Thursday, March 27, 2008

Angela Hewitt

I just found pianist, Angela Hewitt's blog. If you have not heard her Bach playing, I highly recommend it. Like her fellow Canadian, Glenn Gould, she has a high affinity for Bach. It is a matter of personal and perhaps generational preference which pianist one prefers. I love them both. My teacher, harpsichordist Tamara Loring, often disagrees with Gould's choices of tempo, articulation and ornamentation, but loves his tone production. I love how deeply personal his Bach playing is. For me, Hewitt's playing seems more straightforward, somehow more orthodox, which doesn't mean that I find her playing without passion. Her recording of the E Major French Suite is full of joy - the playing sunny and light - which is exactly the way I hear the Suite in my head and feel it in my heart.

I ordered Angela Hewitt's DVD regarding her philosophy on playing Bach on the piano. It will be very interesting to compare what she suggests for interpretation with what Tamara has been teaching. Not to mention to contrast Hewitt's thoughts with Gould's viewpoints.

Angela Hewitt's website:
Angela Hewitt's blog:

In case you haven't heard...Sony has released their entire catalog of Glen Gould's oeuvre.
Check it out!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thrills and Trills

Trills --- once the bane of my existence --- and I are negotiating a fragile peace treaty. In the past I've never liked trills. In my early piano lesson days, I struggled to play a right hand trill with an Alberti bass line or with any sense of rhythmic integrity. Flash forward to adulthood, determined to banish my handicap, I learned Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata to conquer my fear of trills. I mastered the ornamentation in that sonata (it turned out that the trills were the least of my worries with that piece!) which did help me to play those trills with confidence, however, I never really lost my self consciousness about playing ornaments in works by Bach. So many variables (especially in Baroque playing) --- speed of the trill, start the trill above the note (but of course there are exceptions), how and when to terminate the trill, coordinate the trill with the other hand (almost always difficult), and there are more than just trills --- mordents, appoggiatura, suspensions, turns, etc.

So at my lessons with Tamara Loring my trepidation with ornaments has come up. Tamara told me to forget about the ornaments....easier said then done. Then she told me that the ornament is a way for a keyboardist to extend the harmony and melody --- like a string player would do with a bow or a vocalist would do with breath. It was my ah ha! moment. I'm now playing the E Major Sarabande (a minefield of ornamentation) without the trills and am playing appoggiaturas with the supporting harmony to really hear how the notes line up as chords and to hear the dissonant notes that will be part of the ornament. Tamara feels that this will provide me with the harmonic content to improve my tone production on the Sarabande which up to this point has been pretty timid.

Since I'm not practicing the trills in the piece, I am working on trill exercises. I play a trill figure starting on each scale tone for one octave with my right hand. I then repeat the pattern using different fingers until all of the fingers have practiced playing the trill. I repeat again until all twelve major keys have been played. Then I repeat the same process for the the left hand. Sometimes the trills are measured (even groups of notes - 4, 6, 8) or uneven trills with a pattern of three notes followed by five or five notes followed by seven with the termination part of the trill.

Wouldn't it just be easier to play the trills in the piece?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

At my house the Easter Bunny visited...

Pumpkin eggs? What was the Easter Bunny thinking?

I made this display to post on a crafts page on Martha Stewart's web site. However, since I did not make any of the Martha Stewart recommended crafts, I didn't post on her site. I found the projects suggested for Easter rather uninspired or very labor intensive. Mine were made in a jiffy and "lent" a festive atmosphere for my modest Easter celebration.

Truth be told, I didn't even celebrate Easter at home this year. Instead I celebrated Easter in Berkeley. My friend Laura and I had brunch before church (breaking with tradition) at Saul's - a nice Jewish deli and oh so delicious --- and marking a further departure from tradition we didn't have any ham nor any lamb! Then off to St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church where we participated in a lovely Mass with some of the service sung in Latin. The music chosen for the Easter service included the Allegro from the Clarinet Quintet and Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart; Andrea Gabrieli's Maria Magdalene (so appropriate for this location) and selections from Franz Schubert's Mass in G (listen to clips at Amazon) of my favorite pieces. During one of my former stints as a church musician, I helped prepare the First Presbyterian Church of San Mateo's choir to sing this mass. I have many fond memories of practicing this glorious and most beautiful work of Franz Schubert. I enjoyed hearing it again immensely.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bach On Line

This web site about JS Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier

was recently sent to me. It is amusing, but not as amusing as playing the pieces in the Well-Tempered Clavier yourself.

While playing the WTC you may have some trouble with the ornaments - this web site will take you to a table of Bach's trills...

In my research regarding the Polonaise from the E Major French Suite, I found this analysis

by a clever music student.

If you want to know almost everything about Bach - check out Robert Greenberg's series at

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Audio Files

We have sound files on our computer again! So the Sarabande and Gavotte sound better from an audio standpoint. I'm changing almost all of the ornamentation on the Sarabande, so I'm not as thrilled with my recording as I was on the day that I made the recording. Are pianists ever happy with the way they sound or the way they have interpreted a work? Rarely, I think...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sarabande Recording

While there were some technical issues (the sound is not working on our computer), so with the Sarabande and the Gavotte the recording clips are not at their audio best, but I did manage to recording my playing yesterday. I'm posting this clip, even though after my lesson yesterday, I'm changing almost everything.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Recording the Sarabande

Today I recorded the Sarabande...I hope to post-it unless there are technical problems. It's sad to admit, but I refuse to learn how to operate the recording machinery. I feel that learning the notes is hard enough! However, I did set-up the equipment today and hopefully I did get a take I can post. I usually press a wrong button, or the mic is to close to the piano or not turned on or something silly like that. I really felt inspired today. I'm sure there are technical aspects to address in my playing of the Sarabande, but I hope the feeling of the music comes through. Bach's E Major Sarabande is so sexy and sensual and I feel slightly salacious playing the work. Dance at a Glance says that the Sarabande is expressive, highly ornamental and that there are equal stresses on the first and second beats. Not to mention that there is freedom to stretch time within the beat. Did I achieve that? Please listen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First Recording of the Gavotte

To play the Gavotte click on the link. For the past week, after recording glitches (deleted clips from the master tape!) and tax preparations, recording and practicing Bach has been sadly neglected. After a lesson with Tamara Loring, I have new ideas to show in the Gavotte. This recording is my old way of playing. I have been working on trill exercises in order to effortlessly insert them into the dances of the French Suite. Perhaps in the next recording of the Gavotte I'll add more ornamentation. We'll see...