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Lumina String Quartet

Festival Blog Archive 2008

Week 1, Day 1

As all the participants began arriving at the Rich Forum this morning, it was apparent that everyone was excited about the first day of, as many of us call it, “Asya Camp” (Asya is the violinist who runs the whole thing). The first day is full of excitement like this every summer because while many of us see each other only during these weeks every year, we still forge such close bonds and develop a huge sense of camaraderie. I (as do all the other kids) also get very excited for another reason as well. This camp is a place where we get to play music at such a high level, which in the end is the most rewarding.

The first order of business in the morning was the group photo, which was full of laughs. Shortly after my group – consisting of a string quartet and myself – set off to our rehearsal room to begin work on the Weber Clarinet Quintet. As a clarinetist, this is one of my favorite pieces written for clarinet and string quartet. The morning consisted of running through the piece to get an overall feel for it. Once the run through was completed, we went back to the first movement and dived right in to really breaking it down and learning all of its intricacies. Before we knew it however, it was 12 pm: lunchtime. Lunch was fun as usual, a great time for us to relax. But before you know it, it’s one o’clock and we’re back to rehearsal.

During the afternoon session from 1 to 5pm our coach really put us to work. There are some very difficult parts in the first movement that we continued to work out. However by the end of the day we had really got the first movement into our fingers to the point where we were confident with it.

Overall it was a very fun, full day of music.

Week 1, Day 2

This morning was comprised of private lessons from 9pm-1pm. All the students get an hour-long private lesson with one of the coaches. After our lesson we then go into private practice to work on what we learned with our coach. I was lucky because my lesson was scheduled from 12-1pm; so luckily I got to sleep in a bit. I got to the Rich Forum at around quarter of 11am and went into private practice until 12pm because I was in the last lesson slot before lunch. What strikes me the most about the days with private lessons is that as one is walking through the building trying to find a place to practice privately – a difficult task in itself seeing that there are a lot of us - one hears music coming from all corners of the building.

For lunch, I picked up food from a great little place called “Katie’s” in downtown Stamford and met back at the Rich Forum to eat with a couple friends.

All the groups began promptly at 2pm with our coaches. This afternoon my group finish refining the first movement and began work on the 4th movement which is the 2nd most difficult movement in the piece. It is a happy- go- lucky Rondo that’s a joy to play. We finished up at 5pm, our coach leaving us with some things we need to work on tonight. Knowing the other members in my Quintet, I’m sure that tomorrow morning we’ll be able to impress him with what we’ve worked on tonight.

Week 1, Day 3

Shortly after I had submitted yesterday’s addition to the blog (or I would have added it last night), I attended the free Lumina String Quartet concert at the Ferguson Library. The program consisted of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet in D Major, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 9, and Oriental Reverie for Clarinet and String Quartet by Glazunov. It was really fantastic; it isn’t too often one hears that level of musicianship live.

This morning, rehearsal resumed again at 9am. My group decided along with our coach that we would practice alone in the morning so that we could be more prepared for a coaching session in the afternoon. We started the morning rehearsal off with the fourth movement, our goal being to work it up to the performance tempo. In fact we’re still deciding what that tempo will be because while we’ve secured it to a certain point, we think we can do it even faster. This morning’s rehearsal, however, was not as simple as just working up to performance speed. In trying to quicken the tempo we ran into some issues with all lining up together in certain sections. A couple measures near the end were consistently being rushed throughout rehearsal. This problem was later addressed and fixed with the help of our coach in the afternoon.

What’s nice about being a clarinetist with a string quartet is that from time to time the strings have to work out some things (such as bowings or articulation) on their own. This allows me to take nice little break whenever they need to do so. I especially enjoy it because while the strings work on their own, I get to read along with the score and basically be the “coach in residence” and give some advice because I’m able to listen to them with “outside ears” so to speak.

As for lunch, I think “Katie’s” is becoming my place. I really love the food there, the lobster bisque in awesome. I highly recommend it to anyone who is in downtown Stamford.

Coached rehearsal in the afternoon went very well because we resolved most of the issues we were having difficulty with in the fourth movement earlier this morning. During the last hour we began working on the second movement: an Adagio aptly called “Fantasia.” It is dark and Romantic music, typical of Von Weber.

