Day 164 – March 13th – Wibb and Whist

It has been another long day with both a final group trip up to London for Wibb’s masterclass and the Hastingleigh whist night. I didn’t come away with any prizes in whist, but had a nice time.

Hopefully I’ll have more time to reflect on the masterclass tomorrow. We heard the entire Bach E minor sonata, and I really feel like I got a lot out of Wibb’s teaching on this piece. I also feel like I was noticing much more of the things that Wibb then commented on in the students’ playing.

Day 112 – January 20th – A Gavotte and a Charleston!

This morning we were off up to London for another of William Bennett’s flute masterclasses. The repertoire was pretty standard, and the only work I hadn’t heard before was Philippe Gaubert’s Sonata No. 1. It ended up being my standout piece of the day – it’s stunning and was also played beautifully by masters student Katy Ovens. I’m rather tempted to see whether Trevor might let me have a go for the February piano masterclass!

As always, Wibb was an engaging and energetic teacher, whose use of little sung phrases (many of them rather naughty!) to show musical direction and emphasis had everyone in fits of laughter. Musical direction and musical intent were the themes of the day, and every note had to fulfill its proper place in the musical line. Expressive breathing was also key – even if a breath isn’t needed, it should be felt if the musical sentence needs it.

In the afternoon, Wibb seemed to become even more animated, breaking out into some impromptu dancing on not one but two occasions. The Allegro movement of J.S. Bach’s E major sonata was a jazzy Charleston – all the syncopation needs to be felt and played upon. Wibb’s Charleston itself was also quite impressive! Then the final work of the day was Paul Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasy, whose gavotte Wibb danced to show how light and flexible the tempo needs to feel.

Good coffee at St Pancreas Station, lunch with some lovely friends at the Royal College, and arriving home to Elmsted to find some faint traces of snow made for a nice day, though am hoping our dairy will warm up a little overnight!

Day 111 – January 19th – Tunes and more tunes

I haven’t left much time to write tonight’s post, and should be heading off to be ready for another trip up to London tomorrow. This time we’re off to William Bennet’s masterclass for the day, and I’m hoping to gain as much inspiration from it as I did at the London Symphony Orchestra’s concert last night!

Today’s class has a few ups and downs. A distinct down was when we were talking about practice schedules, and Trevor honed in on my playing of tunes. I’m starting every day with a tune, and no matter what he may think am working to play it expressively and with feeling and dynamics. All of a sudden in class I had to stand up and give him a demonstration. And another, and another. I think I ended up playing seven or so different tunes, most of which he seemed to quite like. It just so happened that the one I started off with he didn’t know, and then the next one that I landed on I wasn’t as sure of the notes as I wanted to be! So then he went off on a tangent about me trying too hard to play from memory! It got to the point that I felt like no matter what I did I couldn’t win, and I just wanted to sit down and let him focus on someone else for a while!

Once we got past that, I ended up playing quite well. My first B in Debussy’s En Bateau was flat, and earned a bit of a lecture, but otherwise the excerpt went quite well. I also played the second movement of Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina, in a way that earned the comment “very nice, lovely control”, which made me quite pleased.

I can’t let these rants get to me!

Bach and Handel: Flute and Violin by Candlelight

January 8th, 2015
London Octave, St Martin in the Fields, London

Meditative if somewhat conservative, this concert presented a selection of trio sonatas and solos by Bach and Handel. Flautist William Bennett and violinist Andrew Watkinson are stunning musicians, infusing every note with a glittering vitality that made each work sing. The Chaconne from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin was a particular highlight, and a brief introduction by Watkinson was perfect for those who didn’t know the work so well. Bennett’s performance of Bach’s E minor flute sonata was delicately coloured and a pleasure to listen to, though I did wonder occasionally whether he was finding the performance tiring.

Joined by Christopher Bevan at the harpsichord and last-minute ring in cellist Tim Lowe, the ensemble’s trio sonatas were fun and easy-going. As the concert progressed, the contrast between Bach and Handel’s writing was very noticeable. Though astutely composed and beautifully phrased, the Handel felt light-hearted and fleeting compared with the emotional intensity of Bach’s musical journeys. Moving from Handel Sonata for violin and continuo in E major Op.1 No. 12 into Bach’s Trio Sonata in C minor from ‘Musical Offering’ made for a luscious though weighty ending to the program, and I left feeling incredibly refreshed and musically content.

Others might have done something a little more daring with either programming or presentation, though I’m not sure that such a concert would necessarily have suited the serene grandeur of St Martin’s. As it was London, and all performers were of such a high calibre, the concert was well (though not stunningly) attended. It’s concerts like this, though, that make me wonder about the future of classical music – is this necessarily the best way to present small chamber works in a way that might draw audiences back? Or will the audiences slowly disappear in other directions?

Day 46 – November 15th – Wibb masterclass reflections

After such a busy day yesterday, it was good to get back to practice and let some of Wibb’s comments and ideas from the masterclass sink in. For some reason, I found that I got a lot more out of this masterclass than the last one we attended – maybe I was a bit better prepared for Wibb’s teaching style this time? Here, in summary, are a few of the key points that I took away:

– The flute is like a voice, and Wibb tends to express things in vocal terms when talking about both rhythm and tone. Almost every key phrase was given a set of lyrics, which helped to guide the performer’s emphasis or encourage them to correctly show the meter. There were also a couple of favourites that kept cropping up: “el-e-phant” for triplets, and then “el-e-phant’s bum” for a triplet followed by a less-important crotchet. For tone, the performers were asked to sing a phrase “like a baritone” or “like a soprano”, which showed how different vibrato and tonal concepts can give us such a huge palette of colours to play with.

– A Moyse quote, related by Wibb in a lovely French accent: “syncop take accent”

– I was impressed by how Wibb managed to related everything back to either Moyse’s De la Sonorité or his 24 Melodic Studies. The exercise would always start out simply, gradually adding steps so as to arrive at the sort of phrase he had found in the piece. It really did bring home to me just how fundamental expressive phrasing is, and prompted me to practice my tunes with renewed awareness this morning.

– Love final notes in phrases, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that vibrato is needed.

– Composers, even really good ones, often make mistakes with slurs. The phrase is always more important than slur marks, and so we should edit in a way that bring out the melody rather than always trying to respect every single marking on the page.

Hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate some of this wisdom into my practice in the coming days.