Show 219: Listening Guide

This week’s From the Top show was taped in Benson Great Hall at Bethel University during the Young Artists World Piano Festival in St. Paul, MN on Tuesday July 13, 2010. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

William Yang, 9, piano
Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20
By: Frédéric Chopin

I like how Chopin starts off the piece with 2 grand chords. I think of the first chord as a person shouting something, and the second chord as a response. What I also like about the chords is that the first one is at the top of the keyboard and the second at the bottom. My favorite part in the piece is the middle section. It is my favorite part of the piece because it has a sweet, singing melody. The coda gives me an image of a very noisy place because it has chords labeled. This piece is unique compared to other pieces I’ve played because it is probably the most complicated. The hardest thing for me to nail down in this piece was, and still is, playing the right notes on the right beat.

Kenny Broberg, 16, piano
I. Allegro vivace from Sonata No. 2 for Cello & Piano in F Major, Op. 99
By: Johannes Brahms

I think about the heroic nature of the piece. The ending is my favorite part because of the subito ending; the suddenness of it is very effective. It’s unique to me because I don’t get to play chamber music very often and the interplay between the piano and cello as two unique individual voices is very important to convey.

John-Henry Crawford, 17, cello
I. Allegro vivace from Sonata No. 2 for Cello & Piano in F Major, Op. 99
By: Johannes Brahms

Brahms had the Black Forest in Germany as his inspiration, but when I play this grand opening, I think of the sun rising over a beautiful swamp in Louisiana. More specifically, I feel myself riding on one of the longest bridges in the world, overlooking the largest swamp in the U.S., the Atchafalaya Basin. The soaring melodies are like the tall cypress trees and peregrine falcons, and the relentless string crossings are like the murky waters filled with swamp, vegetation  or Spanish moss. When I was little, I used to listen to a recording of Jacqueline Du Pre playing this piece and it was one of my favorite pieces.

Post-show reflection:

This performance was very different from other performances for me because I got to learn more about another species of musician—the pianist! I’m so used to playing with other string players that I never really thought about how pianists view music, how they practice, etc…. Although I’ve played with many pianists, until this show I never really looked at things from their perspective. I think this realization can be put into a larger context. No matter what kind of musicians we play with, we should always put ourselves into their minds and think about the way they approach music.

I enjoyed working with both Chris and Kenny. Although I was outnumbered two to one, the coaching went extremely well and I learned a lot about what to listen for and how that affects the solo line. In his clever and miraculous way, Chris helped Kenny and me intertwine our parts together into a cohesive unit.

This was very different from my previous From the Top show because I was surrounded by pianists of ALL ages!

Cindy Lu, 14, piano
I. Allegro con spirito from Sonata in D Major, K. 448
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

While I am playing Mozart I always think about what happened in his life. His life experiences clearly influence his music. Since this piece is generally jovial grand and sometimes joke-like with the exception of a frenzied climax in the development. It was probably written in his golden age. At that time, he was the stellar musician of his time performing in courts and palaces with all the splendor and nobility.

This is a unique piece because it is much grander and more fun to play. The 2 pianos add a lot of depth and grandeur. It resembles the feeling of playing with an orchestra.  Most of all, I love playing this piece with my sister, and while we play we can use our sound to communicate.

Serena Lu, 12, piano
I. Allegro con spirito from Sonata in D Major, K. 448
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

I think of a journey through time when I play this piece. It is a very joyful piece and I enjoy it a lot. My favorite part in this piece is the development section because the feelings of that part are mixed. This piece is special to me because it bonds me and my sister closer than ever. It feels like a dialogue between two people. Solo pieces lack the communication between each other.

Nora Scheller, 17, violin
I. Modéré from Piano Trio in A minor
By Maurice Ravel

To me, the Ravel is an incredibly emotional piece of music. Personally, I don’t feel that it can be performed really well unless the performers are allowing themselves to feel the music, to feel the emotions that it evokes in them. Without emotions, music is a completely blank slate. There is no artistry, color, or feel – no nuance. The emotions are what make a piece touching, what make people walk away from a performance feeling changed in some way. It’s all because of emotions, because emotions are what make us human, what make music human – what make it important.

Something that I think is really difficult about this trio is that, because it’s so exposed in so many ways, the ensemble needs to be absolutely perfect. In a lot of other chamber music, the voices all work together to create a continuous net of sound, all the individual ropes twisting together to form one, big, harmonious creation. However, in the Ravel, the solo line tends to be much more exposed than in other chamber works. There isn’t nearly as much blending between the solo and harmony lines, so all three musicians need to work especially carefully to create a seamless, flawless finished product. Otherwise, it can end up sounding choppy and uncoordinated rather than smooth and beautiful.

Post-show reflection:

Personally, I really enjoyed playing on From The Top, and I know the rest of my trio did too!  I don’t think that our From the Top performance was really that different from our other performances – at least not musically!  What I felt was different was the audience, the energy they were exuding. Everyone was just so incredibly excited and supportive!  I don’t think I’ve ever played for an audience that had as much positive energy as that one!  It was really fun to perform for such a supportive, happy group of people.