Week 1, Day 4

Today was a private lesson day, so I arrived around 11am and began warming up for my 12pm lesson. When I walked into my teacher’s room he was still with another student, so he told me to go warm up some more and come back in 15 minutes. He surprised me with a treat however, when he gave me a special mouthpiece to try before I came back. He lent me one of his prized Chedevilles. Henri Chedeville was a mouthpiece maker from the 1930s who produced the best mouthpieces of the era. Today they are considered by many clarinetists to be some of the best mouthpieces ever made. As such, they are extremely rare and highly valued among clarinets; so much so that a Chedeville’s significance to a clarinet player is analogous to a Stradivarius’ importance to violinists. I didn’t go back to my teacher’s room for at least 25 minutes because it was so much fun to play a mouthpiece of such rare quality and history.

My group had agreed to start afternoon rehearsal at 1:45 because their lunch break was from 12:30 to 1:30pm. My lesson ended at about 1:20 – my own fault seeing as I had come back a bit late to my lesson because of that Chedeville – leaving me with only 25 minutes for lunch. Luckily I didn’t have to go out to buy lunch. I had only eaten half of my sandwich from yesterday and had put the other half in a refrigerator. Whew!

The afternoon rehearsal was spilt into two sessions. The first half uncoached and the second coached. My group began work on the third movement, the only one we had not looked at in detail yet. It is a beautifully capricious Minuet. After having worked the third movement up to performance tempo our coach joined us. With him listening we did our first full run through of the entire piece since Monday. It has come a long way since then. The overall piece is there, however, as always with music, there is still more refining to be done.

Week 1, Day 5

This morning started with coached rehearsal in the Rich Forum. For my group, this mainly consisted of doing run-throughs of the movements and then of the whole piece. We’ve worked out almost all the kinks by now and feel in great shape for the concert. Seeing as I’ve been the only online perspective for the camp thus far, I’ve asked some of the members in my group to tell me something about “Asya camp” they would like to put on the blog.

The violist in my group said, “We always have fun no matter how hard the work is.” This statement resonates with me a great deal. Even though we’re constantly rehearsing – and very intensely at that – we’re constantly joking around and enjoy ourselves.

A violinist in my group told me she relishes, “Watching the Mozart Quintet, and having the Mozart Quintet watch us practice.” There is another clarinet quintet this week which is playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Having two clarinet quintets in camp made mostly of string quartets makes for a unique friendly rivalry between the two groups. As such, both quintets sneak into the other’s rehearsal space when on breaks to watch each other (and even from time to time to try and make the other group laugh while rehearsing).

Every year on Friday, right before lunch, the whole camp moves down a building on Atlantic Street to St. John’s Catholic Church right next door.

After the move I got a quick lunch and hurried right back to the church. My coach and I needed to go through and work on some clarinet reeds to find a great one for the performance. As good fortune would have it, we ended up finding two.

Everyone always looks forward to Friday afternoon because it is the round robin. What happens is all the groups are mixed up with each other. Each new group gets to sight-read a different and often new piece. It is always a lot of fun because we get to spend more time with other students outside our group and let our hair down when sight-reading a new piece for fun. My new group was given the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (lucky for me I have performed it before). My group did a great job sight-reading. By the time we got through all four movements it was already 15 minutes past camp’s end, but no one in my group had known. Obviously time flew by.

Week 1, Day 6

Saturday: our last day of rehearsal before the concert. Everyone’s working to put together whatever finishing touches are needed. Saturday is also the day of the master-class. Each group plays one movement of their piece in front of all the coaches. Then all the coaches each make comments about how we played and what we should work on. At this point each group has finished the work on the overall piece and the coaches’ comments tend to be about refining certain things. Everyone, from what I saw, was quite nervous. Playing in a master class is more almost, maybe even more, nerve-racking then performing in public because the audience is made up of highly trained musicians. They hear every little detail that might be wrong. My group was the seventh group to play in front of the judges. We performed the third movement; I feel we did quite well. The comments we got weren’t too picky; they were mostly general overall comments which means we did well. The master-class filled the entire morning until lunch. The afternoon consisted of rehearsing the things the judges told us to work on.

Week 1, Day 7

Sunday: the day all our hard work and preparation is put to the test.

Even though the concert starts at 3pm, some groups, including my own, show up at 1pm to rehearse on stage. No one gets a chance to play in the performance hall – known as the black box – until the day of the concert. This being the case, all the groups are vying for time to get used to the acoustics in the black box. There are eight groups in total, so every group gets 10 to 15 minutes to practice on stage.

