We've settled on a fixed time for lessons now. Every other Monday at 4pm. Regular lessons are what I missed all these years and I'm glad to have that finally! We looked at some Bartok, Debussy and Chopin today:
1) Bartok: Stamping Dance from Mikrokosmos (book 5).
My left hand was too percussive. My teacher wanted me to play it as though cellos were playing it. The very act of thinking instrumentally changed the sound of it. I used a little bit of pedal to create longer cello like sounds for the left hand. The character changes when the left hand goes to slurs in the second line. They need to be individual slurred figures (pairs). Towards the end of the first section, the last couple of accents need to be REALLY accented. The tempo can go down a bit (broaden) to emphasize that accent some more (pochiss. allarg.).
In the "Un poco piu mosso" section, towards the end, it needs to keep growing until it hits the sff. If the forte section right before the sff doesn't grow, it will actually seem like its going down (when the sff comes in). I had learned the rhythm wrong starting at the sff. That section is also slightly tricky in that I need to pay careful attention to the gradual slowing down (poco a poco ritard.) as well as the diminuendo to make sure that the "Meno mosso" section isn't an abrupt change in tempo. It needs to feel integrated and organic.
The staccatos in the Meno mosso section are pick-ups and need to be light (imagine the leg starting off pointed in the opposite direction before stepping in a certain direction in a dance..similarly, the staccato is the first preparatory motion, not a motion of its own). This section also needs to be more playful and light. The accelerando needs to be well conducted and it should absolutely be spirited in the piu mosso final section. (Teacher: "The fingers shouldn't lead the musician, it should be the other way round"). That is how such a "stomp" dance might end (on a high).
2) Debussy Prelude (Book 1, No. 3: Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir): I had read through half the piece but was already facing technical difficulties in some parts and so I decided to consult my teacher on some of those. I played through it and he liked what he heard.
When playing the left hand accompaniment, I had started out dry but on getting to the second page, I resorted to using the pedal a little. He asked to me to do the same at the beginning because it was too dry without the pedal. The other important thing, as always, is to breathe before the melody enters in the second line. So remember to breathe musically!
The descending celesta like chords at the end of page 1 need to be played with flat fingers and that had an immediate effect on the sound there, I could play it exactly as I wanted to. Most of my technical issues were on the second page, with awkward tangled finger positions. MEasure 21 especially was problematic. He suggested a different fingering (from the one suggested in Henle Urtext). After working on it a bit, I think I can work with the suggested fingering in the book. It needs more work before I'm comfortable with that measure though.
We then spent some time on practicing the contrary leaps in measure 28 (and thereon). The key is to keep the left (and right) hand moving in. So the D flat in the left hand is just a passing tone that can be played by the second finger (as suggested in the book) as the hand moves smoothly across inwards. To practice this, first forget that D flat and just practice the two hands leaping inwards from outside so that the left hand is taught how to move smoothly and without a break. Then incorporate that D flat with the left hand second finger as the left hand takes a smooth uninterrupted trajectory inwards.
3) Chopin Waltz in E minor (Op. posth): I have been working on this for a long time now and I'm still not happy with it. So I decided get some guidance from my teacher. These were his comments:
The introduction needs to build up and then not fizz out but climax in measure 8 on a full blown forte. I had not paid enough attention to building that up. Then, as always BREATHE before the grazioso waltz begins. He liked most of it, except for the E major part (starting measure 57). It needs to be much more graceful. I could take the tempo a notch down. "Take me out to the garden before taking me back to the dance floor" is how my teacher described this part to me. It still needs a basic pulse of course, but it can be much more graceful and relaxed. Make sure you hear the B's (e.g: measure 58). A nice legato in m. 59 (and similar measures).
Again, BREATHE before the ff section begins. Note correction in m.75. I had always been aware of that different note that I had heard in recordings but I had always played the urtext. However, this other version sounds more interesting, so I've decided to play that instead and my teacher told me what notes they were. (Urtext is the boring G# -> c#, the other version is G#A#C#F# (what chord is this?) --> c#).
Breathe in 80..pause, and gracefully play the rest. Make sure you breathe in measure 108 too right before the beginning of the build-up to climax.
Finally, the E minor arpeggio. He gave me a demonstration...fast and accurate! The trick is to use the wrist to lead the fingers. So the wrist now points to the left and the entire arm keeps moving to the left while the fingers (though slanted now because of the angle that the wrist makes) play the arpeggio real fast. Its hard to explain this in words, I'll probably update this section with a video demo some time.
I was also asked to remind him to talk to me more about arpeggios at the beginning of the next lesson. Targets for next lesson: finish learning the Debussy prelude, maybe also finish learning the Brahms Intermezzo (118/2) and that should give us enough to talk about next lesson.