Sunday, February 24, 2008

A personal update

It has been almost 3 months since my last post, and so much has happened since!

  • I received a subsistence grant from the Edmonton Arts Council. It makes me really happy, because this project is turning out to be more costly in many ways, than I ever imagined! Receiving this grant means I can breathe a little bit easier, at least for a little while. I am applying for more grants and will need to find a few more ways to help me fund this project (any ideas?).
    The granting agency wants four copies of everything.....

    I am loving every minute of this huge project though!

  • I received an award: “Celebration of Women in the Arts Award of 2007” from the Edmonton Arts Council. I feel so very privileged, humbled and honoured!

  • I have just been asked to represent Edmonton in London, UK at the end of March for a sales mission which Edmonton Economic Development Corporation is working on with the Mayor's Office, Edmonton International Airports, etc.
    It will be great to go there and… I will be playing Bach!
    Unfortunately there is no money to buy a seat for my cello, so instead of risking it, I decided I will take my carbon fibre cello. It will be quite different from what I have been doing lately!

  • During the past few months I have reconnected with my good old fiend Mirecourt. During all of my performances and for most of my practicing and rehearsing, I have been enjoying playing it again. Since it got a new bridge, the instrument has become reliable and wonderful to play. It has been so interesting to find out how large a role a bridge plays in the overall manageability of an instrument!
    Apparently the previous bridge, while well cut, was a little soft and therefore moved ever so slightly under the string. This caused the intonation to become unreliable and the instrument to be moody.
    We cellists tend to be hypersensitive when it comes to the set up of the instrument (violinists tease us with that!). The soundpost has to be "just there" and nowhere else. The bridge has to stand "just so" and not differently. And when the bridge moves even a fraction of a millimetre, the sound changes, the playability changes, the character changes! Hard to explain to a non-cellist, but it can be a source of great frustration and anxiety. I have much less to worry about now!

  • I changed the strings on my Mirecourt again and I have gone back to Larsen strings. “Soloist soft” (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?!) on the a and d strings and wire core Tungsten on C and G. I love the power.
    True: I do miss the depth and wealth of overtones of gut strings, but this climate here in Alberta makes it too much of a hassle to attempt to play gut.
    It took me a month to play the gut strings in, which I expected. Then, for the next month, I enjoyed them immensely. The third month was filled with frustration because they lost their shine; they had dried out!
    Changing them every other month is much out of my budget range, so the Larsen is my pretty happy compromise. If I lived in a more humid climate, I would not hesitate for a moment though: I would continue to play gut.
    Compare the steel C string on the cello to the gut C string that I am holding!

    Nothing beats the warmth and richness of gut strings. Colleagues have asked if I didn't mind the more frequent tuning that you inevitably have to do with gut, or their slower response. I don't mind at all. Tuning is easy, just a little more frequent. And the slower response: I like it. I grew up on gut strings, so I know how to handle them. It gives the playing more depth, it seems more "true", more "honest".
    Now that I once again play steel, and wire core tungsten even, I have to keep reminding myself to feel deeper in the string than I instinctively would. What I mean by that is that the response of steel is so fast and easy that the performance can easily lack depth. Because one does not really have to work at one's sound, it is easy to leave it at that and just play. It is important for me to keep in mind my "ideal" sound and work at that.
    Is it too easy to "blame" the string? I think as a player it is important to remember what you want to hear. To not just let the instrument play you. I am getting into a discussion here that could go much further than that. The bottom line is that I play my Mirecourt again because the Carbon Fibre lacks that kind of depth. The Mirecourt has even more of what I am searching for when it has gut strings, but I can get it with the current set up as well, as long as I keep working at creating a certain sound.

    So what am I looking for? I had not played my Mirecourt for nearly two years because the carbon fibre cello was so very easy to play. So I do want an easy playing instrument. The new bridge on the Mirecourt gave me more ease, but I want the depth of gut, even though it is "harder" to play. I am not playing gut because it isn't practical in this climate, but I would if I were located elsewhere. If this isn't complicated...

    I am putting fine tuners back on the cello.

