Monthly Archives: September 2006

I can’t believe I played the whole thing . . .

(For my younger readers, there used to be a series of Alka-Seltzer tv ads in which someone would be looking at the camera, quite distressed, and say, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”)

I did play the whole Shostakovitch, and the more closely recorded entire piece is up on my recordings page. Along with the saga of why the entire concert performance isn’t there (it’s part dress rehearsal, part performance).


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Two men in love with the same . . . cello

The Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello I used for the Shostakovich concerto is fabulous: a big, clear, loud sound that carries well in a hall. A student in one of my classes yesterday asked me, “do you like the tone of the carbon fiber cello better than a wood cello?”

Well, no. I love the Luis and Clark for what it is–a different cello, with a different sound. It has a lot of similarities to a wood cello, and is more powerful than any wood cello I’ve compared it with. But it is not a wood cello and doesn’t sound exactly like one and that’s fine. It’s a great, truly amazing, new instrument.

One of my students has been in the process of buying a new cello. He’s finally settled on a brand-new wood cello by the Chicago maker Gary Garavaglia. Both of us fell in love with it. As a matter of fact, I almost used it for the Shostakovich concerto, because I’m just nuts for it. But all my students listened to the two side by side in a hall and the unanimous verdict was that the Luis and Clark projected better.

The Garavaglia has a rich, deep, sound that’s somehow both mellow and powerful. I’ve played a number of Garavaglias over the years. I’ve always admired them. But this is the first that I’ve been truly infatuated with. I played it on a chamber music concert last night and everyone loved it.

It’s as if the instrument has a soul. I rarely feel that with an instrument. And it brought out new things in my playing.

So I’m delighted my student is getting it. He sounds great on it. When I heard him play it, I had that sense that they belonged together. I didn’t feel that with any of the other cellos he tried. Not that some of them weren’t just as “good.” But it’s as much about chemistry as quality.

In Casablanca, Paul Henried points out to Humphrey Bogart that the two of them are in love with the same woman. (Ingrid Bergman–who wouldn’t be in love with her?) In the end, Bogie insists that Bergman go off with Henried as he works to save the world. And so I, despite falling in love with this cello, must relinquish it to my student, letting the instrument empower him to be the wonderful cellist he is on the path to becoming.

The Garavaglia and I will always have, if not Paris, Monday’s chamber music concert. And it didn’t leave me on a train in the rain.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

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First movement, as heard in the hall . . .

I’ve now have the CD of the broadcast version of the Shostakovich. I’m working on converting the files. Meanwhile, here’s a different recording of the first movement, from the dress rehearsal. This was recorded on a Sony MP3 recorder and a prety good stereo mic out in the middle of the auditorium, about 2/3 of the way back from the stage. I set the mic at about “ear level,” because I wanted to hear the actual balance. The broadcast recording used a spot mic on the cello solo.

I’m playing a Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello here. As you can tell from this recording, it packs quite a punch and carries well in the hall.

Click here to listen or download the file. It’s also available on my recordings page, where I’ll post the entire concerto soon.

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Oops–that Shostakovich broadcast?

“The best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft agley.” (Robert Burns; the quote also made famous by Stienbeck’s book Of Mice and Men.)

I’d announced here that at 3:00 PM ET today (Sunday) the DePauw Symphony concert, including me performing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1, would be streamed live over the interent. But it didn’t happen. Yesterday’s DePauw football game was was rained out (severe thunderstorm down in Tennessee) and finally played today. Which preempted the DePauw Symphony live broadcast.

It turns out not to have been an altogether bad thing, since someone pushed a button too few or too many in the auditorium control booth and nothing was recorded until sometime during the third movement (the cadenza) of the second piece in the program, the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1. Had the broadcast gone out live, there would have been a lot of dead air.

Luckily, a successful recording was made at Friday’s dress rehearsal. Orcenith Smith, our indefatigable conductor, spent the rest of the afternoon working with the radio station staff to edit together the the dress rehearsal and the what was recorded of the concert. The whole thing was then broadcast at 8:00 PM ET tonight. As soon as I get a copy of the assembled recording, I’ll post MP3 files up of the Shostakovich concerto.

Everyone enjoyed the Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello; it projects like a monster. The orchestra was dressed in traditional concert black. I wore off-white shirt and slacks, so the black “bat cello” (as my students call it) looked quite striking.

And even I thought the performance went well–and usually I am very self-critical and disappointed in my playing.

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A Song About Having Two Dads

Here’s today’s LGBT-friendly Youtube. My kids are lucky that their circle of friends is composed primarily of other kids of enlightened/liberal university professors, so they haven’t suffered the sort of harrassment that many kids with a gay parent or parents do.

This video seems a little hokey, in that very commercial teenybop sort of way. But it still touched me. Dutch television must be more interesting in some ways than that in the U.S.


