creativity

So Why is Improvisation so Important? — by Jeffrey Zeigler

Like so many classically trained cellists, improvising was never something that I felt very comfortable trying. And although most of my professional life has been in the world of new music, improvisation was not something that I had explored in depth until a few years ago. My improvisational journey began literally the day after my final day with the Kronos Quartet when I played a concert at The Stone in New York with John Zorn and several others on one of his monthly improv nights. For those of you who have never been to one, the way that these concerts work is that everyone sits downstairs in the basement and one by one people decide in the moment who plays with whom. It can be duos, trios or quartets—you literally [...]

The Swan — by Arnold Steinhardt

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, “The Carnival of the Animals.” I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his name in print before. I wondered why there was a funny line between his two-word last name and what could be the purpose of those strange dots perched on top. And was Saint-Saëns actually a saint? I thought that The Swan was very pretty and probably associated the music’s title with its general mood in some vague way. As a child, I often saw swans gliding regally through the water on the lake near where [...]

Pezzo Capriccioso, Transitions, Alterations, and Rosin (Edited Version) — by Robert Battey

I am indebted to Aron Zelkowicz for correcting factual errors in the first version of this article, and to Peter Close for locating an on-line version of the original score.   Today’s ruminations are on Tchaikovsky.  And his congenital weakness regarding transitions.  It’s kind of endearing, that such a genius would have this Achilles’ heel; for some reason, his muse regularly deserted him when he needed to stitch together two sections of music. It could be in a placid spot, such as the transition to the jerky second theme in the first movement of the Piano Concerto . . . or the connecting “music” preceding the waltz variation in the A minor Trio. It could also be in a transition meant to increase tension, like the second return to the [...]

That Sound — by Selma Gokcen

"Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other in the integration of the human being because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the Soul on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the Soul of him who is rightly educated truly graceful."  – Plato I wonder whether most of us, performers and listeners alike, fall in love with the sound of an instrument before we even know how and why it has such an effect upon us. The primacy of sound—its essential fascination—indicates a deep internal need for the connection to life, first of all in the womb where the heartbeat of the mother is heard, then after birth as the newborn is attuned to the sound of its mother’s voice, and [...]

Tak-Sîm (Pt. 2) — by Jeffrey Zeigler

Here in Part Two of my discussion on Tak-Sîm by Alireza Farhang, I am going to focus on his application on various extended cello techniques. On this topic, I found his approach to be quite fascinating and one that I am especially excited to share with everyone here in the cello community. The piece begins with an audio trigger that I execute by pressing on a foot pedal. The trigger is a low, ambient sound that is sonically enhanced when I play a tremolo on the stick of the bow thus creating an almost a breathless quality. Although a relatively simple technique, for this technique I would suggest using what I call a "guilt free" bow. The reason is because there is a large crescendo at the tail end of [...]

Behind the Scenes of a Music Festival (Part 3): The Rehearsal Mine Field — by Aron Zelkowicz

Quartet rehearsal, 10 am! Which means you show up at 10:04, but then decide to make a quick Starbucks run with the second violinist because the violist is parking his car anyway and seriously, who can be expected to tackle Shostakovich at 10am without their Grande Vanilla Double Soy Macchiato? You return to discuss next week’s rehearsal schedule because there have been just too many e-mails lately (and of course, what are we wearing for the concert?). You take the opportunity to xerox that missing page of your part, unfold your stands, rosin your bows, and then, finally, you’re ready….to tune. It’s ok, no big deal—10:27 is plenty early to start rehearsing. There is always tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Such may be the way of the [...]

New and Old — by Yeesun Kim

This summer I had two very different experiences performing contemporary pieces. The first piece, as it turned out, had several performances spread over two months. Two concerts included working with the composer prior to the concert. The second piece was set up to be only performed once, without the composer's presence and with only two days of rehearsing. Both pieces were quite difficult in their own ways. The first piece called for virtuosity, stamina and the ability to clearly outline the structure and narrative in order to hold the piece together. The second piece was almost the exact opposite. Short and obsessively detailed in its use of sound effects, it abounded in the use of extended techniques.  It employed extremely soft dynamics and seemed to purposefully obscure perceptible structure in [...]

Notes from the Field: 12 Cellos are Better Than 1 — by Aron Zelkowicz

I wanted to take a break from behind-the-scenes administrative reporting to share a recent concert experience that might be of interest to those who like to “geek out” about all things cello-related. It might have been Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex and the City (not that I ever watched the show…) who noted that one of the best things about living in New York City is getting out of it once in a while.  So on a scorching July weekend it was invigorating to drive well beyond the numbered streets and convene with eleven other cellists in the town of Hunter, New York—home to some of the highest peaks in the Catskill Mountains. The simplicity of this village and nearby Tannersville was a quaint contrast to Manhattan.  The Catskills [...]

Finesse — by Brant Taylor

Any musician who has interests outside the realm of music has probably discovered ideas and concepts important to other disciplines which are directly applicable to the study and performance of music.  The lessons we can learn about greatness from outside our own field are often very powerful because the underlying principles tend to be universal and not confined to any single discipline.  For the famed American chef Thomas Keller, there is one word he uses to describe his entire philosophy of approaching his craft at the highest level: finesse.  Chef Keller apparently doesn't want anyone who works for him to forget it—the word and its dictionary definition are emblazoned directly on the tiles above the entrance to the kitchen at Per Se, his high-end (and delicious) New York City restaurant: [...]