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Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 16, 2007):
I don't think that it is necessary for me to preface my post to this group with an announcement that I don't play an instrument and I don't sing and my only (but long) relationship to various genres of Classical Music is that of an audience member, whether live or via recordings. That still gives me the right to have opinions and tastes.

I was rather amazed when Brad noted the other day that he is practicing 9 weeks for a concert he is to give.

Assuming that Brad is an accomplished harpsichordist (which is what I do assume) who is not a regular concertizer, I still wonder about this.

Most professional musicians do not have the luxury or the necessity of preparing that long for one concert.

To take some exx.: when LHL did her series of Didons in the Met's Les Troyens, this was a role which she had never done before (Troyens is not like Wagner and Leider or Flagstad or Melchior; one cannot make a career of doing it).

Her career was mostly the baroque (and WAM, I guess).

She was also not the first choice but was called upon when Borodina announced that she was too great with child.

I saw her first performance. She was Didon. She was overwhelming both in singing the part and in assuming the persona of the Queen who became the plaything of Fate.

I am sure that she did not have that long to prepare the role.

She knew her business and assumed the Person of Didon while most likely doing other work.

I trust the same about her Melisande which I have yet to bring myself to listen to in the airchecks that are available.

A different example. There was a youngish violist [sic] who at least yearly did some of the Bach violin sonatas and partitas as Westminster Choir College some years ago.

He was not technically perfect. I would wager that he became a music teacher.His playing was magical and he brought me to a place of magic as rarely other have.

Experiencing him play his viola and disappearing into his Bach was an experience which never failed to work its magic and yet one was aware that he lacked technical perfection and most likely he never would attain that degree of perfection necessary for the big time.

I believe that this all does have some relevance to Bach's players.

Alain Bruguières wrote (January 16, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote::
< I don't think that it is necessary for me to preface my post to this group with an announcement that I don't play an instrument and I don't sing and my only (but long) relationship to various genres of Classical Music is that of an audience member, whether live or via recordings. That still gives me the right to have opinions and tastes. >
Bravo!

<>
A fine contribution, I really feel there's much truth in it. Thanks!

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 17, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< Most professional musicians do not have the luxury or the necessity of preparing that long for one concert.
To take some exx.: when LHL did her series of Didons in the Met's Les Troyens, this was a role which she had never done before (Troyens is not like Wagner and Leider or Flagstad or Melchior; one cannot make a career of doing it).
Her career was mostly the baroque (and WAM, I guess).
She was also not the first choice but was called upon when Borodina announced that she was too great with child.
I saw her first performance. She was Didon. She was overwhelming both in singing the part and in assuming the persona of the Queen who became the plaything of Fate.
I am sure that she did not have that long to prepare the role. >
A last minute change of cast or an unexpected first performance does not mean that the artist learned the music overnight. Most opera singers have a career plan plotting when they will sing which roles. For a big "A" role like Didon, a singer might take a year ot two to learn it. I suspect that if Lieberman stepped into the role, she was probably working on it already and was persuaded to take on the Met engagement. She would never have stepped on that stage without the role firmly under her belt. We all know that Ben Heppner is working on the Ring Cycle roles but he has not announced when he will decide to sing them.

Bringing the question back to Bach, we can postulate a reasonably short rehearsal time for the cantatas, not because the singers were sight-readers, but because in most instances the singers had one movement to learn and were expereinced in the style of such "modern" music. Where we don't have evidence is how someone prepared a Wagnerian role like the Evangelist in Matthew Passion (BWV 244). The notion, often aired here, that Bach wrote, prepared the parts and rehearsed the singers in the four weeks before Good Friday is a practical impossibility.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 17, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I was rather amazed when Brad noted the other day that he is practicing 9 weeks for a concert he is to give. Assuming that Brad is an accomplished harpsichordist (which is what I do assume) who is not a regular concertizer, I still wonder about this. Most professional musicians do not have the luxury or the necessity of preparing that long for one concert. >

Well, here's what I actually wrote about that:
>> (spent some of the weekend practicing Bach's toughest harpsichord music, for concerts that are still "only" nine weeks away....) <<
It's a series of two separate all-Bach solo recitals (about 90 minutes each), with no repertoire overlap between them, plus a third presentation with yet more pieces demonstrated.

Here's the current draft of it: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/2007mar13.htm

The Partitas, English Suites, WTC 2, the Art of Fugue (at least from Contrapunctus 4 forward), and the Musical Offering's six-part ricercar are some of the most concentrated and challenging harpsichord music Bach wrote. They just don't let up or allow even a moment's lapse in attention, while playing them. Bach's music is intense, quirky, and there are four or more parts to articulate separately according to their linear motion...simultaneously!

Similarly, some of the other things I'm scheduled to play there (both capriccii, the "Jesus Christus, unser Heiland" BWV 689, and the two B minor fugues) are uncommonly long, chromatic, and awkward: nothing to pick up and merely sight-read anywhere, and they have to be kept in shape through regular practice! None of this music is formulaic or offers any shortcuts; the hands and the mind have to do different things in every bar, to keep track of what's going on and to bring out detail along the way. Some of that B-flat capriccio is improvised along the way, too, since part of it is only written out by Bach as figured bass.

I've been playing most of these for many years, yet I still have to work on them freshly to get and keep them into shape. A large part of the problem is stamina: not just the individual pieces, but being able to play these four 45-minute halves straight through on stage, from each piece to the next. Again it's the intensity of the music, and the varied expression that is going in three, four, or more parts simultaneously. Plus the other presentation of playing musical examples while talking around them, giving the historical lecture....

I invite anyone who has played these pieces to state a different opinion, including how long it took you to work these up to performance level, and then to sustain them at performance level over months or years. Especially the Musical Offering (BWV 1079), Art of Fugue (BWV 1080), and WTC 2.... I find these exhilarating to play at long stretches of more than half an hour, and to really nail with the intensity and concentration, but it's such hard work to get all the detail worked out well and plugged back in so that it sounds easily flowing. The adage "art concealing art" comes to mind.

I don't expect non-performers to understand any of this process (performing Bach's music in public, let alone any all-Bach concerts that never let up on the intensit), but that's OK.

And I sort of envy singers and melody-instrument players, who "only" have to handle a single melodic line well, plus some stage acting or whatever. The luxury of focused concentration on only one part at a time!

Some of my older essays about performance goals and preparation:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/purc.htm
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/sprezza.htm
It's way more than simply getting the notes to go nicely and without error (which would be only the skimmiest level of "decoro" as a start)!

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 18, 2007 ý15:15:46