My group was scheduled to go 7th, so I didn’t get to hear the first six perform. I’ve found it’s usually not good to go into the audience and listen to other groups before a performance. Everyone in my group agreed that the best way to prepare ourselves was just stay backstage and warm up/ relax until we go out. Listening to other groups can take your mind of your own performance.

Speaking of my group’s performance, I was very pleased with the way we played. I know the rest of my group is proud of our performance as well. I did hear the group after mine; they played a Beethoven String Quartet and were fantastic. From what we heard from the coaches, the rest of the groups also performed excellently. In the end, all the rehearsal put in by each of the eight groups really paid off.

Tomorrow we start it all over again with a new week, new groups, and new music.

Week 2, Day 1

I’m with an all-new string quartet. We’re doing Oriental Reverie for Clarinet and String Quartet by Alexander Glazanov and Suite for Clarinet and Strings by Ferruccio Busoni. Both are lesser known compositions for clarinet and string quartet. It’s always nice to perform something a little less known because it’s like charting new territory.

The morning started off with coached rehearsal. Our coach had us run the Glazanov a few times to gets it’s feel, after which we began breaking it down and getting into the details. It’s a short piece so by the end of the morning we had gotten through all of the major points our coach had for us.

After lunch, our group got a surprise from our cellist’s mom. She showed up with a new cello for him to try out. He had been using his cousin’s cello because his was in the repair shop. However, he’s also ready to get a better one. This new one his mom brought in was fantastic. When we heard it we we’re all amazed at the sound it produced. Its sound carried so well that the rest of the strings were forced to play louder to keep up, haha.

Week 2, Day 2

Everyone has private lessons on Tuesday morning. I was lucky enough last week to have my lesson scheduled later in the morning. This week is no different; I had an 11am lesson. My teacher and I on worked on a duet that we will perform on Sunday. It’s a Clarinet duet composed in 1999 by Czech composer Viktor Kalabis. It has never been performed before. As such, the upcoming performance of this piece will be its world premiere. I’m very excited about this performance because it’s my first premiere of a piece.

This afternoon my group worked on the Busoni. At first glance it doesn’t seem such a hard piece. Its polyrhythmic nature as well as fast tempo make it deceivingly difficult. None of us have extraordinarily hard parts, but when we put them all together the difficulty begins to arise. All we have to do is practice it at slower tempos and work it up bit by bit.

Week 2, Day 3

Today started of at 9am as usual. My group continued work on both the Glazanov and Busoni. The major thing we worked on during the morning was the Glazanov. Our coach stressed on how to give it the correct atmosphere. It’s a slow and haunting piece, these to characteristics are essential in performing it. Fixing both the balance within the whole group, as well as the overall dynamics, which greatly enhanced atmosphere we produced with the piece.

After lunch, a man who worked for D’Addario Strings gave all the students a presentation from 1 to 2pm. As this presentation was geared toward all the string players (all the students but me, the sole clarinetist this week), the things he talked about had no real meaning to me. This being the case, I asked the cellist in my group to talk about his presentation a little bit.

He said, “Today, a representative of D'Addario came to talk about strings, and about the physics of our beloved instruments. After he had introduced himself, and what his company did, he began the lecture by describing what science has shown us about modern strings. It turns out that a "plucked" string moves quite differently from a bowed string, which does not move in a "linear" path (as in vertical, or horizontal), but rather goes around in a sort of "parabola" (where it moves in a circular direction). He described something called "stick-slip" (I think), where the bow grabs onto the string with the friction of rosin, and then slips, grabs again, and so on. We got to see close up images of the hair on the bow, as well as infrared videos of a string being bowed.

He also described the work that was being done to explain why the Stradivarius instruments had such good quality. We saw how the vibrations "moved" in the instruments in a very interesting video.

There were many questions asked, such as the difference in gut strings (Ewww.), why strings were wound up, and what caused wolf notes. He replied, respectively: 1. They are not "perfect" enough, and are uneven in certain areas, causing the overtones to not function and harmonize properly. 2. Strings have to be flexible, yet even on all sides, and density, diameter, string tension, instrument length, and material are all important. 3. At wolf notes, the instrument is vibrating at its most, and causes the string to sort of "fail" on itself, sort of like how two people not cooperating with a jump rope cannot make it work evenly.

