real Players Played Loree and that was all there was to it.  A couple of people here and there would have Laubins, and those were always worth commenting on. But now! There are just so many brands and they are all so great!

I played a Bulgheroni Musa that Steve wanted me to buy on the spot. I played a Moennig 155 with truly vulgar golden keys all up and down that I would have bought instantly. I played a Marigaux M2 that felt absolutely like my voice. I even wavered briefly toward a Howarth in cocobolo (synthetic top joint) called the coco-jazz.  Super lovely.  So many options. I had planned to narrow my choices down at this conference and I made them twice as broad instead.

Tomorrow we're off on the next phase of our 2016 vacation, while more of my friends and colleagues stay to turn out great work here in Georgia.  Best of luck to all you oboists and bassoonists, and see you next summer in Appleton!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bow Envy

I've been watching the bows of my string colleagues this week, and I've realized I'm jealous.  I have bow envy.

I have always loved wind instruments.  There is something so beautifully, terribly intimate about having to generate sound and music with your own personal air, the air you use to breathe and to live.  It's natural to make big phrases that match the shape of the breath, and it's natural to drive those phrases forward to their conclusions, and to the next breath.

When I am following and matching my string colleagues in their elegant, light baroque style, I can imitate the lift that their bows have.  The weight and speed of their bows, and the way they don't force phrases to be longer than the bow itself - these are characteristics of the style we are working in and I can mimic and match this with no problem.  It makes the long long arias and choruses feel easier if I can lift with the strings in all of the tiny rests that occur all the time.  I'm not trying to drive long phrases, I'm playing infinitely many tiny micro phrases to make a big picture phrase, and it's a pleasure to do - but it's a trick made for strings and bows.  I imitate it but it originates from them.

Here's the thing I can't do, though. I can't be truly patient. I can't take a movement of a solo cello suite and let it slowly, endlessly play out, spooling through infinitely long phrases, and building to a place of enormous intensity with no one note or phrase noticeably changed from the one before.  This is not something I can do with my air.  I would have to drive those phrases, and surge up and down, and choose places for a real - not micro - breath. I could still arrive at that peak, and come away from it again, but there's no way I could have the patience of a bow.  Air is more urgent.

I attended an amazing solo string recital yesterday, can you tell?  There's a tremendous amount of talent down here at the Peoria Bach Festival this week.  Tonight was our last concert, and I can't wait to get home and see my family tomorrow - but I always learn and grow at this festival.

This week I'd like to grow a bow.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bach Plays in Peoria

I'm down in Peoria again, performing with the Peoria Bach Festival.  This is always a great gig for me, and this year is no exception.

This year, I'm especially aware of the incredible skill level of my colleagues in the orchestra. These people are known to me - we've been playing together for years down here.  I'm a pretty good player myself and I've just had a marvelous spring - three terrific MFM concerts, four recitals, and the Rouse Concerto concert.  And a studio recital.  And two auditions.  I've been working hard and having some success and feeling strong and great.

But on Tuesday, when I first walked in, I had to immediately rehearse three chamber works and two big concerto grosso stand-up solos, and those two rehearsals just about killed me, and I felt like a bull in a china shop. In my defense, I'd driven four hours to get down here and that takes a lot out of me, but I think I always feel a little clumsy when I first arrive.

I enjoy playing Baroque music, but I'm not a specialist.  Most of my work is in big modern orchestras, and I spend a lot more time teaching Handel and Telemann to high schoolers than playing them. I'm accustomed to striving for a big, rich sound, and using vibrato and intensity to move my phrases forward, and these skills are not needed or welcome here.

When you play baroque music the style is different, lighter and airier. The writing itself is different, of course. It's very difficult to physically GET THROUGH Brandenburg 2 if I play it like a modern oboist.  There's a metaphorical step backwards that I have to take to make this music really float, and it takes a couple of days of focus and obsessive following to get there.

I think of myself as a leader, in my ordinary life, but in this group I sit back and try to fit in, because EVERYONE seems to be doing it better and more naturally than I am.  I love it - it's a treat to be out of my element in this way and to be allowed the privilege of struggling for a day or two to find my baroque legs again.  I feel 10 pounds lighter by the end of the week (in spite of all the desserts) and like I could play cantatas and concerti every day for the rest of my life.

I love to learn.  I love to improve.  I love to work.  I love this gig.

Our first chamber concert went great.  I'll performing twice more this weekend, Friday night and Saturday night.  Details HERE.