The show was really fun to do, and that they were an amazing audience!  I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to perform alongside such great young musicians, and to have worked with the From The Top staff – they are all such great people!  I’m honored to be a new member of the From the Top family!

Jocelyn Schendel, 18, cello
I. Modéré from Piano Trio in A minor
By Maurice Ravel

Our coach really pounded it into our heads that Ravel was a huge influence during the Impressionistic period of music, so I think of a drawing by Monet where all the colors are soft and blended. It’s really a beautiful piece that transports the listener into a dream-world so I try to think of that while I play.

What I think is unique about this piece is it’s not a piece so showy that the listener is thinking about how amazing and talented the musician must be but they are instead able to sit back, enjoy the music, and let images come into their minds that reflect the musical idea the composer had.

Post –show reflection:

Performing this piece on the radio show was very exciting. It was not as different as I had expected. Ultimately our trio went out to perform for the audience that was present while at the same time being recorded for a future audience to enjoy.

I’ve discovered that the From the Top experience is much more in-depth than I ever imagined. Playing on the show really was just the beginning! There are so many more ways to share our music with others than just by being on the radio show, and I appreciate that From the Top really cares about us as individuals and reaches out to encourage us to be arts leaders.

Colton Peltier, 16, piano
I. Modéré from Piano Trio in A minor
By Maurice Ravel

This piece reminds me of an impressionistic painting. It has an array of breathtaking sounds and emotions that create beautiful flowing images in the minds’ of performers and listeners. When I play this piece, I think of deep vibrant colors and portray them into my sound. Also, the energy exerted from the piece reminds me of flowing water where some parts are serene and calm while other parts are gushing like a rogue wave.

The biggest challenge for me in this piece is creating sounds that aren’t cliche and boring.  Finding that perfect tone and matching it with my trio was challenging at first, but after getting to know each other, we became synchronized and could follow each other’s sound no matter what.

Post–show Reflection:

This From the Top experience was amazing like all of the others I have been lucky enough to have in the past! It is so amazing to be nurtured by so many wonderful people every time I have been on the show.  There are always new surprises and funny things that happen backstage and new people that I’ve met at each of the shows I’ve been in.  This time I played with a trio instead of playing solo, and i’ve never done that on the show before, so that was a new wonderful experience that I got to share with Nora and Jocelyn.

Reed Tetzloff, 18, Piano 1, Part 1
Sonata in One Movement for 8 Hands in E minor
By Friedrich Smetana

This piece by Smetana seems to have a lot in common with music by composers such as Dvorak specifically in the imagery it invokes. I can see pictures of a pastoral countryside or maybe a small village with peasants and gypsies dancing. Despite being in the key of E minor, the piece does not seem dark or heavy to me, I think of it as lively, energetic, and even joyful.

The fact that it is written for four pianists definitely makes this piece unique. The hardest thing about it is keeping the dynamics controlled and listening to the other parts in addition to one’s individual part. If the ensemble isn’t careful to do these things, the piece can easily turn into a harsh cacophony and lose its charm.

Leo Wexler-Mann, 17, Piano 2, Part 1
Sonata in One Movement for 8 Hands in E minor
By Friedrich Smetana

This piece makes me think of a barren field with a cold wind blowing through it. The pounding E Minor main theme of this piece just reminds me of our frozen Minnesotan winters. I like the folk elements in this piece. They aren’t as obvious to the ear as in pieces by Grieg or Dvorak, but they are subtly buried in there, and I think they’re important to bring out.

Leeza Ali, 16, Piano 2, Part 2
Sonata in One Movement for 8 Hands in E minor
By Friedrich Smetana

I think about a very loud and noisy street full of people who are arguing and possibly getting into a fight. I think of the city life of New York City with horns honking and subways screeching to a stop, all the noises in ¾ time, and on top of one another in a clang of discord. This piece is unique because we have to pay attention to the balance. There are so many parts going on at once. It was hard to really listen to all the other parts and adjust my own sound to the dynamics of the other performers.

Post-show reflection:

I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the greatest performance opportunities of my life. From the Top really made the whole process as un-stressful as possible – we had people helping us at every level, so when it came down to the moment, the only thing we ever had to think about was performing our best.  Also, it was incredible to see how all of the performers could gel together in the final playing of the Smetena.

Chris was a great coach at rehearsal. It is pretty amazing that we literally had half an hour together and got the four – hand piece down. Chris pointed out some dynamics in the score that we were not stressing enough, and that helped the piece sound more exciting. Also, Chris suggested that we do a accelerando leading to the last page of the piece, and it turned out to be an amazing idea. Chris just created a great vibe that made us all motivated. It is a contagious vibe that got us working together and in a positive mood.

3 Responses

  1. Wonderfully insightful comments, both prior and post performance. We need more of this!

  2. I hear “From the Top” via Dallas, Tx. WRR 101 on Sat. was changed to Sundays for only 2 weeks but popular demand returned it to Saturdays. I refer some of my students to your great presentations, comments with hopes of increasing their listening pleasure and education. I tried to remember how long this has been my pleasure…about 7 years. Christopher keep up the great work…Van Cliburn Competiton is near by which I love. Best Wishes for continued work…Donna Stevens, Clifton, Texas

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