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OK, Sunday I’m a Carbon Knight

One of the Luis and Clark carbon-fiber cello enthusiasts has dubbed we who play the instruments “Carbon Knight.” I wrote yesterday that I was having a hard time deciding which cello to use for Sunday’s Shostakovich 1st Concerto performance. I rehearsed yesterday with the Luis and Clark and decided to stick with it; I didn’t even try the Garavaglia with the orchestra.

Why? Well, the L&C sounded great. I’m very comfortable with it, having performed on it many times. It projects well. And it really would be crazy to try and get comfortable with another cello by Sunday. A new decisiveness: this bodes well!

So for Sunday at least, I’ll be a Carbon Knight.

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Oh, the crazy things we do to ourselves

when an “important” concert is approaching.

Sunday afternoon, I’m performing (for my first time) the Shostakovich 1st Cello Concerto, with the DePauw Symphony, here where I teach. My “real” cello, a wonderful 1790 Pietro Pallotta, is being restored by Russell Wagner in Chicago, and looks something like this.

I have never had a permanent second cello. DePauw owns a terrific Luis and Clark carbon-fiber cello, which projects well and which I’ve played in a number of concerts over the last 18 months or so. I’m also in the process of starting a business selling instruments, and have two cellos by Jan Szlachtowski, a good contemporay maker. These instruments sell in the $12,000-14,000 range, and are some of the best, perhaps the best I’ve heard in that range. I’ve used one of them in a number of chamber music concerts and recitals, with wonderful feedback.

They don’t project as well, though, as the Luis and Clark. Very few if any wood cellos do; a friend brought his Nicolo Gagliano along on a visit last spring, and the L&C carried even better in a hall than that cello. But the tone of the L&C is not as rich or warm a tone.

A student of mine is trying a Gary Garavaglia cello (Gary’s a contemporary maker in Chicago) which I love. About twice the price of the Szlachtowskis, it is richer and projects better. But as with the Gagliano, it doesn’t project as well as the L&C. And the Shostakovich is the sort of piece in which one needs all the projection one can get, especially playing with a young undergraduate orchestra, not all of whom are music majors. One of my former teachers told me it was easier to be heard when soloing with the entire Berlin Philharmonic or Philadephia orchestra than with a student or amateur chamber orchestra. Professional orchestra players play so well that they aren’t focused on just playing their parts, so they truly listen to the soloist, and won’t cover her or him up (unless there’s some soret of vendetta going on!).

The Garavaglia I find incredibly easy to play; it’s as if it had been made for me. And the dealer would be delighted, of course, if I play it Sunday. The Garavaglia could be a good middle ground. And I won’t have certain traditionalists fussing at me for using a carbon-fiber
thing.” (Actually, that’s kind of a reason to use the L&C!) So I’m still going back and forth. Since today is Wednesday, I really need to make up my mind.

This indecisiveness is a bit crazy, I know. It seems clear to me that it’s a symptom of anxiety about the concert. It’s one local concert . . . who cares which cello I use? But here I am, making an enormous issue about it. (Once I spent the entire day of a recital shopping for a new pair of patent leather shoes, for which I ended up overpaying and only wore a couple of times, since they turned out to be uncomfortable.)

I’ll try them both with the orchestra this afternoon, with a friend or two in the hall and also recording the rehearsal with a mic in the middle of the hall. I’ll use that feedback to make a final decision TONIGHT (you hear that, Eric? Tonight!).

Well, maybe it’s a good sign that I’m obessing over which cello to use. It means I’m comfortable about the piece itself!

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Except on American Airlines . .

. . . a kiss is just a kiss, not a cause for a potentially major incident.

From “As Time Goes By” (word and music by Herman Hupfeld), made famous in Casablanca:

And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you.”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.


But on American Airlines, no public displays of affection are allowed–by anyone. At least that was the eventual explanation on the flight described in this New Yorker article. I haven’t heard about a captain threatneing to divert a flight if an opposite-sex couple snuggled together and gave each other an occasional kiss, but perhaps an example will be forthcoming.

Either way, it will be a long time before I fly American again!

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Read Greg’s latest chapter

On Monday, Greg Sandow posted a new chapter in his online book on the future of classical music. The entire project is very worthwhile reading.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

The Putnam County Playhouse here in Greencastle, Indiana (a place that can feel like the true middle of nowhere) is an excellent community theatre that does four productions every summer. To Kill a Mockingbird has its last performance tonight, closing the season.

Since Greencastle’s a college town, and DePauw has some wonderful theater professors, the PCP productions have a wonderful mix of professional actors (volunteering their services) and enthusiastic amateurs. The Mockingbird production is powerful. (I hate it when I start crying in public.) It was a reminder to me of many things, including the fact that loving your neighbor is most important when it is most difficult.

And that live theatre creates an experience like no other. Way to go, everyone. Here in “the middle of nowhere,” you have created something wonderful.

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