Thursday, September 8, 2016

#2 - Chopin, Mendelssohn, Debussy

Today, I first played Rondo capriccioso Op 14 by Mendelssohn, followed by the Chopin Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38, and finally Debussy Prelude No. 3, Book 1.

Prof Fitenko said he was impressed with my technique and many musical aspects of my playing today. He was very happy with the improvement he could already see after just one lesson and talked about preparing a program for performance as well as for amateur competitions. He provided many helpful comments about both musical and technical aspects that are summarized below:

Mendelssohn Rondo Capriccioso
  1. Page 1: Voice the bass octaves downwards. The bottom note is more interesting. 
  2. Be very precise on the articulation. Be faithful to the score as far as slurs and articulation go. e.g. Measure 6 - let go after playing B, lift your arm up to the upper octave. This also provides a visual cue for the audience about your articulation. 
  3. Measure 10 - p indicated. The thumb plays the first note, so be extra careful about starting it p. Also make that long line. 
  4. Measure 13 (and other places later) - practice the alternating L/R figure by playing it on your lap. Make sure full values of notes are played. Practicing on your lap also makes sure you get the rhythm right as well as teaches you the feeling of playing without tension.
  5. Measure 18 - don't speed up, take your time to establish the new/grand statement. 
  6. Measures 20-21 - Left hand, emphasize lower note in the bottom octave and upper note in the top octave (basically play around with these voicings and figure out interesting ways to make music). 
  7. Measures 22-24 - The left hand helps connect the melody notes in the right hand. So do not gloss over them. Shape the left hand. 
  8. Use pedal in the presto leggiero section! Accent/conducting pedals. Either one or two every measure (play around with the options).
  9. Measures 67 - con anima section - Articulation, staccatos, etc. Don't play with a feel of 2, make longer lines of 6 (time signature = 6/8!). 
  10. Measure 97-99 - again practice these alternating figures on your lap. Make crescendos on the lap. Another way to practice it is by playing in the air (same with the coda of the Ballade). The left and the right hand need to feel connected to each other in these alternating figures - so even playing + playing full values - will help if you can do it on your lap first.  

Chopin Ballade
  1. Happy with the Andantino section. Now try practicing all voices, for example the middle voice could be tried in some areas just to make things interesting. 
  2. The repeating notes in measure 45 - push and pull, and the last note is actually a pick up to the presto con fuoco and must feel like it (even with the fermata). 
  3. Be confident in the presto con fuoco section. Focus more on the decrescendo on the right + crescendo on the left. 
  4. Legato right hand measures 62 - 
  5. Measures 68-69 - find a way to breathe and establish that statement rather than rush through it. 
  6. Legato long line measures 70-82
  7. Measures 78-81 - be metrical, don't push and pull too much within each measure. Slow down across measures while keeping a steady triple count. 
  8. Measures 164-167 - left hand trill, use slight rotation. Trills are not just buzzes. Listen to each note, it has structure to it. 
  9. Agitato coda - Use all the rests to rest, you'll need it!! There are landing notes which you push off of. Those are points of rest as well. Practice this very slowly till your hand feels very relaxed. Play the entire section in the air too while making sure your shoulders and arms are relaxed. Then play on a hard surface and finally on the keys slowly and then fast only when you've trained your arms and shoulders to be relaxed. 
  10. Measures 196- Tempo I - make that a "sad" sound. 
  11. Last chord - make sure the bottom and top notes are heard.

Debussy Prelude

  1. Use pedal - no crisp notes.
  2. Breathe
  3. Execute all the <> markings.
  4. RH measures 9-10 - keep time, in the same tempo as earlier. Check notes! 
  5. < followed by p is common in Debussy. Honor those markings.
  6. Be confident and play f< then p in measures like 28. 

We ran out of time at this point. All of these pieces, he said, were very good for me and that I should bring these up to performance standards. He then told me I could start working on some other pieces too if I liked. He suggested Bach's Italian concerto or anything else that I wanted to learn. I also told him I had worked on Beethoven's Tempest previously. He said that was a great piece for me as well, so I might try and bring that back soon. 