  • The Jay-Haide baroque cello exceeds my expectation. And it keeps getting better yet. The sound is very warm and rich. I get raving comments on it. It does have gut strings (Aquila), but somehow I don’t have the same issues with it that I had with the Oliv gut strings on my Mirecourt. Might it be because I don’t have the same demands from the instrument? With the Mirecourt I play a lot of different music. I play with my string quartet, I regularly play with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (I guess it must be “flu season” because I have been happily playing a lot with them). I am in the middle of a recording with my string quartet (all jazz music!). The sound of the Mirecourt has to project a certain way, and it has to be clean.

    A Performance with the Strathcona String Quartet at Edmonton's City Hall.

    My baroque cello has a different character and purpose altogether. It doesn’t project the same way, nor should it. It squeaks a little sometimes, but it doesn’t seem to matter the same way it does on the Mirecourt. I also have not found that these strings have lost their shine. Perhaps the string quality is different, perhaps the instrument responds differently, I don’t know what it is, but it works.
    In ensemble playing the Jay-Haide is very strong. As basso continuo instrument it has power, depth and flexibility. I like it a lot!
    Practising suites 2 and 5 on it have been such a treat. I never want to put it down. What a shame I can't use it while I am teaching (because it is tuned down to 415 instead of 440)!

  • The carbon fibre cello has been "demoted" to teaching instrument again. This really is why I bought it in the first place. Except for the odd rehearsal this winter when I chose to take the instrument in -35 degrees Celsius weather, rather than risking my Mirecourt, the cello has not been played “professionally”.
    This of course will change next month, when I will take it to England for a concert. That will be fun though. The carbon fibre cellos, once again, are great. They are so easy to play and so reliable. The don't care about barometric pressure changes, humidity, temperature. They project like no other instrument, and really: they sound any way you would like them to sound. For me though, I miss the character of wood. Perhaps the "crankiness" of wood. It is very personal though. I did play it for two years exclusively and loved every minute of it. It is a worry-free cello, so I will be glad to take it on the plane next month.

  • The piccolo will probably be ready for me at the beginning of April. I can hardly wait!

  • Getting to know my new Basil de Visser baroque bow has been very exciting as well. It is so different (of course!) from my Roy Quade bow.
    It is fascinating to compare the sound of my two bows on the different cellos. My absolutely fantastic Roy Quade bow is a perfect match for the Mirecourt as well as the Carbon Fibre. The baroque bow is very nice on the Mirecourt as well. It definitely has much less depth on that instrument, the overtones seem thinner, but for certain music it actually is quite nice. If I play Bach on the Mirecourt with the baroque bow, it has a very different quality than with my modern bow. The phrasing is instantly different. Summarizing: the Quade bow is warmer, richer, sustains easily and responds quick. The de Visser bow demands quicker bow strokes and won't sustain the same way.
    On the baroque cello both bows are different again. Here the Basil de Visser bow responds with ease, speed and produces a complexity of sound that my Quade does not. It is almost as if the Quade bow is too powerful for it.
    On the carbon fibre cello, the baroque bow sounds absolutely terrible. Interesting, isn't it?
    I will discuss this topic more in depth in later posts.

Here I am, working on the Bach suites, playing different instruments, different bows, different strings.
I am researching, discovering, practising.

One of the many things I wanted to find out during this journey is how the equipment a performer uses affects the interpretation. The next few posts I will discuss that in depth, but I can tell you this much: the difference is bigger than I ever imagined possible!

I have changed which instruments I will use for which suite. This is what I probably will present at the final concerts:

Suite 1: Mirecourt Cello
Suite 2: Jay-Haide baroque Cello
Suite 3: Luis and Clark Carbon Fibre Cello
Suite 4: Mirecourt Cello
Suite 5: Jay-Haide Baroque Cello
Suite 6: Jay-Haide Violoncello Piccolo

I may or may not play all 6 suites in one concert. I have gotten conflicting responses to that. Some find it would be too long. They think I should spread it over two days. Others think it would be great to do it all in one shot, so that they can compare all instruments immediately.
I don’t know yet…Any thoughts?