July 22, 2011

A film about Leo Brouwer

Youtube user elduendecillo07 uploaded this fascinating documentary on Leo Brouwer. I've created a playlist that should play them all in order. There's a lot discussion of style and ideas, plus many clips of him playing his own music and others'. 

Not everyone loves Brouwer's music, but to me he is one of the greatest composers of our era for any instrument. I got hooked on classical guitar when I first heard a classmate play Brouwer's Etude #1. I come back to his Estudios Sencillos once or twice a year, always trying to play them better and discover more in them. 

July 15, 2011

William Kanengiser masterclass notes, part 4

The final performer at the William Kanengiser masterclass I've been writing about played the fourth movement of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Homage to Boccherini. Kanengiser offered some thoughts particular to Tedesco's writing. It's often said that the guitar should be treated like a miniature orchestra, because of the wealth of tone colors it offers us, and that idea is especially applicable to a composer like Tedesco who was very much an orchestral composer. He was also very particular about how he used dynamics and articulations.

The rest of the feedback given to this performer was of a technical nature, so I'm going to conclude this series of posts by gathering together all the technical and miscellaneous suggestions that were offered during the masterclass.

  • Kanengiser reiterated throughout the class the importance of pulling the notes out of the guitar, moving the strings rather than hitting them. This is really the key to getting a good, consistent tone and needs to be at the core of our technique so that even in the fastest playing where you can't be thinking about control, you can rely on your fingers to activate the strings effectively. Move the strings in towards you before releasing them.
  • The open high E string needs to always be played warmly and fully, to keep the tone balanced with the other strings. Do whatever you can to avoid harshness/excessive brightness.
  • When performing vibrato, move from the shoulder and use the forearm as a pivot point. Don't just wiggle or shake the hand, but get the larger muscles involved.
  • Practice maintaining the clarity and continuity of a single voice when changing strings. This is difficult on guitar, but really important to musical playing. 
  • You can be flexible with the right and left hand positions in order to solve technical problems. The two examples I recall Kanengiser giving were related to damping. We often hear that the last phalanx of the left hand fingers should be positioned perpendicular to the plane of the fingerboard so as to only touch one string at a time, but when playing a descending scale in open position, dropping the hand a bit so the pads of the fingertips touch the adjacent string allows us to easily damp the open strings we've played so they don't keep ringing inappropriately. Likewise, we can roll the right hand thumb one way or another to damp a bass string while it is resting on an adjacent one in preparation.
  • Sometimes it's necessary to simplify the music in order to discover its true shape. For example, when the melody is part of a series of arpeggios, leave out the arpeggios for a while and work on the melody on its own.
  • When considering the shape of a line, figure out which notes are "juicy" and which are transitions. It's important for us to understand where the notes fit in the harmony and relation to the beat. Guitarists are infamous for arbitrary and inappropriate accents. 
This concludes my series of posts from that masterclass. Thanks for reading! If you've found this information to be helpful or you've otherwise enjoyed reading it, be sure to check out William Kanengiser's CDs, DVDs, and performances. 

July 8, 2011

William Kanengiser masterclass notes, part 3

Continuing on from my notes from a masterclass given by William Kanengiser in San Jose, back in 2007 or 2008.

The next student played the Prelude from Bach's Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro BWV 998. Some of Kanengiser's comments reiterate ones I have already mentioned, but I will include them again.

  • Dynamics are important, but be careful how you use them. Think like a storyteller. When you want to change dynamics, you can't lose the thread of the story. 
  • Bach's music is often ambiguous about whether it's one voice or multiple voices. The 998 prelude is a good example, as are the cello suites (as written for cello). You should get familiar with the implied lines as well as the literal ones, for cues to the overall shape of the piece.
  • Take cues for dynamics from the harmony.
  • The bass accents should follow the pulse of the rhythm. It's important to convey the rhythm in the bass as well as the upper voices. Don't be lazy about any voice. 
  • The phrasing of pieces is influenced by harmonic modulations. This is especially true in Bach, as it modulates so much. Get to know the harmony!
The penultimate performer also played Bach, the Gavottes from Cello suite no. 5. Feedback focused on structure and phrasing:
  • Ritards in music are like punctuation in writing. Phrases are like sentences. Pieces in a suite are like chapters in a book. Make it all fit together. 
  • Breath - in suites, you need just the right amount of time to convey the separation but also the relations. The tempi need to feel related. 
  • You need to feel sense of cut-time in gavottes.
My notes for the final performer are a little more lengthy so they will wait for now.

July 1, 2011

William Kanengiser masterclass notes, part 2

Continuing on from last week's post... Looking at the notes again, I was impressed by how much time William Kanengiser devoted to musical issues versus purely technical ones. I've decided to write this up in multiple parts, which will cover all the musical issues first and the final will cover technical and other miscellaneous ones.

The second performer played Guardame Las Vacas. Kanengiser mentioned that it was one of, if not the earliest written example of theme & variations. It's based on a popular theme of the time and I seem to remember him singing a bit of it, although that may be a confabulation on my part. You can hear a version by Alonso Mudarra for voice and (I think) baroque guitar played by Catherine King and Jacob Heringman here. It differs quite a bit from the familiar version by Narvaez, but I wanted to put in a plug for one of my favorite albums.

I have only two musical-issue related notes from this piece:

  • The notes on top are supported by the rhythm underneath. Kanengiser has the student play it as alternating bars of 3+3 and 2+2+2 accents, found so frequently in spanish music. It helped the student give the piece a stronger sense of rhythmic structure and direction.
  • Rhythmic energy is not necessarily the same thing as dynamic strength. I haven't recorded the context of this not but I assume the student at first put his previous suggestion into practice accenting the beats too forcefully but it is a great general observation. Often times a lighter beat can be more effective and appropriate as long as the beat is conveyed clearly.
The third student played Gavota-Choro by Heitor Villa-Lobos. IIRC, this student was a youngster, perhaps ten or eleven years old, who had broken his arm fairly recently and had just had the cast removed the day before. In spite of this, he only missed one day of practice. He was also playing a 3/4 size guitar and, frankly, had tone that most guitar students would be envious of. Needless to say, he was quite impressive, not to mention fearless. Of course, there was good feedback for him as well.
  • Tone - volume is sometimes less important than richness. A full tone produced by playing somewhat over the soundhole and giving due attention to the quality of each of the voices in the music and the evenness/continuity of their dynamics will give a better overall impression of loudness and projection than attempting to play loudly but without the sense of evenness.
  • Rallentando - Imagine the rhythm of the notes like a baseball card the spokes of a bicycle wheel as the wheel is slowing down gradually.