Goals for the next lesson - explore musical ideas with voicing and sonorities in the Ballade and learn to be relaxed in the coda, finish learning Mendelssohn and practice those alternating figures as instructed, work on the Debussy prelude, prepare the Schubert impromptu as Prof Fitenko wanted to hear it, and also get the Tempest Mvt 1 and 3 ready (might only happen over the next couple of lessons). After a few more lessons, start learning a new piece. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

#1 - Chopin Ballade No. 2

7/1/2016 was my first lesson with Prof Nikita Fitenko. He said hi to me and without wasting any time, asked me to sit down and play something. I played Schumann's Traumerei, Chopin's Waltz in E m (Op. Posth), and a little bit of a Mozart Sonata so that he could see where I was at with my playing. I gave him a list of pieces I was working on and a wish list. He looked at it and said it was all appropriate but that the Ballade might be too difficult given that it would be difficult for almost anybody. With that, we started working on it. I will list the major points made to beep this post readable and brief:

  1. Breathe life into the music, literally - practice breathing with the music, Chopin's slur markings are very good indications of where to breathe. 
  2. The sound needs to be dreamy and heavenly rather than sequence of notes. Rubato is key. 
  3. Keep hand still, and clutch the keys with your fingers - more control and contact with the keys, and helps make that "heavenly" sound.
  4. The analogy of gravity - going up against gravity induces tension, coming back down is on the way to relief. So for instance, when going down, unless it is marked, don't be "expressive" by going back up (crescendo). 
  5. LEGATO!
  6. Practice small segments by emphasizing different voices to really know what is going on in the other voices (I currently focus only on the top and bottom voices). Once you know the voices inside out, you have more resources to really make music!
  7. Similarly, in the presto con fuoco section, respect the directions (gravity analogy), and play legato. Practice hands separately to do this musically and put them together. 
  8. Don't emphasize the eighth notes too much
  9. Measure 95 - pause every so slightly to convey surprise. Measure 97 - The star of that chord is the A flat. Pay attention to voicing. 
  10. In the stretto piu mosso section (measures 107-114), the right hand needs to be legato and not sounded as groups of three chords. The third must always lead on to the fourth. Similarly, work on more legato on the left. Also, fighten the audience here! This should be grand and majestic and legato!
  11. Agitato section, measures 168 - ..., second chord in the figure is the star. Measure 168 - long line legato. Remember to breathe with the music!
  12. The hand going into the piano is a thing but a grasping motion of the fingers is what establishes real contact with the keys.  Also, in places like measures 190, keep hand compressed during the jumps. So after playing the thumb in an octave figure, bring it in, makes so a smoother transition to the next octave with greater control and precision. This also applies to the 13th jumps in the left hand in measure 178-179. Don't need to keep hand stretched. 
  13. Last section - despair. So produce that kind of an atmosphere. For example, that will tell you how to (or how not to) voice the melancholy chord in measure 200 at the very end. Focusing too much on the top end of the chord will convey another sense, maybe happiness?
The main takeaway from the lesson for me was to focus on the sound, on legato lines. on rubato.. and on breathing life into the music. At the end of the lesson, Prof Fitenko said "You have the technique to play the piece, I will take you. I will help you with the music". That is exactly what I needed to hear. I do play the notes fairly comfortably (except for a few small segments which I'm still working on) when at home. However, my lack of confidence shows in the musicality of my playing, especially when playing for others. Maybe focusing explicitly on that aspect during practice will help, and the breathing will absolutely help. This month's practice will focus on breathing and musicality rather than technique. Teachers before this have also talked about breathing but I guess I never really worked on it hard enough. That will need to change.

Finally, after the lesson, he asked me to sit on the couch and he sat at the piano and gave me a mini recital. He is scheduled to play the entire set of Tchaikovsky's The Seasons in Italy in 3 days. He played the first two, and good gosh, it was a moving performance! It is probably some of the most beautiful piano playing I've listened to. If I had any doubts during the lesson about him being the right teacher for me, those were dispelled after this mini private recital! I have a lot to learn from him on producing beautiful sound on the piano. 

I can only afford one lesson per month with Prof Fitenko, but I think it will be money well spent!