Like year after year…WE GOT FREE STRINGS!! The violins all got a set of strings as a "non-whistling E string." Violists also got a set, while the cellists got two strings. Any clarinetists in the vicinity got sets of clarinet reeds.”

Unbeknownst to me before today, D’Addario and Rico both part of the same company. This turned out great because I certainly did get some free reeds from a string maker, haha. I had never tried these types of reeds before – Rico Reserves – but they were great. I used one of them for the rest of our afternoon rehearsal which was devoted to Busoni’s Suite for Clarinet and Strings.

Week 2, Day 4

Today was a private lessons day, so I came in at 11:30 for my 12pm lesson. My teacher and I continued work on the new composition by Kalabis. There is something very interesting about this piece. Whether he knew it or not, Kalabis put in a lot of synthetic tones throughout the piece. A synthetic tone is a special type of note that is created when two other notes are played together. Only certain intervals produce them. What happens when two specific notes are played is, the sound waves from the two different notes mix and create a third (and sometimes even fourth) tone which is heard by the listener. When played by clarinets, a synthetic tone is characterized by a buzzing sound that feels like it’s right on the inside of the ear. Most instruments can produce them to some extent, but clarinets are especially effective at creating them. This capability of producing synthetic tones is due to the physical characteristics of the clarinet – ie.. a single reed woodwind instruments with a cylindrical bore. It’s really an amazing phenomenon because two clarinets are able to produce a chord of up to 4 distinct notes.

Lunch was especially fun today because my teacher brought in a surprise for all the kids. He grows a lot of different vegetables at his home garden, including some very hot peppers. Every year he brings in his hottest fresh picked peppers, and every year there is a little competition among the students of who can eat them without flinching. I found out two years ago that I have no tolerance for them, but the cellist in my group is the absolute best at this game. He’ll take a bite of the pepper no problem, won’t even flinch. The whole pepper episode was quite funny today; a couple kids even turned bright red in their pursuit to be labeled the best.

As for afternoon rehearsal, my group continued to work on both the Glazanov and Busoni. We feel that we’re extremely prepared and even ahead of schedule.

Week 2, Day 5

Rehearsal today began at 9am. My group continued worked on the Glazunov in the morning. It seems the word may have gotten out that my group is feeling very prepared. Our coach joked that every time we’re rehearsing, students walk into our room and then right back out again so they can rehearse, haha.

For lunch I what has become my usual place, Katie’s. I literally gone there for lunch every day over the past two weeks and I have made it my policy to try something new each time. It’s a great place to eat; I’ve even turned some of the other kids onto it.

Aftenoon rehearsal was filled with the usual tweaking and refining seen on the days close to the concert.

Week 2, Day 6

Today was the master class. Each group gets to play one to two movements from their piece in front of all the judges. It’s the day where we all have to face the music (pun intended). All the groups are supposed to be rehearsing while each other group is performing for the coaches, but everyone is always sneaking peaks at the current performs to get an idea of how everyone else is doing. There is always a friendly rivalry between the groups. As I listen to all the other groups I knew that there was some stiff competition. Everyone was playing quite excellently. My group played the second and third movements of the Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet by Busoni for our master class. We didn’t get to many comments which means that the coaches approved of our playing.

Afternoon rehearsal consisted of all the groups working on the things the coaches pointed out. My group continued doing run-throughs of the Busoni and Glazunov, which only heightened our feeling of preparation.

Week 2, Day 7

Concert Day:

Today started off (as is usual on the day of the concert) with all the groups vying for rehearsal time in the performance hall to get used to the acoustics. My group had decided to show up at 12:30 to ensure we got an ample amount of time. Our promptness paid off; I think we got the longest amount of time in the performance hall out of any group.

The concert began with the clarinet duet by Viktor Kalabis played by my teacher and myself. The synthetic tones got some good reactions from the audience. Afterwards the quartets began. My group went seventh, so I was not able to hear any of the groups who went before us because we were back stage. I did hear from several sources however, that they all performed magnificently. I was lucky enough to hear the eighth group who played a Shostakovich string quartet. They were absolutely phenomenal.

I have participated in this music camp for the past four years. As such, these two weeks of music have become an integral part of my summer. They require hard work and dedication, but are always a lot of fun. We always work hard and play hard. I cannot imagine what my summer would be like without these two extremely fulfilling weeks.

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