We have tutti rehearsal at 11 am, but Neal is going to be tutoring each of us (Indian as well Canadian players) for half-an hour, starting 9.15 am. I’ve not got a slot yet, but I hope to get some time whenever possible.

It turns out that the 11 am tutti rehearsal begins with the Bach Double, and I’m not playing in it, and Neal’s free and happy to hear me. Yay!

The following are the points I was able to jot down, not only from my own lesson, but from sitting in on the other masterclass sessions:

 

Intonation

1. Good intonation depends on how quickly you are able to correct yourself, at the time, even while the note is being played.

It’s all about not letting your ear accept out-of-tune notes, at any time.

He gave an example when one of us playing an E major scale. In the first octave, the G sharp is played by the fourth finger, and the A that follows, by the 1st finger. This about the biggest stretch one generally needs to do while in the same position. One should be able to do this without rocking the hand/wrist.

Position shifts: The simpler it is, the better. It takes less effort, and is more likely to be in tune.

Avoiding and treating injury

Sit up straight in orchestra. Don’t slouch.

Be sensible even when practising. If it hurts, stop.

At rehearsal, if a strenuous passage is tiring you out, play less and conserve your energy for the night of the performance, and give it your all then. 

An occupational hazard especially for violists is putting the back muscles [latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior? These are my additions] under strain. These might therefore need to be strengthened. So if going to the gym, one needs to know what sets of muscles need developing. A lot of young musicians work out and develop just the front, which doesn’t address the muscles in question.

It would be good to consult a specialist (physiotherapist) for guidance.

Sautillé and spiccato

In sautillé, the bow jumps off the string without much effort.

The wrist moves up and down, not sideways.

Find the best part of the bow for the stroke.

The bow should be at a slight tilt, ie not completely on the flat.

 

Spiccato: very little use of the forearm, more of the wrist.

As in most things, practise under-tempo, and gradually build up speed.

Bow-changes

Try to avoid ‘holes’ between bow changes.

Some finger movement in the right hand is involved in bow change.

Neal used the ‘paintbrush’ analogy: When using a paintbrush in up-and-down strokes, the bristles move last. The fingers of our right hand are like those bristles.

As you get the tip of the bow, use more ‘flat’. When you’re at the frog, use less bow-hair. It’s easier to control.

Expression

If you want to get louder, using bow pressure is counter-intuitive. That’s not the way to do it. Get closer to the bridge, use bow speed as a means to achieve a bigger sound.

The moment you play over the fingerboard, you get a more muffled sound.

Every so often, do the opposite of what is expected. If done convincingly, it will create excitement in the work.

“I’d rather not like someone’s playing than not quite know what s/he was thinking or doing ie not be able have any opinion about playing.” 

 

Specific works

1. The Bach E major violin concerto (no. 2; BWV 1042) comes up for discussion somehow, and Neal talks about the Italian influence, how Bach ‘had been to Italy’, at least stylistically, in this work. This is evident in the very beginning, and in the ritornello structure.

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Yet it is also ‘German’ in other respects.

2. One of the students plays the viola transcription of the Prelude from Bach Cello suite no. 3 (BWV 1009). Neal is very impressed that she indicated through her playing that she understood the structure of the movement.

He tells us that the notes on the beat are important in this work.

He talks to us about the arching phrases in the work. It called to mind what Rostropovich had spoken to us (also referring to Bach, if I remember correctly) back in the 1980s in Goa, about the similarities between architecture and music, the concept of the arch, and the “Golden Point” in the arch, the keystone as it were, of a phrase, and of a collection of phrases, and so on.

Neal also talks about the different ways a passage about 3/4ths into the work could be bowed, and how it was probably originally written (but we’ll probably never know for sure what Bach intended, as the music was notated by his second wife Ana Magdalena, but it’s the closest thing to what he wanted).

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3. Lastly, when it is my turn, I play for him from memory the first few bars of the beginning of Schubert’s Arpeggione sonata D. 821. I have been teaching this work to myself for some time now, using it almost like an étude for various aspects of playing (tone production, string-crossing, articulation, etc). But I didn’t have an image in my head, of a ‘story-line’, if you will.

Neal tells me what the Arpeggione suggests to him: a man who is a bit of a dandy, a fop, very particular about his clothes and appearance, a bit of a comic, but in a likeable sort of way, wears his hat at a rakish angle as he walks theatrically about town. It’s a lovely image, and something I’ll keep in mind when I work on it myself.

Neals talks about playing somewhat ‘off the grid’ at some points in the piece eg. in the sixteenth notes (semi-quavers) in the following two examples: 

 

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by ‘off the grid’, he means just a little off the metronomic points where the notes would otherwise have landed. This helps expression and lets a phrase ‘breathe’ or ‘speak’.

 

I ask him for guidance on how to guess when to play off or on the grid. He tells me that the more one listens to good recordings and recitals, the more one develops an instinct for this.

 

We speak about technique, and the pursuit of better technique, and how frustrated I get when I feel I’m not making progress, and how off-putting it is about picking up the instrument at all (I currently have no teacher to go to consistently). He advises me to spend three-fourths of my practice time playing music for pure love of music, and to devote just one-fourth of that time towards furthering technique, no more.

Wise words. For what’s the point if one isn’t enjoying oneself? One should never forget the prime reason that we open our instrument cases and start to play. Because we love music, and to make music!      

 

We get so engrossed in talking about music, that I barely make it back in time for the tutti rehearsal that includes the newly-composed and arranged, bespoke for two solo violins, tabla, two double-basses and orchestra: “Raga Malhari-Raga Shriranjini”. It’s exhilarating stuff!

 

Lunchtime, and we disperse for the day.

I take the opportunity to go see Star Trek: Into the Darkness  in 3D, but that’s, quite literally, another story.

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