Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading Ahead

I'm pleased with how my recording of Telemann's Fantasia #3 came out. Pleasantly surprised may be another way to phrase it. I didn't feel 100% prepared going into the recording session; however, when I played back what I recorded I liked what I heard. As I had mentioned before, and as you can hear if you listen to the recording, both movements of #3 are kind of fast, and the notes come at you quickly, particularly in the second movement. In order to play something like that well, you need to have it "under your fingers," i.e., you don't want to be reading it as you're going along--it should be at least somewhat memorized. Otherwise, the notes go by too fast and you can't keep up.

I must confess though that I hadn't prepared it to the point of being almost memorized. So I ended up relying on another technique. But before I get in to that technique, let's go back to last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday, my father was kind enough to snag me a ticket to join him at the Kimmel Center to catch Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Mahler's 2nd Symphony, with the SF orchestra and the Westminster Choir.

Michael Tilson Thomas did the "conducting thing" that drives me crazy*--the thing that I see conductors of top orchestras do at least half of the time. He conducted ahead of the beat. In other words, he was conducting in time to the event that was going to happen a half second in the future. This isn't at all unusual, but I always find it very disconcerting--like watching a movie where the sound track is a tiny bit off. I've played in lots of ensembles under lots of different conductors over quite a few years, and for some reason, the conductors I've played under always conducted ON, not ahead of, the beat. Sitting in an audience behind a conductor conducting this way, I always wonder how I'd even be able to play behind the beat like that.

This brings us back to Fantasia #3 and the technique I used to compensate for the fact that I didn't quite have this piece under my fingers. I basically did what Michael Tilson Thomas did. I read ahead a few beats for most of the piece. While my fingers were playing beat two, my brain was reading beat three. By the time my fingers got to beat three, I was looking at beat four. Totally different from the way I usually play. It was somewhat jarring, but once I got in the groove it was okay.

* - This isn't a critism of the conductor, by the way. He and the orchestra and choir were awesome. It was one of the best concerts I've ever attended.

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