Daily Prompt: Strike a Chord

Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us a story about your experience or relationship with an instrument of your choice.

As those of you visiting won’t know, I am a music student. I play the Cello, Piano and a bit of Bass Guitar. For content purposes, I won’t go on about them, but another instrument that has captured my heart of late – the French Horn.

The French horn is a beautiful instrument. Not only can is sound brassy, and perform a number of fanfares including the brilliant off-stage fanfare in Strauss’ ‘Alpine Symphony‘, but can produce the most sweet, lulling tones which carry you away in the stuff of dreams. It can blend very well with other sections of the orchestra – a particular favourite combination of mine is horn and strings – as well as come out of the texture. I have a few horn players a friends (they’re handy to have around for non-horn-playing horn-lovers like myself), and I’ve played in orchestras with them several times.

I’m always amazed at what horn players are put through in an orchestra – we played a new piece of music in an orchestra recently where the horn section screamed at the top of their range for extensive amounts of time (the composer clearly had no idea what these poor people had to go through) – since then, we have been reissued parts where the string section now plays their parts following many complaints about exhausted lips. God damn brass players…

This is the horn solo from Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, 3rd Movement. This particular recording, done by the legendary Berlin Philharmonic, showcases the extraordinary range of tones that the horn can have.

Next is this extract of the Berlin Phil. performing Dvorak Symphony No. 8 with conductor, Claudio Abbado. This is a showcase for horns cutting through the texture of the orchestra, in this case with crazy trills that you can see as the horn players lift up their instruments!

So yes, the horn is a favourite of mine at the moment, I hope you see why.

On another matter, I am attending sixteen concerts in August as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, where I will be hearing outstanding ensembles such as The Sixteen and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform in the Usher Hall. Since I’m going to so many concerts it was suggested to me that I write a review on them. So that’s what I plan to do during August – and they will all be posted up here on the blog!

Other chords a-striking:

Schubert Sick Leave – Competition Adventures

Lo – I have returned! Apologies for the absence of posts in the last couple of weeks. I always forget how busy March is every year. My excuse for not blogging is that I have had lots of concerts and rehearsals in the last fortnight. The only reason that I am blogging today is that I am at home, off sick, exhausted. Though all the concerts to do have not been done yet, I have until Monday until rehearsals get back into full swing, so this seemed like a good opportunity to catch up on rest and cure illnesses.

Last night our Schubert Quintet competed in a Chamber Music competition. We did the 3rd movement of the Schubert String Quintet in C Major – the Scherzo -, just a few hours after a few of us had competed in a Solo recital class. The leader of our Quintet won the recital class – he certainly deserved it as his musicality is fantastic and his technique is exquisite – and we all were very proud of him as we walked to the next competition venue. We grabbed some food on the way, ate, and then started rehearsing (again) – two whole hours before the competition started!

We practised in a small chapel, did plenty of intonation exercises, and went over beginnings and endings of sections of the piece. Before long, the competition started, and we went into the main hall of the church – a grand, ornamented, wonderous place in all honesty. After the first group performed we grabbed our instruments, which we had perfectly tuned beforehand, handed the score of the Schubert to the Adjudicators, and set up.

Doing chamber music from memory is unconventional to say the least, and when we placed our stands to the sides of the stage we got some chuckles from the audience. There was only one piano stool (cellists tend to prefer sitting on an adjustible piano stool as opposed to a chair) so I had to sit on a chair which, in truth, was far too low for me to sit on. We checked our strings for tuning. We were all out of tune ever so slightly. This really took us by surprise, however we tuned fairly quickly, checked everyone was okay and calm, then played.

The performance was a bit shaky, even though everyone said it was a fantastic performance, and there were a couple of memory slips from a couple of us; however the music went on regardless and seemingly these mistakes were undetectable. We received enough applause for three bows, and then the Adjudicators came up to our group and said “We’re speechless”. It was very exciting – we really didn’t think that we were that good!

After they had asked us a few questions, such as “Where do you study?”, “How long have you been playing together?” and “Will you be doing all fifty-five minutes of the piece by memory?”, we sat down and watched the last group (there were only three groups as the other six had withdrawn!) perform. In all honesty, this trio of musicians were outstanding. They played this practically unknown “Fantasy Trio” for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. They were all post-grad music students, and their performance was very refined indeed.

In the end, the trio and our Quintet were both given an “Outstanding” mark by the Adjudicators, however the trio received the medal. We all agreed that our performance was far from perfect. In truth, little things can throw you off your game. In this case, the surprise of our instruments being out of tune after we had tuned them was probably the thing was distracted us. That being said, my advice to all musicians performing chamber music is this:

Always remember that you are playing music.

Music is expressive art at the height of its glory.

In the end, everyone has to express themselves when playing music.

Feel the connection with your fellow musicians.

There is a known phenomenon amongst musicians:

When you cut out all your visual senses,

(Which take a lot of energy from the brain),

Your other senses take over, and are heightened,

If you can feel this all the time you have entered a whole different realm of music-making,

And I assure you that you will never feel the same about music again.